Midtown Raleigh News

Raleigh Fire Department reflects and celebrates after 100 years of service

In the Raleigh Fire Department Centennial Celebration parade on Saturday, retired Capt. Clyde Carter, 84, will ride the firetruck he drove when he joined the fire department in 1950.

“I thank the Lord that I’m able to see (the 100th anniversary),” said Carter, who is the last surviving member of his crew. He retired in 1983.

In 1950, Carter took an exam, interviewed and later, was offered a job as a firefighter.

When he joinied the department, there were only six stations, which made it more like a family, he said.

“I realize the department is so big now, that they cannot do that,” Carter said. Currently, there are 28 stations and about 580 employees.

Firefighters worked a 24-hour shift and then had 24 hours off, which Carter didn’t realize the day he started, he said.

“At that time, I knew absolutely nothing about the fire department,” he said. “It was the oddest thing when I got there that morning to find out I was going to have to stay there all night.”

A typical day for Carter began at 8 a.m. with roll call. Then, he and the other firefighters would have breakfast, and afterward spend the day cleaning the station between fires. At 2 p.m., classes began, which reviewed street and building locations, building height and information about their territory.

“Our day was fairly active up until about supper time,” Carter said. “We normally stayed busy doing something.”

Changes in the department

Today, firefighters have the same 24-hour shift, said Leonard Epps, 46, senior firefighter for station 21 A platoon.

While the shifts and day-to-day schedule have not changed significantly, the technology has.

“Things have changed so much,” Carter said. “And personally, I think it’s for the best.”

During Carter’s first response to a fire, he didn’t have a helmet. Later in 1950, fire helmets were introduced.

Initially, firefighters were notified of fires through the use of fire alarm boxes, which when triggered, would send a transmitted signal to a warning device. The box would also transmit the number – each box was numbered depending on its location – and the firefighters were able to indentify the box by the number of punches on ticker tape, Carter said.

Today, firefighters are notified through pagers, a rip and run device that prints all the information and other devices that give the location and nature of the fire.

“It’s crazy how you don’t really appreciate these things until you come along one of these anniversaries and you start to reflect and look back on some of the archives,” Epps said.

In Epps’ time at the fire department, he too has seen changes.

On the basic level, educational requirements for firefighters have changed over the years, he said. When Epps first began, firefighters were required to maintain continuous education hours and Emergency Medical Training, and have a high school diploma.

These basic requirements are still mandatory, but if a firefighter wants to be promoted, more exams are required, Epps said.

“The upcoming generations of firefighters are going to be better-equipped to deal with policies and procedures and be able to instill them,” Epps said.

Advice for the future

Even though the fire department has seen changes in the past 100 years, the advice past firefighters can share with current and future fighters is timeless, Epps said.

“That’s one thing you can get from our past retirees, the leadership qualities and traits and how to effectively lead our people,” Epps said.

If Epps is able to attend the parade, he said he hopes to meet some of the retirees and ask their opinions of the fire department today.

“As far as advice, the only thing I can say, and as much as things have changed, the fire department is a good, secure job,” Carter said. “I don’t think a young man starting off can have a better job than a fire department.”