The smaller towns of Wake County followed similar patterns for providing fire protection in the early 1900s. Fire districts were established with restrictions for buildings, wells provided the first water supplies, and fire equipment was limited to the hand-carried variety. Or the Raleigh Fire Department was called to help. Fire hydrants were installed in Wendell in 1919 and shortly thereafter in Zebulon, Apex, and Wake Forest. As the towns installed their water systems, they also purchased fire hose and formed fire companies.
The first apparatus was often a hand-drawn “hose reel,” though motorized fire engines arrived as early as 1923 in Cary and Zebulon. The fire departments were comprised of volunteers, though the odd “paid person” was employed, such as the “night fireman” hired in Apex in 1927. And as downtown Raleigh suffered its early fires, so did the other business districts: nine buildings in Apex in 1911, ten buildings in Rolesville in 1913, a block of Fuquay Springs in 1919, and a third of downtown Wendell in 1925.
For residents living outside of a particular town’s limits, Wake County’s Office of Civil Defense started a rural firefighting program in the 1950s. Funds, equipment, and even a two-way radio network were provided for the emerging volunteer agencies. Because the newly created fire districts could not be named the same as a municipality’s, they bore such strange names as Hipex in Apex, Yrac in Cary, and Wakette in Wake Forest. Others were named for landmarks, roadways, or the communities, such as Fairground, Six Forks Road, and Stony Hill.
As rural populations increased in the 1960s and 1970s, so did the size of the fire departments. They added “substations,” increased their numbers of apparatus, and sometimes successively moved “farther out” as growing municipalities annexed their territories. Developments during the 1980s and 1990s included the implementation of First Responder programs, the merging of town and rural fire departments, and the addition of full-time personnel.
These historical images depict Wake County fire departments, firefighters, and fire service agencies from the early 20th Century to present. Most of the images were compiled in 2002 and 2003, by Mike Legeros. Sources for the images include the News & Observer and Raleigh Times, the North Carolina State Archives, the individual fire departments, photographers such as Lee Wilson, as well as other individuals and agencies. Please submit corrections or questions to Mike Legeros.