State Fair Fire Brigade

History


Contents

  • Pre-History
  • Fire Brigade
  • Rescue & EMS

Pre-History

1940s

1946, October 15 – Eight concession booths burn, the morning before the first day of the Fair. The fire starts shortly after 5 a.m. at a pitching game booth on the midway. It quickly spreads and destroys seven other concessions. Two workers receive minor burns on their arms, after pulling over a concession stand to prevent it from burning. Fire Chief W. Ralph Butts told the News & Observer in an October 17 story that they fought the fire from both the east and west sides, to prevent its spread. Fire engines were placed behind the Industrial Exhibition Building and on the west side of the midway. Fire department records recorded the alarm time as 5:06 a.m., as reported by telephone. Two lines and 1,110 feet of hose were used. The cause of the fire was not determined; the loss was estimated between $18,000 and $20,000. All “evidence of the eight ruined concessions” were quickly removed by workers, and officials with World of Mirth Shows said that they would be replaced by October 17, if possible. Sources: N&O 10/16/46, RT 10/16/46.

1950s

1958, October 10 – Flames sweep tin cattle barn. Western Boulevard Fire Department and Raleigh Fire Department respond. Workers preparing for the opening of State Fair assist the firemen Fueled by 1,500 bales of straw inside the building, the blaze takes two hours to control.

1960s

1962, September 22 – Before fair week. Three rows of display booths burn inside the exhibition building. Worker at Red Star Oil Company discover the blaze. The Fairgrounds Fire Department, and two Raleigh engine companies, bring the blaze under control in less than 20 minutes.

1964, October 13 - Restaurant building destroyed during a busy night at the North Carolina State Fair. Thousands were attending the fair, and watched with rapt attention as “portable” restaurant was consumed by flames. The $100,000 structure was a loss. Read blog post.

1965, September 29 – Before Fair week. Concession stands burn. The 4 a.m. fire alarm sweeps through 315-stretch of stands. The public address system tower is also gutted. Damage to stands is about $25,000. Three units and 22 volunteer firefighters battle blaze. Raleigh Fire Department also responds with five men and a pumper.

Fire Brigade

General

Locations:

1960s Beside Jim Graham Building, at a little brick building located between the Jim Graham Building and Dorton Arena.
1960s to early 1970s By the maintenance building, and using a office trailer.
mid-1970s or later By the Village of Yesteryear, and using an RV or mobile home.

Apparatus:

  • Started with loaned apparatus from Garner Fire Department.
  • Most of the trucks over the later years and decades were provided by local or regional dealers.
  • Local departments provided trucks if needed. Raleigh loaned an engine, for an example, for a few days one year, while they waiting for their loaned engine to arrive.
  • Always tried to have two trucks, typically two pumpers or pumper/tankers.

Equipment:

  • Golf carts added by 1980s.

Duties:

  • Fire suppression.
  • First responder, beginning in late 1970s (?) or later.
  • Safety checks, which were fire inspections of vendor areas, though not called fire inspections, as members were not licensed fire inspectors.

Incidents:

  • No structure fires.
  • Small fires, such as vehicle fires, dumpster fires, grass fires.
  • Grass fires started from fireworks.
  • Lots of EMS calls.

Schedule:

  • Moved in while vendors were setting up, normally a week before.
  • Moved out after three or four days, after the fair ended.
  • Many/most worked the entire two weeks.
  • Rotated who slept on site, due to limited beds.

Personnel:

  • Nearly exclusively off-duty city firefighters.
  • Veteran firefighters, “who could handle any situation."
  • As they older guys aged out, they’d hired/rotate in newer guys.
  • City firemen included:
    • Jimmy Warren
    • Norman Walker
    • “Red’ House
    • “Tex” Barnette
    • Judd Stephenson, who managed the brigade
    •  Paul Averette, who took over management from Stephenson, supervised through the end of the brigade
    • Tommy Murray
    • Tramp Dunn
    •  Bert Richards
    • Randall Cooper
    • Donnie Carter
    • Tommy Gattis
    • Phil Woodlief
    • Mikkey Martin.
  • Couple county firemen as well:
    • Earl Coley, Holly Springs
    • Billy Brantley, New Hope
    • Waddell Mitchell, Zebulon

Mid-1960s

Fire brigade established, with firefighters on the property during the operation of the State Fair. The impetus is a fire during the State Fair, and the comparatively long response time by the nearby Fairgrounds Fire Department. The fire is likely the portable restaurant that burned in October 1964, and/or the concession stand that burned in September 1965.

Fair Manager hires off-duty city firefighters. They utilize loaned apparatus, the first from Garner Fire Department. Most of the later apparatus, over the years and decades, is provided by local or regional dealers.

1970s

By this time, the brigade is located by the Village of Yesteryear. Though they started using just one fire truck, they expand to two engines.

Fair was only a week long, and later expanded to ten/eleven days. Members moved in during vendor set-up, typically a week before the fair opened. They stayed three or four days after the fair ended.

Two engines were used each year, typically new apparatus loaned by dealers. Pumpers or pumper/tankers. This was also advertising for the dealers.

No structure fires are recalled during these decades. Brush fires from fireworks, vehicle fires, and other small fires. Numerous EMS calls.

1985

Apparatus:

  • 199_ E-One pumper, demo unit
  • 198_ GMC/____ pumper/tanker, demo unit

Living quarters were a silver metal RV trailer. Also had at least one golf cart.

1986

Apparatus included 1985 Kenworth/FMC Omega pumper-tanker.

  • Provided by Slagle’s Fire Equipment.
  • Purchased while at the fair by CP&L, and subsequently given to Holly Springs FD, who was contracted for fire protection at the nuclear power plant.

1990s

By the 1990s, two golf carts were used in addition to the loaned fire apparatus.

1992 (?)

Apparatus included 1992 Ford 8000 Cargo/E-One pumper/tanker, 1250/1000.

  • Demo unit from company called Emergency Apparatus.
  • It was sold to C.W. Williams, still as a demo truck.
  • It was sold to Back Swamp FD on September 15, 1993.

Living quarters were a mobile-home.

1995

Apparatus includes:

199_ Dodge/Stahl/Slagle mini-pumper, with a Slagle “Super Slide” skid unit. Demo unit from Slagle's Fire Equipment in South Boston, VA.

1994 Pierce Saber pumper/tanker, 1250/1000.

  • Demo unit bought by Faison FD in September, from Lee Fire Equipment.
  • The truck was already planned for Fair usage, and FFD received the truck two weeks after the Fair.
  • LFE was the Pierce dealer in NC, and soon Pierce moved to Triad Fire.

1998

Western Wake Fire-Rescue added for co-located protection including first responder EMS services. They are not contracted, but the State Fair agrees to pay for their added expenses of on-site operation. They have a formal contract by 2005.

About two years earlier, as plans were underway to create Western Wake FD, the department asked to bid on the contract for fair fire protection, and for about half the rate provided to the brigade.

The request was service-driven. The State Fairgrounds was already within the response area of Fairgrounds FD (and later Western Wake FD), and the department was already being compensated for protection of state property. Fair officials declined, but added Western Wake as an additional co-located service two years later.

2000s

People:

  • Paul Averette supervisor by this time.
  • Average of eight people working on a given day.
  • Exact number could vary based on planned events, and needed safety checks before the Fair opened.
  • Some people worked the entire two weeks, taking vacations during that time.
  • Most rotate with their 24 hour shifts in Raleigh.

Schedule

  • Brigade was staffed during the week that the fair was being set up, and through a day or two after it closed.

Equipment:

  • Pair of golf carts, which had basic EMS supplies. Used to respond to EMS calls, as well as other duties.
  • Carts were labeled “State Fair Fire Marshal.”
  • Pumper or pumper/tanker loaned from a local/regional dealer. One year it was a Pierce from Triad.
  • Occasionally, a local fire department provided a truck. Six Forks FD loaned one truck one year.
  • Trucks also bore magnetic stickers saying “State Fair Fire Marshal”

Quarters:

  • Occupied a loaned mobile home.
  • Members were requested to show same, if someone was interested in buying a similar model.
  • Parked on the west side of the fairgrounds, on other side of the fence from the Midway, near Village of Yesteryear.
  • Western Wake FD parked beside the brigade area, and had their own tent. Western Wake FD also staged apparatus at other sites, notably the Blue Ridge Road gate.

Incidents

  • Fire suppression for occasional grass, dumpster, or vehicle fire.
  • No structure fires during this period.

Fellowship:

  • Members cooked three meals every day.
  • Served local law enforcement officers on duty, along with Highway Patrol.
  • Also provided a place for off-duty/visiting firefighters and their family to stop, rest, use bathrooms, etc.
  • Remembered as a great place to intermingle with different department personnel from around the state, who attended the fair. And that it was much more than just an emergency response center.

2005

Final year of operation of fire brigade. Western Wake Fire-Rescue formally co-contracted by this time.

Apparatus included a Ford mini-pumper, a demo unit from a dealer.

2006

First year of Western Wake Fire-Rescue as sole contracted service provider.

2007

Facilities are a mobile home, and a "catering tent."


Rescue & EMS

1920s

1928, Red Cross begins providing volunteer service at the Stair Fair.

1940s

1941-1945, fair is suspended during World War II.

1950s (?)

Red Cross Lounge constructed.

1970s

1974, several volunteer ambulance services from around the state agree to send personnel and vehicles to the Fair, held October 18 through 26, to provide emergency transportation and first-aid services if needed. Rescue squads in Cabarrus, Gaston, Halifax, Haywood, Nash, Pitt, Rockingham, and Wake counties agree to participate, says Steve Acai, Transportation Consultant for the state Office of EMS. The volunteer service will be combined with a public display of the statewide EMS program. Source: North Carolina EMS News, Volume 1, Number 6, September 1974.

1976, and later. Memories:

  • Six Forks Rescue Squad participated from the get-go, after organizing in 1976.  
  • By that time, squads from across North Carolina would request to participate. The Fair would select which squads to work. Thus, local squads might only work one day out of the entire fair week.
  • Typically one ambulance per day, with a second one if it was busy, or something special was planned.
  • Two people per ambulance.
  • No major incidents/injuries recalled during this period.

1977, October 16 - Ride accident. Adult and two children receive minor injuries after the roller coaster-type ride the Tornado comes to a sudden stop. Two cars on the ride were approaching the unloading station when a support snapped that holds up the ride's sprocket and chain. The operator witnessed what was happening and used the first of two braking systems to stop the cars. The sudden stop apparently threw the riders against the front rail of the ride. The adult received minor knee injuries, her five-year-old son complained of a stomach ache, and were treated and released at Rex Hospital. An eleven-year-old girl received a minor bruise over her eye, and was treated at the scene by Red Cross workers. Two other adults in the cars were uninjured. After the accident, the ride was repaired and resumed operation. Source: N&O, 10/17/77.

1980s

1980 - For the sixth consecutive year, several volunteer rescue squads and ambulance providers from around the state provide emergency transportation coverage during the fair. The EMTs and their vehicles will be assigned to the Red Cross aid station. Nineteen rescue squads and providers are planned to participate, including:

  • Buncombe County Ambulance Service
  • Catawba County EMS
  • Garner Rescue Squad
  • Goldsboro Rescue Squad
  • Havelock Fire and Rescue
  • Haywood County Rescue
  • Iredell County EMS
  • Maiden Rescue Squad
  • Parkwood Fire and Rescue.

Source: North Carolina EMS News, July/August 1980.

1990s

Early 1990s memories:

  • By 1991-92, there were two ambulances per day.
  • One WCEMS, one local rescue squad.
  • Present during fair hours only, never overnight.

1991, October 26 - Shooting, about 11 p.m. One person killed, second person shot in hand. Related to dispute between two rival gangs. Fair officials had been warned of same, due to tensions during the day, and gang activities at the gates.

1998, October 17 - Ride accident. Three cars collide on the Zyklon roller coaster. Wheel bearings seized on one car, and the two others struck from behind. One adult and two children are transported to Rex Hospital, with minor (?) injuries.  Source: N&O, 10/18/98, http://www.rideaccidents.com/1998.html#oct17,

1998, by this time there are two ambulances on site each day. Both Wake County EMS and county rescue squads are participating. Two people per ambulance. They're based at the Red Cross Building, which was used as an emergency services building. Medical operated on the first floor. Law enforcement operated on the second. For all calls, EMS/rescue workers either walked to calls, or drove the ambulances. Red Cross oversaw all medical operations at the fair.

Late 1990s, memories:

  • EMS/rescue used the north side entrance of the Red Cross building.
  • Ambulances parked on the side of the building, at the top of the hill.

2000s

2000s, notes:

By mid-/late-decade, features added included:

  • District Chief
  • Bike team(s)
  • UTV with patient transport capability
  • Wake County mobile command post
  • Two ambulances at Martin Building, third or fourth ambulance at Blue Ridge Road gate.
  • Still no overnights, during Fair operating hours only.

c.2001-2002, Wake County EMS takes over medical operation at State Fair. It's becoming busier, more moving parts, needs a command presence, etc. They were in the brick building for one or two years, after taking over, and before the building was demolished.

2002, October 24 - Fatal ride accident. Carnival worker killed after accidentally slipping into path of the Banzai ride's swinging pendulum cars. He was struck by the leg of a rider, knocked off the ride platform, thrown over the Starship 2002 ride, and landed about 30 feet away, striking the wall of a pizza concession. He was dead on arrival when medics arrived about 11 a.m. The rider who's leg struck the worker suffered a severely bruised leg. Source: N&O, 10/25/02

2003 - Red Cross Building is demolished. That year / for a couple years around that time, medical operates from a couple mobile classroom buildings nearby.

2004 - Ride accident. Carnival worker injured while disassembling a ride, when a 15-foot high steel section of a ride fell on him. Source: N&O, 10/27/04

2004 - Midway expands onto area of old racetrack.

2006 - Martin Building opens on new Midway. Medical operations are located there.

2009 - Worker injured after falling fifteen feet, while dismantling a ride. Transported to WakeMed with back injury.

2013, October 24 - Ride accident. Five injured, including a ride operator, when a Vortex ride started moving as people were attempting to get off the ride. Reported at 9:16 p.m. Patients ages from 14 to 39 years old. The operator of the ride was later charged in connection with the accident, with intentionally tempering with the ride's safety system. Also, on October 27, a worker was hurt while disassembling the other Vortex ride. He was transported to WakeMed with a leg injury.

Sources

  • News & Observer and Raleigh Times where cited.
  • David Raynor photos.
  • Mike Legeros histories.
  • Oral histories.

Last updated: December 31, 2016.


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