Early Fire Department

 The Beaufort News – May 6, 1943
Beaufort Fire Department 36 Years Old Monday
12 of Original Co. Honorary Members
Old Members Reminiscent

    The Beaufort Fire Department will celebrate its 36th birthday on May 10th. A number of the present-day firemen were not even born in 1907 when it was organized as the Robert E. Lee Fire Department, yet 12 of the original members are today honorary members of the present company: Walter Longest, Jesse Fulcher, Hugh Jones, Charlie Hatsell, George Brooks, “Lon” Gardner, Wiley Taylor, I.N. Moore, Dave Jones, Seth Gibbs, Herman Howland, and Hugh Longest. Members who have since died or moved away were: Frank Longest (the first chief), “B” Robinson, John Skarren, Jack Gibble, Will Skarren, Harvey Ramsey, Dan Fowle, Rudolph Dowdy, Frank Skarren, Jim Fuller, Henry Marshall, Charles Skarren, Theo Adair, and Jack Mades.

    The Beaufort Fire Department came into being before we had the present Town Hall in the west end of which the Fire Company is comfortably housed today. In those days, the Town Hall was in Winfield Chadwick’s building on the east side of Craven Street—the “lockup” below and town offices above, and across the street on the Howland property was the frame building that housed the fire engine.
    When a fire broke out, everybody ran about frantically yelling “Fire!” Then to further spread the alarm, the school bell and church bells rang.
    A few days before the new company was 11 months old, the call of “Fire!” at three o’clock in the morning brought the company to what the old “Lookout” described as “the most horrible fire in Beaufort’s history—the Roberson house on the northwest corner of Ann and Turner street in which Miss Henrietta Roberson was burned to death. Quoting further from the old Lookout, “The Robert E. Lee Fire Company and the Colored Fire Department arrived on the scene in short order. The new fire engine was connected to the fire plug on the corner, but as the water did not come promptly, the engine was taken to the waterfront at the end of Turner Street, and the hose thrown overboard.” 

Ruins of Roberson home. In the foreground are the following members of the company, eight of whom are honorary members of the fire company today [1943]: Frank Longest, Walter Longest, “B” Robinson, John Skarren, Jake Gibble, Will Skarren, Jesse Fulcher, Charles Hatsell, George Brooks, “Lon” Gardner, Harvey Ramsey, Dan Fowle, Wiley Taylor, I.N. Moore, Rudolph Dowdy, Frank Skarren, Jim Fuller, Henry Marshall, Theo Adair, and Dave Jones. [Beaufort's Robert E. Lee Fire Company in 1907 - Courtesy Beaufort Fire Department]
    Editorial comment in the same paper, “Before this town had a fire engine, it had a bucket brigade which rendered efficient and valiant service. Since the purchase of the engine, the brigade has been discontinued. Result: The spectators, who arrive at the scene of a conflagration before the engine, stand idly around waiting for it to come. If the brigade was reorganized, in many cases the fire could be extinguished during the brief space of time thus lost.”
    The bucket brigade, the passing of which the editor of the Lookout was regretting, was the first fire department. It required but equipment of buckets and ladders, and men enough to keep an endless chain of buckets of water pouring on a fire. There was a chief, but no roster of members—every man in town was expected to show up and do his part.
    This was followed by the famous hand pumping engine, the salesman’s dramatic demonstration of which was one of the highlights of late 19th century Beaufort days. The salesman took a little house just east of the monument at the corner of Front and Pollock, filled it with trash, set it afire, let it get underway, then showed the efficiency of the engine, so successfully that it was sold on the spot. To operate, the engine was taken to the dock, the intake dropped in the water, and ten or fifteen men would get on each side and pump for all they were worth. The first gasoline engine worked the same way, but the intake was used either in the water or attached to “wells” established at ten or twelve points about town, several of which are said to be still in existence, although dry. This engine was also pulled by the men who, as Mr. Charles Hatsell says, were pretty well winded and worn out by the time they got to the fire, and in poor condition to do effective fighting.
    The following year, a big black horse, “Dick,” was bought to pull the town dray and to act as fire horse. Dick was alright for the dray, but the engine was heavy and the old street sandy, and he resented his role as fire horse. Sam Pigott had him in his charge. As soon as an alarm was given, he was supposed to unhitch him from the dray, take him to the fire house, hitch him with speed to the engine and tear to the fire, but Dick is said to have been as apt to go in reverse as forward, and Seth Gibbs was the only one who could beat him into action. He would get up on the seat with Sam and beat while Sam held the reins. Finally Mr. Gibbs became to completely master--to get up on the seat and yell at Dick was all that was necessary.

    According to old timers, the biggest fire [1888] the town ever had dates back well before the present fire company. It was when the south side of Front Street burned from what is now Penders, the Jones building, to the present Standard Oil Station. That was when the old market stood at the end of Turner between the present-day Standard and Gulf stations.
    The fire is said to have been almost under control at the wood yard, two doors from Dill’s on the corner, but there was some confusion and it got out of control again, burned to the corner and the market had to be torn down to save the Davis Building on the west side of Front and Turner. Moore’s Grocery store and all between there and Dill’s was burned. Mr. Hugh Jones tells of the string of men from the water to the tops of the buildings handing up buckets of water. As they were emptied, the men threw them back in the water, where they were picked up by men stationed there, refilled, and handed back up, keeping the string of buckets continuous. So hot was it, that the men say the money in their pockets turned black.
    It was at this fire that groceries and drygoods were taken across the street and piled behind the stores for safety; these piles are said to have disappeared almost as fast as they were deposited, so that people round about who had never boasted a new suit or pair of shoes before in their lives were, for a long time, explaining their new clothes.

    Other outstanding fires in memories of charter members of the present company are the Sanders General Merchandise Store on the south side of Front Street, and one Mr. Charles Hatsell described as the most frightening of his experience when fire broke out in the colored church and school house opposite the jail one night when a north wind was blowing so hard that it took burning shingles half way to the Fort and caught the roof of the old hotel, the building where Mr. Avery now lives.
    The summer [unreadable] fire, the Town Commissions authorized “a house ten feet wide by 20 feet long on the lot at the Town Hall for the small fire engine.” In October of that year, Seth Gibbs was made Fire Chief and H.C. Jones, Assistant Chief, and the plan was announced to “organize a fire company or reorganize the old one.” At the first meeting of the board, following his appointment, Mr. Gibbs made the following report on the company:
    “I beg to report the conditions of the fire department of the town as follows. As chief of the fire department, I have inspected and inquired into the apparatus and find it with few exceptions in good condition. Many of the wells have been tested and all so far have been satisfactory save the one on the corner of Ann and Turner Streets. I am told by the engineer this does not supply as good a stream as others or as it should.
    “A call was made since the last meeting of the board for the reorganization of the fire company, a meeting held and a company organized with Mr. W.S. Robinson as foreman. I have requested the Colored Fire Department to take out the hand engine for trial and pumps, these have, not up to the present, responded owing to the rainy weather at each appointed time.
    “I find that the nipples for the nozzles are not as good as should be, being an inferior kind. I recommend that the nozzles be fitted with a standard nipple that could be more effective in case of stubborn fire.
    “I recommend further that there be at once a grade made at the foot of Orange Street at the bulkhead, so that the fire engine could get to the water without danger to said engine being damaged; this is very necessary for the protection of that portion of the town along Orange between Ann and Front.
    “It appears very important that some arrangements should be made for keeping of the horse nearer the fire engine and that said fire engine be fitted with shafts that would enable use of the horse to it.”
    The horse, as the time, was kept down on Craven Street and had to be taken up to the Town Hall to the engine. The constable was ordered to fix a wooden bridge at the south end of Orange Street at once so the engine could be quickly carried to the waterfront.
    In February 1909, the Fire House had its first bell  “sufficient to sound alarm so that it could be heard in the various parts of town,” and for the first time “oil cloth coats” were provided to protect firemen from the water.
    The Beaufort Company has come a far way since the first decade of the century. Julius Duncan, who resigned as chief last July, reports the following equipment, all of which is, of course, motorized: the first motorized pumper bought in 1924, a 1000 gallon pumper bought in 1928, a 500 gallon pumper bought in 1936, and an aerial truck (hook and ladder) in service since 1941. The latter was built by members of our fire company. It is most modern in design, has the first set of aluminum ladders used in North Carolina, and makes Beaufort the smallest town in the state to boast an aerial truck—Greenville with 15,000 people is the next smallest with one.

    Since 1926 we have had a thoroughly automatic fire alarm system with ten signal boxes located about town. Following the Town Hall fire of December 1928, when the west end of the building was damaged so that it had to be practically rebuilt, the department has been housed in the present up-to-date home. Today’s members carrying on the tradition of the old company are: H.H. Lewis Jr., chief; John Hill, secretary and treasurer; W.C. Oglesby, 1st foreman; B.H. Whitehurst, 2nd foreman; J.C. Pake; Dalton G. Eubanks, E.M. Noe, T.R. Whitehurst, Gray Hassell, J.E. Arrington, C.J. Brinson, C.W. Britton, D.P. Clawson, J.M. Darling, C.S. Harrell, C.G. Holland, B.L. Jones, J.A. Lewis, W.B. Longest Jr., R.E. Mades, C.D. Manson, C.M. Noe, R.T. Norris, West H. Taylor, B.H. Noe, W.E. Lewis, Leaman Eubanks, William D. Skarren, W.J. Moore Jr., O.L. Caughman, H.C. Bunch, Hubert Fodrie, W.D. Guthrie, and Raymond Springle.

Hook and Ladder Constructed Under His Leadership
Julius Fletcher Duncan, elected Fire Chief, January 1940, resigned August 1942, made more improvements in the department for the length of his service than any chief of the department ever had. 

The fine aerial truck (hook and ladder) was constructed under his leadership.


Beaufort, Carteret County December 1913
One chief, two companies. Two stations.

First company (white) next to 406 Craven Street: 20 volunteers. One paid driver. One partly paid engineer. One horse with drop harness, used on street work during day. One Howe triplex gasoline engine. One hose cart with 800-feet 2 1/2-inch hose. 1,000-feet 2 1/2-inch hose in reserve.  
Second Company (colored) next to Town Hall at 305 Broad Street: 20 volunteers. One hose reel with 800-feet 2 1/2-inch hose. One hand engine. Fire alarm by whistle. Population 3,200.

1933 Beaufort Fire Department