|The Carrboro Fire-Rescue Department has a long and proud tradition of protecting the citizens of Carrboro and surrounding Orange County. Along with the Town of Carrboro itself, the department traces its origins back to the early 20th century. It's earliest roots as a volunteer organization are found in the late 1920s. In those days, the department had little more than the dedication and good will of its members to survive on as opposed to firefighting equipment!
According to an August 12, 1984 article by Dan Leigh of The Chapel Hill Newspaper, in the 1920s and 30s the department had little more than a hose reel that was run on foot to a fire by the firefighters themselves, as there was no fire truck in the department. Similarly, the volunteers had no gear for protection: no masks, helmets, coats, pants, and much of the other equipment we take for granted in our department today.
Our earliest official record of a Carrboro Fire-Rescue Department is a 1927 document from the North Carolina State Firemen's Association. At that time, the department membership consisted of 22 persons, including Chief Bill Moser and Assistant Chief Dwight Ray. To see an image of the document listing all the members from 1927 click HERE. Most of the names on the list belong to long-time residents and families of the Carrboro area. Given the significant number of volunteer members in 1927, the department's earliest beginnings are most likely to be found a number of years prior to this.
According to the article in The Chapel Hill Newspaper, the department acquired its first fire truck in 1940, thanks for the efforts of one of its members, Charlie Ragan. He took a 1937 Chevrolet truck and added a pump, ladders, and hose to the vehicle. A little later, the town decided to purchase an additional ladder truck to supplement the Chevrolet truck. You can see both trucks pictured above. During the 1940s and following, the fire station was not at its present location, but was located on Lloyd Street, along with town hall.
As the 1950s and 60s progressed Carrboro continued its volunteer firefighting tradition. In addition to fighting fires in Carrboro and Orange County, the department also helped out the Chapel Hill Fire Department when called upon. In the early 1960s the department moved from its Lloyd Street location to its present home at 301 W. Main Street, right next to town hall. Along with the police department, the fire department occupied part of Carrboro's old school. In fact, you can still see the former stage area of the old school's cafetorium in the current station's training room and kitchen areas.
In the mid-1970s the fire department hired its first career firefighters. Complementing the volunteer members were Fire Chief Robert Swiger, Fire Marshall Robert Williams Jr., and 3 Fire Drivers: Tommy Roberts, Lester Hill, and Tommy Joe Ragan. The equipment available to the first career firefighters in 1970s Carrboro had improved somewhat from the early days! Pictured here are a couple of the department's trucks from that time. Believe it or not, Engine 1 still serves as the department's reserve apparatus, a 1977 Howe pumper! Engine 2, a 1974 Ford pumper was replaced in 1999 and donated to a small department in Virginia.
The 1980s brought a number of changes and growth to the Carrboro Fire-Rescue Department. In 1979, major renovation and expansion to the fire station was begun. A completely new, 6-bay apparatus area was added to the now small station shared by the fire and police departments. The new station was dedicated in 1981, and it is the one presently used by the department. To see a picture of construction work from that time click HERE. Along with a new addition to the station the department also purchased a new ladder truck. It was a 1955 American LaFrance ladder truck with an 85' stick (pictured below). The truck was purchased from the Charlotte Fire Department and underwent extensive refurbishment prior to service in Carrboro.
In 1987, the town put into effect some changes to the personnel structure of the department. An innovative and money saving program was begun - the first responder program. The program was formed in conjunction with the public works department. Three persons were hired, Jeff Lint, Laura Shearin, and Mike Elsaesser. They would spend 4 days working in the public works department and 1 day in the fire department during normal work day hours. On days they were working in the public works department they would still respond to all emergency calls dispatched to the fire-rescue department. At the time, it was a cost-effective measure to make the most of the limited budgetary resources of the town through innovative use of town personnel. However, growth in the town and personnel demands within both the public works department and the fire department rendered the program obsolete, and it was disbanded in 1996.
Like the rest of North Carolina, as the 1990s progressed Carrboro began to grow and change as a community. Research Triangle Park and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill spurred growth on in the area, and the busy, hectic lifestyles of the professionals moving into the community afforded little opportunity for them to volunteer with the fire department. Consequently, over the course of the 1990s the department gradually transitioned to becoming the all-career department it is now.
Today, the department has a staff of 37 persons. We have a fire chief, deputy chief, fire marshal, 3 fire captains, 3 lieutenants, 6 fire drivers, 21 firefighters, and 1 administrative support position. And, the department is poised for further growth in the very near future! In the next year, we anticipate opening a second station in the north end of the town, supporting the future growth in that area of town. This station will certainly continue the rich and proud tradition of the Carrboro Fire-Rescue Department for all of its members and the community at large.