D.H. Ramsey Library WEB EXHIBIT



"City Hall, Fire Department, and Fountain on Pack Square, Asheville, N.C., ...  The Fire Department is splendidly equipped with new and modern fire fighting appliances, including three powerful motor trucks."  from Sixty-Four Views from Western North Carolina[six013], D.H. Ramsey Library, UNC Asheville.

Title Asheville Fire Department Exhibit Page
Alt. Title Asheville Fire Department
Identifier http://toto.lib.unca.edu/web_exhibits/asheville_fire_department/
Creator Barbara Berry, Asheville Fire Departmen
Alt. Creator D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, UNC Asheville
Subject Keyword Fire Departments ; Asheville, NC ; fires ; fire-trucks ;  disasters ;
Subject LCSH Fire departments -- Asheville, N.C.
Fire engines -- Asheville, N.C.
Emergency vehicles
Rescue work - Asheville
Description A web exhibit developed by UNCA staff and based on a paper  written by Barbara Berry, an employee of the Asheville Fire Department about the history of the Asheville Fire Department.
Publisher D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, UNC Asheville
Contributor Asheville Fire Department
Date 2008-01-22
Type text ; image ; virtual exhibit
Format jpg ; text
Language English
Relation - Is related to Karen Cragnolin, Discusses the implications of the recent disastrous fire at the Cotton Mill. ... Riverside Park was very popular before the 1915 fire, which destroyed ...


Thomas Morrissey, There is no fire escape on the top 5 floors of the Court House where ... Should there be a fire the county would be responsible and could not afford .....307]



National Register of Historic Sites in Buncombe County, Fire Station Number 4, 04/06/2000. First Baptist Church, 07/13/1976. George A. Mears House, 04/26/1979. Grove Park Historic District, 04/13/1989 toto.lib.unca.edu/vertical_files/historic_register_sites/national_register.htm

University of North Carolina at, City Hall and Fire Department, on east side Pack Square, showing Fountain in foreground. The Fire Department is splendidly equipped with new and modern fire ...

 Kenilworth Inn, 1918 and was destroyed by fire in 1909. It flourished during the 1920's at the height of ... Kenilworth Inn, old, later destroyed by fire. (N2369) ...

Albert, Alan, Ray and Jay Sorrells, He retired in 1976 at 52 when the fire department was contracted out to the city. .... [2/20] Ray - married in 1946 and worked for the Oteen fire department ...

Jane Raoul Bingham, She discusses zoning, police and fire, Hendersonville Road right-of-way ..... Fire fighters are now volunteers. There are 3 to 4 police officers (not ...

Chester D. Hensley Hensley discusses his experience working for the Fire Department, ... He discusses changes in city politics, organization of the fire department, ...

Local History: Vertical Files  Emporium Fire, 1923 [See also the E.M. Ball Photograhic Collection]. Engineering. Enka Voice (1952) [see also American Enka Company] ...

Local History: Vertical Files Emporium Fire, 1923 [See also the E.M. Ball Photograhic Collection]. Engineering. Enka Voice (1952) [see also American Enka Company] ...


Death Toll At Catholic Hill School - "Death Toll At Catholic Hill School May Be Eight Children" The Asheville Citizen, November 17, 1917.

Asheville Area Photographic Collection  - Dunham's Music Store [later destroyed by fire]. 20-7-1-A 6 [1] ... 040, West Asheville Fire Department, 1/30/76. 20-7-1-B 41 [2] ...

John Best  When he was in service, the Fire Department always received the first call but only went when necessary. Now they are called whenever there is a wreck call ...

Robert Bunn  The Highland Hospital fire is described. [Zelda Fitzgerald, Sara Neeley, Dr. Allen T. Hipps]. [III/1/302]   toto.lib.unca.edu/findingaids/oralhistory/VOA/A_C/Bunn_R.html 

Merrimon Avenue Fire Station  Like Lewis Memorial Park and the Biltmore Hospital extension, the Merrimon Avenue Fire Station is one of Douglas Ellington's smaller public works. ...

George Coggins  He became president of "Welcome to Asheville" and describes motorcades to Florida with the mayor, city commissioner, fire chief and sheriff. ...

E.M Ball Photographic  Asheville Fire Department, on square (see also Pack Square) ...... Pack Square, facing east, Fire Department and City Hall, other buildings, fountain, ...

Coverage 1900 - present ; Asheville, NC
Rights No restrictions;  Copyright: Retained by the authors of certain items in the collection, or their descendents, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Donor various
Acquisition n/a
Citation Web Exhibit - Asheville Fire Department, Special Collections, D.H. Ramsey Library, University of North Carolina at Asheville
Processed by HW 2008-02-03
Last update 2008-01-22 ; 2008-02-08




Focusing on Changes in Equipment

And Procedures


Submitted to:

Dr. Janet M. Manson

Submitted by:

Barbara C. Berry

Employee of the Asheville Fire Department
and student
Asheville-Buncombe Co. Technical College

November 28, 2007


HISTORY As an employee of the Asheville Fire Department, I have seen significant changes just in the short time I’ve been with the Department (since October 2005). We have increased our personnel by forty-six firefighters, have opened two new stations with plans for a third, and are in the process of purchasing five new trucks. The Asheville Fire Department is an accredited agency and is constantly striving to improve its quality of service to the community it serves. It seems this tradition goes back to its beginnings.

In the years before 1882, fires in Asheville were fought with bucket brigades. When a three-story house on Vance Street caught on fire in February of that year, a woman was trapped on the top floor. Firefighters tried desperately to find a ladder to climb up and save her, but could not. She perished. The following day, citizens approached the City Aldermen demanding improvements in fire protection. The Aldermen responded by placing an order for a hand-drawn fire truck, which was equipped with a 35-foot ladder as well as hooks, buckets, and two 15-gallon chemical extinguishers. Ladder Company #1 was born, the first volunteer fire company in the Town of Asheville, with James P. Sawyer as Chief and John G. Aston as Captain.

There were no water works in Asheville until 1883, when Mayor and Captain T.W. Patton authorized their construction. They consisted of a tank [see - Joe Joyner Collection] on Town Mountain that was fed by springs, with a small main bringing the water into the town. Also during this year, the town purchased two hand reels of hose, each carrying about 500 feet. The fire district at the time was very small, about a quarter of a mile square, and included Pack Square and parts of Patton Avenue, Biltmore, and Broadway.

In May of 1887 the first horse-drawn fire apparatus was purchased during the term of E.J. Aston as Mayor. This apparatus consisted of 2,000 feet of hose wound on a reel. Axes, door-openers, and two additional 5-gallon extinguishers had also been added to the equipment by this time. The City retained the old hand-drawn hook and ladder equipment as well. Yet even though the City had new horse-drawn equipment, it had no horses! S. Swicegood had the sprinkling contract with the City and the contract required him to unhitch his horses from the sprinkling cart and bring them to the fire hall when he heard the bell ring. Obviously, this was not a very good arrangement. In 1891 (I’ve also found reference to 1893) a group consisting of citizens and members of the fire company and their friends donated money to enable the city to purchase two horses. The horses were named Dick and Tom.

In 1898 two new hose carts were purchased and the old hose reel apparatus was discarded. The new carts carried 2,500 feet of hose each, which was folded on the floor of the carts. The first black firefighter, John Brooks, was hired in 1905 as a driver of the hose company.

In 1909 a new hook and ladder truck was ordered. It was reputed to be "a beauty and modern in all respects." (Pack) It weighed 3,600 pounds, cost $1,875, and carried 185 feet of ladders. It also had six three-gallon chemical fire extinguishers and two Pompler ladders, which were hooked poles with rods through the center for steps. A horse named Dan was the favorite of the department, performing in public exhibitions and helping to make the hose team champions. The mascot of the fire department during this time was a white Spitz named Jack who was owned by T.H. Brown, one of the firefighters. He loved to run beside the horses on the way to a fire, but was accidentally run over and killed by the hook and ladder. He received an official firefighter’s funeral and was buried in front of City Hall. His marker is still in front of the current station. It reads, "Jack. Our Mascot. Sept. 28, 1909."

The year 1912 saw the arrival of the first motorized fire trucks, and the two hose carts and the hook and ladder were attached as trailers to the main truck. This proved to be an unwieldy arrangement and after the whole contraption overturned several times, all equipment was motorized. An additional hook and ladder was purchased in 1917. In 1918 the fire station in West Asheville was abandoned because so many of the volunteers were in war service.

An article dated March 27, 1919 states that the City leased the Buckner building [West Asheville]  to be used as a sub-station of the central fire station. It was equipped with six beds, and a Reo truck with 3,000 feet of hose was transferred from the central station. The ten men selected for work in this sub-station were the first paid firefighters, and the fire insurance rating for that section of town was lowered. Another article dated January 28, 1920 states that Chief A.L. Duckett recommended a paid department consisting of 24 men, which were 18 more than were currently volunteering with the department. Apparently, the volunteers were planning to quit on March 1st. The cost for the paid members was estimated to be $110 per month per man and the teams would consist of four Captains, one for each truck, with five men working under them. An aerial tower along with other modern equipment was added in 1923.

According to Chief Causey’s history, however, a paid department was not created until March 30, 1924 with fifty-four men hired. The volunteers were to form a club. An article dated August 14, 1932 regarding the fire bell supports this timeframe, stating the "bell went out of active service in 1924 when the fire department went on a full-time paid basis." (Pack) The bell was forged in 1889. Per Causey, by 1926 the number of firefighters had grown to sixty-six, then to eighty-two by 1927. However, shortly before and during the Depression the number of firefighters was reduced by as many as thirty-three.

The reason for the inconsistencies in the dates may be that volunteers and paid firefighters worked together for a time. This is somewhat supported by the fact that Chief Duckett recommended 24 men, noting that this number was 18 more than currently volunteered. However, the difference is 6, which according to the 3/27/19 article were paid employees.

Whatever the case may be, we now have a fully accredited, paid fire department in the City of Asheville and things have changed drastically over the years. The first fire trucks had fully open cabs with no windshields, doors, or side glass. An article dated June 10, 1941 states that City Manager Burdette ordered a new "service aerial ladder truck" costing $15,600 from the American-La France-Foamite corporation of Elmira, New York. It was the "most complete and modern piece of fire equipment of its type to be found in the state," cost $15,600, and sported a windshield and doors equipped with triangular glass. (Pack)

I received information concerning more recent changes from Captain David Anders. He told me that firefighters used to wear thermal plastic helmets that were supposed to be heat-resistant, but melted. The helmets worn today resist heat much better, but the plastic shields will still crack under extreme conditions. Rubber boots have been replaced with leather, but some firefighters still have rubber boots. Turnout gear was made of canvas with rubber on the outside and was not very heat-resistant at all; it would not withstand flashover like the PBI gear worn today.

When Captain Anders first came to work for the department, only fire calls were handled by the fire department; no medical calls as we take today. In the mid-1970s they were driving trucks made in the mid-1950s. The department had two mechanics, located in the current area known as the "bat cave," who did nothing but work on fire trucks. Today we have a Fleet division that works on all city vehicles. He said that the open cab trucks stopped being used in the late 1980s and that fiberglass tops were retrofitted on some of the old trucks. When asked why the trucks had open cabs, he stated that it was tradition.

The hose used has changed as well. Captain Anders remembers one-and-a-half-inch and two-and-a-half-inch rubber hose with cotton fiber on the outside. Now firefighters use four-inch and one-and-three-quarter-inch hose. Formerly, one-inch rubber booster hose was used. It was wound on a reel with an electric motor to reel it back up. This type of hose was phased out by former Chief John Rukavina in the late 1980s to early 1990s.

Chief Rukavina also removed all the old alarm boxes throughout the city. Many of them were malfunctioning and some had two miles of wire that an electrician would have to inspect in order to make repairs. Repairing these boxes was therefore not cost effective and many cities were already phasing them out. Captain Anders said he remembered when one alarm after another would be set off. It was thought that someone was pulling them on their way to work.

My research has shown that the Asheville Fire Department has been a progressive department since its inception. It has a rich tradition of always providing the best possible service to the citizens it serves. When additional equipment was needed, the department worked quickly to make sure the very best and most modern equipment available at the time was obtained. For instance, when the new truck was purchased in 1941, Asheville was the first city in the state of North Carolina to place an order for such a modern piece of equipment.

Firefighters of the past trained constantly to be the best at what they did. This is still true today. Current firefighters participate in "combat challenges," are encouraged to receive advanced degrees in Fire Technology, and certifications as EMT, Advanced Firefighter, and Haz Mat Technician. Rookies must undergo a lengthy training period before they are brought "on line." Training is ongoing and a new and vastly improved training facility is under construction. I am extremely proud to be working with the fine men and women of the Asheville Fire Department who are willing to risk life and limb every day to protect us all.


Anders, David, Captain Asheville Fire Department. Telephone interview. 26 Nov. 2007.

Causey, Chief J.J. History of the Asheville Fire Department. Typed manuscript provided by Senior Firefighter Brian Lawrence, Fire Department Historian.

Pack Library Newspaper File Collection. Buncombe County, Volume 55, Files 49.3 – 50.



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sixt013  Asheville Fire Department, from Sixty-Six Views of Western North Carolina ball1898 Asheville Fire Department, center ball1239 Fire Station to far left on Pack Square ball1831 Biltmore Forest Fire Truck
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ball1939  Fire trucks, Asheville Fire Department, 1921 ball1800  Black Mountain Fire Department, 1921. ball2331  A.L. Duckett, Fire Chief  
ball0792a.jpg (454283 bytes) ball0792d.jpg (408670 bytes) ball0792c.jpg (385663 bytes) ball0792b.jpg (444828 bytes)
ball792a Highland Hospital fire. Zelda Fitzgerald and others lost their lives in this fire. ball792d  Highland Hospital fire. Zelda Fitzgerald and others lost their lives in this fire. ball792c  Highland Hospital fire. Zelda Fitzgerald and others lost their lives in this fire. ball792bHighland Hospital fire. Zelda Fitzgerald and others lost their lives in this fire. 
ball0792e.jpg (149167 bytes) ball0792g.jpg (417009 bytes) ball2320.jpg (217586 bytes) ball1246.1.jpg (57171 bytes)
ball792e Highland Hospital fire. Zelda Fitzgerald and others lost their lives in this fire. ball792g  Highland Hospital fire. Zelda Fitzgerald and others lost their lives in this fire. ball2320 Emporium Fire just off Pack Square ball1246 Emporium Fire, just off Pack Square
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ball1805 Old Battery Park Hotel after fire ball1491- West Asheville fire station, Buckner block