Firefighter Games a Long Tradition in North Carolina


CarolinaFireJournal - Mike Legeros
Mike Legeros
04/23/2012 -

Contests between North Carolina’s firefighters are as old as many of the departments themselves. After the Civil War, newspapers reported the excursions of firemen from one city to another. In September 1869, for example, some 30 members of Raleigh’s Merchants Independent Fire Company were received by the Steam Fire Engine Company of New Bern.

Inevitably, such visits included competitions between the visiting and home firefighters. In August 1882, the colored firefighters of Wilmington received Raleigh’s Victor Company. Among the activities was a “reel contest.” The prize was awarded for the best time for pulling a hand hose reel for 250 yards, laying 100 feet of hose, detaching, attaching, and flowing water from a hydrant. Wilmington’s Cape Fear Company No. 3 made the best run.

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Raleigh’s Capital Hose Company running team on West Morgan Street, 1891. North Carolina State Archives photo.

With the creation of the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association (NCSFA) in September 1888, a statewide firemen’s tournament became an annual tradition. The timed events in those early years included steam engine contests, hand-drawn hose reel races, and foot races. Horse-drawn hose wagon and hook and ladder contests were added in later years.

News & Observer photograph.

Wake Forest Fire Department #2 competing in a closing event of the 67th annual session of the North Carolina Volunteer Fireman’s Association, July 1957.

The last year for steam engine contests was 1913. Later that decade, the tournament was suspended for three years during World War I. The contests resumed in 1920, with the addition of competitions for motor pumpers and motor chemical cars.

Hose reel race on George Street in New Bern, July 1910. Winning teams included fire companies from Spencer, Salem, and Chapel Hill.

Through the early years of the 20th century, the state firemen’s convention and tournament visited cities across North Carolina: Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, Goldsboro, Greensboro, Morehead City, New Bern, Raleigh, Salisbury, Wilmington, Winston, Winston-Salem, and Wrightsville Beach were host cities between 1888 and 1920.

The last NCSFA tournament with competing teams was held in August 1940 in Salisbury. Another with no competing teams was held in August 1941 in Asheville. The next year’s tournament was likely suspended due to war conditions and was never resumed. The convention was also cancelled for that reason, for three years during the 1940s.

A second statewide tournament during the same period was conducted by the North Carolina Colored Volunteer Firemen’s Association (NCCVFA). They were chartered in February 1891, and also held annual conventions and tournaments throughout the state.

Atlantic Fire Company of New Bern in hose wagon contest, circa 1900. That year’s tournament was held in Wilmington.

Between 1891 and 1911, their host cities included Charlotte, Concord, Durham, Henderson, Monroe, New Bern, Raleigh, Rocky Mount, Salisbury, Warrenton, Washington, Wilmington, Wilson and Winston.

The NCCVFA conducted tournaments into the late 20th century. Their 67th annual conference was held in Wake Forest at DuBois High School.

Today, firefighter competitions are still conducted in some North Carolina communities. The Warrenton Rural Fire Department in Warren County has held contests as part of their annual Firemen’s Day festivities since 1983. The Southport Fire Department in Brunswick County has hosted firefighter games since 1984 as part of the town’s Fourth of July festivities.

Mike Legeros is the historian of the Raleigh Fire Department. Learn more North Carolina firefighting history at www.legeros.com/history.
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  4/4/2013 8:16:22 AM
Tim Wall 


1925 Winston-Salem Reel Team 
I have the team picture from the 1925 competition and the documented races the team won. There were two and both had cash awards. My grandfather is in the photo. Please contact me and I will be glad to share a digital copy. [email protected]