Fire Department History


In an effort to combat the fire problem in Rutherfordton, the town commissioners on June 5, 1906, appointed a committee "to purchase as many ladders and rubber buckets as they think necessary to protect the town in case of fire." Available records seem to indicate that this was the first official act by the governing body of the town to provide fire protection.

Those buckets and ladders were soon put to the test and found lacking, however. Clarence Griffin in his book The History of Old Tryon and Rutherford Counties reports that the court house was completely destroyed on December 24, 1907. The fire was discovered early in the morning before having made much headway; consequently, "practically all the county records, papers, etc. were saved. With no fire fighting apparatus and no available water, except from wells, the fire could not be checked until the building was destroyed."

After each big fire in town, renewed effort was made to provide some degree of fire protection. Town Council minutes early in 1908 report passage of an ordinance requiring each merchant doing business within the central business district to keep a barrel holding from 40 to 50 gallons of water in the rear of the store to be used in case of fire. By 1910, complacency must have prevailed, for a new ordinance was adopted again specifying that water be kept at the rear of each store for the expressed purpose of fighting fire. This ordinance also authorized the Town Marshal to purchase two dozen metal buckets and a half-dozen axes for the use in battling blazes within the town.

The common firefighting practice in Rutherfordton prior to 1911 was that of a general community response under the spontaneous direction of the Town Marshal, who also acted as tax collector and village policeman. The governing body of the town provided for minimum equipment acquisition and water supply. These efforts were adequate if early detection of a structural fire could be made; otherwise, the results were usually less than successful.

By 1912, Rutherfordton enjoyed a new water works complete with fire hydrants. Meeting July 1, 1912, the town council ordered that 1000 feet of hose, two hose reels, and a hook and ladder truck along with two nozzles be purchased. This "truck" was a horse-drawn wagon to be housed in a central location referred to as the "fire house", a fire department now officially having been organized. The March 21, 1911 franchise agreement with the Rutherfordton Telephone Company required that two telephones be furnished free of charge to the town of Rutherfordton, one in the mayor's office and the other in the fire department of the town. On October 7, 1914, "the council authorized $50 to be paid to R.M. Levi as one year's rent for a "house" used for the fire department." In planning for more permanent quarters, the council on July 6, 1915 "ordered that K. S. Tanner be appointed to select a lot and submit an estimate suitable for fire department headquarters and municipal building." These plans developed slowly for in 1922 a contract was made for the "Ervin Payseur House Building" to be used as the fire building."

This organized and better equipped fire department proved itself adequate to the task for many years. An entry in the May 8, 1917 council minutes reported tat "only two fires, both of small consequence, have occurred during our administration. In both instances our fire department rendered commendable service." A permanent fire station and municipal building was not occupied until 1925 with the completion of the City Hall, currently the Fire House Inn.

In 1924, Rutherfordton purchased a motorized pumper from the American LaFrance Fire Equipment Company in Elmira, New York. This apparatus, state of the art at that time, served until 1951 when it was supplemented with a new American LaFrance pumper and the Rutherfordton Fire Department entered a modern era of fire fighting capability and practice. Currently, it operates six pieces of apparatus with fourteen pay-per-call, five part-time, and seven full-time paid firefighters serving the town and an outside district. On January 16, 1996 the department officially occupied its new headquarters station on Mitchell Street which provides adequate housing for the apparatus and business activities of the department along with living accommodations for on-duty staff.

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