Fire Department History

1700's

In 1776, Washington was incorporated as a town.As the years went by so did the need for fire protection and in 1791 the Washington Fire Company was organized.The earliest fire fighting department was known as the "fire brigade."Volunteers composed the brigade.Water was drawn from wells or other sources of water.

1800's

In 1881, the Salamander Fire Co. and the Ocean Fire Company were chartered. The Salamander Fire Co. was a Negro volunteer fire department.This company was established by Wesley Dibrell and was also known as "Dibrell Fire Company". This all black volunteer company wore red helmets and sang songs as they operated their hand pumps at local fires.

The first known recorded Fire Chief was William Z. Morton. He was elected Fire Chief in the year 1882. Fire Chief William Z. Morton was instrumental in organizing the present fire department.

In February of 1893, Washington was devastated by two big fires. On February 23, the Walling's Mill caught fire and on February 25, the Kugler Lumber Company caught fire.

May of 1894, the Salamander Company makes a request for a Steam Fire Engine.In 1898, Washington purchased a horse drawn steamer. The first operator of the steamer was Ed Stewart followed by Ed Pilley.Our town was quite advanced with a Steamer Company and a Hook & Ladder Co.

1900's-1950's

In 1900, Joe Chauncey was elected Fire Chief.On September 14, 1900 Washington is devastated by yet another big fire. The Big Brabble Restaurant fire started and spread throughout many other businesses in the area.Several blocks were destroyed and there was over $200,000 in losses.

On February 8, 1902, Edward Peed, Nozzleman for the Salamander Fire Company, died while fighting a fire.He was the first recorded fireman to die in the line of duty here in Washington. And as far as records show, he was the first Negro fireman in North Carolina to die in the line of duty.

The fire began about 5:25 PM on a Saturday afternoon from a defective flue at the Atlantic Coast Line Freight Warehouse which was located on Washington's water front. Shortly after 9PM, Edward Peed was throwing some water on the burning rubbish when suddenly and without warning, the western wall of the Hoyt Building collapsed on fireman Peed, killing him instantly.

Edward Peed had been a member of the Salamander Fire Co. for more than 20 years. He was 46 years old when he tragically died in the line of duty.All the citizens of Washington regretted his death. A monument was erected by the white citizens of Washington and to this day, the monument stands at the current Fire Station. The monument reads: "Edward Peed, born March 1, 1855 & Died February 8, 1902. A member of the Salamander Fire Company for over 20 years. He died at the post of duty. Erected by the white citizens of Washington, North Carolina in appreciation of his faithfulness."

The year is 1906 and there were 10 Volunteer Fire Companies which made up the Washington Fire Department.
In 1913, the Volunteer Motor Co. was instrumental in getting a self-propelled, motor driven fire truck from the American La France Fire Engine Company.  Money for its purchase came from barbecue suppers, picnics, and raffles.  A total of $12,500 was raised.  Washington was the SECOND town in North Carolina to have a self-propelled, motor driven fire engine.  Raleigh, North Carolina was the FIRST.  This fire engine became known as "Old #12" because of its twelve cyllinders.  It was chain driven and steered on the right side.  "Old #12" was used to transport hose and equipment to the fire.  The horse drawn steamer supplied the water pressure.

In 1922, the town of Washington purchased two more fire trucks, The 75 and Hook and Ladder 451.

In 1930, Fireman Lonnie Jackson had a fatal heart attack while standing by his fire truck.  Lonnie began his work with the department in 1906 and in the late 1920's became one of the two paid drivers of the fire trucks in service.
Lonnie Jackson went beyond his normal duties as he would hitch the horses to the fire wagon and ride over the town of Washington picking up boys to go to Sunday school and church.  Local churches would rotate having the fire wagon parked out front on Sunday morning.   All the fire equipment was in his funeral procession and silently marching behind the were the local boys that he had driven to church.  In recognition of his long and devoted service as a fireman, the fire department passed a resolution that on each Sunday morning forever, the fire whistle would be sounded at 10:45 am to remind the people of Washington to go to church.

In 1934, Richard Leach became Fire Chief.  During his term as Fire Chief he helped organize the "East Carolina Firemen's Association."  This association was one of the most powerful in the state.  The "East Carolina Association" was founded here in Washington, North Carolina and Chief Leach was the Association's First President.

On Saturday June 22, 1935 the city of Washington is ravaged by yet another fire, the Moss Planning Mill Company Fire.  This early morning fire destroyed five buildings, four homes as well as claiming the life of veteran fireman David Eugene Jackson.  The fire was discovered by Rufus Barrow, a colored night fireman for the Roanoke Railroad and Lumber Company, around 3:10 in the morning.  Fire Chief Leach threw Washington's entire firefighting arsenal at the fire.  Shifting winds hampered their efforts.  Between 12 and 15 hoselines were turned on the burning structures which threatened tp advance onto the main business street of the city.  Greenville Fire Department was called for assistance.  The Moss Planning Mill, dry kiln, brick warehouse, lumber and incidentals were completely destroyed.  Total loss estimated at around $130,000.

David Eugene Jackson, age 55, veteran fireman of the Ocean Fire Company, was the third member of the Washington Fire Department to lose his life in the line of duty.  Mr. Jackson died from a heart attack.  He had been a faithful member of the Ocean Fire Company for many years, dating back to the early 1900's.

On December 2, 1938 an early morning fire gutted the Tayloe Hospital.  In the history of the Washington Fire Department, perhaps this is the greatest fire disaster.  The fire gutted the three-story wooden structure that served as the main wing of the Tayloe Hospital.  There were at least three patients that died , two injuried and a total of eleven people were trapped by the blaze.  Assistant Fire Chief Dan T. Smith was in charge of the operations because Chief Leach was out of town.  Over eighty firemen, volunteers and civilians battled the fast-spreading flames for more than three hours.  The fire was a virtual inferno.  There were several dangerous and heroing rescues.  At one time it was believed that all the patients had been rescued but volunteer Firemen Tom Owens said he heard a steady "beating on the floor" in a second story room.  Speeding to investigate he found a little 10-year old girl laying on the floor of her room in two inches of water in a near delirious state.

In 1951, a surplus army truck was purchased and equipped for emergency use.  This was the beginning of the Washington Rescue Squad.

Also in 1951, the Eureka Lumber Company was completely destroyed by fire.

In 1952, Fred Potts was appointed Fire Chief.  It was the same year that Washington's FIRST Rescue Squad was formed.
On Saturday January 7, 1956 McClellan's Department Store is destroyed by fire in freezing weather.  The fire alarm was sounded at 8:12 Saturday night.  Fanned by winds estimated at 25 miles per hour and working in bitter cold weather with the temperature getting as low as 18 degrees, firemen fought the blaze all night.  Ten firemen were overcome by smoke and first aid was rendered while several firemen were slightly injured.  About 10,000 feet of hose was used to carry water to the fire.  McClellan's was a total loss.  The stock of merchandise lost was around $100,000 and the building itself was valued at $300,000.

1960's-1980's

In 1965, the Fire Department moves to its current location, on the corner of Market and Fifth Street.  On March 25, 1965 more than 3,000 people from Eastern North Carolina attended an Open House and Dedication of the new fire station.  Fire Chief Fred Potts said that the open house was an "overwhelming success...We expected a large crowd," he said, "but it turned out to be almost more than we could handle."

An overview of the Washington Fire Department in 1972.  The Washington Fire Department, rich in tradition, is staffed with eleven paid personnel and fifty-seven volunteers.  There are three first-line pumpers; a 1957 John Bean pumper, a 1966 Howe pumper and a 1968 John Bean pumper; as well as a 75-foot 1949 American La France aerial ladder truck.  The volunteer personnel is disbursed among three independent companies- The Ocean Company, The Motor Company and The Hook and Ladder Company.  Each volunteer company has an authorizing strength of 30 members.  The Washington Firemen's Association, to which each of the three independent companies belong, provides a common bond of purpose.

In 1973, Tony Abeyounis is promoted to Fire Chief.

In 1981, Snorkel-1 was purchased.  It has a two-stage fire pump capable of delivering 1250 gallons per minute.  On Monday March 9, 1981, Snorkle-1 is used for the first time at the Long Branch nightclub fire.

Labor Day weekend 1982, National Spinning, a local manufacturer of acrylic yarn, suffers a tragic fire in which four (4) members of its Fire Brigade were killed in the Line of Duty. 

In 1984, Hugh Sterling Jr. is promoted to Fire Chief.  That same year the Washington Fire Department became paid EMS.

In 1985, the Department became certified as an EMT-Intermediate squad.

In 1988, the Washington Fire Department purchases a Quality 1250 gallons per minute pumper with a 750-gallon water tank.

1990's

In 1990, Captain Scottie Taylor recieved a Associates Degree in Fire Protection Technology from Wilson Technical Community College

In 1994, the Department purchases an AEV EMS Unit, which years later, in 2004 is converted into Rescue-1, the Department's first light rescue unit.

In 1995, Truck-1, a HAZMAT/Air Supply Truck, is acquired as a gift.  That same year, seven (7) members from the Department become state certified Hazardous Material Response Technicians and members of the newly created RRT-1.  Those members were Jimmy Davis, Gerald Seighman, Robbie Rose, Jasper Hardison, Tom Amick, Tommy Shea and Tracy Cox.

In 1996, Fire Chief High Sterling Jr. retires.  The City of Washington decides to combine the Fire Department and the Police Department to create The Department of Public Safety.  Police Chief John Crone is appointed Chief of the Public Safety Department.  Lieutenant Scottie Taylor is promoted to Administrative Captain to assist Chief Crone. That same year, the fire department purchases a 1996 E-One 1500 gallons per minute pumper with a 1,000 gallon water tank.

Hurricane Bertha, a category 2 hurricane, made landfall in North Carolina on July 12th, 1996.  The hurricane passed through Washington and Beaufort County with a storm surge of over 7 feet in the city.  The Department made several rescues utilizing all its resources including the rescue boats.

Hurricane Fran, a category 3 hurricane, made landfall in North Carolina on September 5, 1996.  Just like weeks earlier, Hurricane Fran made its way through Washington and Beaufort County recording a storm surge of over 7 feet in the city.  Flooding damage was extensive and the department made numerous rescues using all the Departrment's resources including the rescue boats and even its fire engines.  Residents were trapped by the rising storm surge and the Department rescued those citizens.  The rising water started after many residents had gone to sleep.  During the hurricane, one of the fire station's large windows in the training room was shattered.

As a result of Hurricane Bertha and Fran the Department changed its SOG's for operations during a Hurricane. 
Early on the morning of December 30, 1996 a third-alarm fire destroys the three-story Beautiful Dreams furniture store located in downtown Washington.  Approximately fifty firefighters from the Washington Fire Department as well as other Beaufort County volunteer fire departments battled the fire for over eight hours.  Estimated damages were epproximately $350,000 for contents and $150,000 for the building.  Total loss was estimated at $500,000.

In 1998 Public Safety Chief John Crone resigns and become the new Police Chief in Conover, North Carolina.  The city disbands the Department of Public Safety and the Fire Department and Police Department are once again separate. Captain Scottie Taylor is appointed interim Chief of the fire department until the new chief is hired.  Nelson Pyle is appointed Fire Chief.  Chief Pyle previously served as Deputy Fire Chief for the Anne Arundel County Fire-Rescue-EMS Services in Maryland where he retired in the spring after 27 years of service.

In January 1999, the Department changes it's name from Washington Fire Department to Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS Services.  With the new name comes a new look.  The old patch, which has been worn by the fire department personnel for over a century, underwent a change.  The new patch reflects the changes in the Department's mission.  The Department is reorganized and four divisions are created under Chief Pyle's leadership.  The Operations Division, Fire Marshal's Division, Training Division and Volunteer Support Division.

2000 - 2009

In 2000, Volunteer Division Chief Jerry Seighman trains all career members of the Washington Fire Departmet in Confined Space Rescue and the Department's career members are certified at the OSHA Level.  That same year, the Department purchases a Ferrara Fire engine with a tank capacity of 750- gallons of water and can pump 1500 gallons per minute.

In 2001, Volunteer Division Chief Jerry Seighman trains all career members of the Department in Hazardous Materials Response and the Department's career members are certified at the HAZMAT Technician OSHA Level.  That same year, the Department purchases a 14-foot Southern Skimmer with a Suzuki four-stroke 30 Horsepower motor to be used for boat rescues and other water-related emergencies.

In 2003, all career members of the Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS Services become North Carolina State certified Emergency Rescue Technicians.

In 2004, the fire department purchases a Wheeled Coach EMS Unit and Division Chief Jimmy Davis is promoted to Fire Chief.  Under his leadership he plans to build on the foundation set by retired Fire Chief Nelson Pyle and lead Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS into the next decade. With the promotion of Chief Davis it left a vacancy in the command staff. A promotion process was held and Engineer Mark Yates was promoted to the rank of Division Chief and was placed in charge of the departments training division. That same year, Fire Chief Jimmy Davis, Division Chief Robbie Rose, and Division Chief Jasper Hardison all graduated from Wilson Technical Community College with a Associates degree in Fire Protection Technology.

In April 2005, members of the departments Command staff were among the first in the state to receive there Fire Officer III state certifications. Those members were: Fire Chief Jimmy Davis, Division Chief Robbie Rose, Division Chief Mark Yates, Division Chief Gerald Seighman, Division Chief Jasper Hardison, and Captain Scottie Taylor. Also in that year we had the retirement of Captain Richard Moore after 31 years of service to the department. With his retirement a promotion process was held and Engineer R. M. Flowers was promoted to the rank of Captain and assigned Shift Commander of B-shift. We also were able to upgrade our department's boat to a 24' Carolina Skiff from Park Boat Company. We received approval for the purchase of a new aerial to replace the older model that is currently in service.
In 2005, members from the Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS that are on the RRT-1 Team include Fire Chief Jimmy Davis, Volunteer Division Chief Jerry Seighman, Division Chief Robbie Rose, Division Chief Jasper Hardison, FF/EMT Tim Hines and FF/EMT Mike Stalls.

In June 2006, we took delivery of a new aerial platform. Ladder 1 is a 2006 Pierce Dash-2000 Series 100' aerial platform with 1500GPM pump and 400 gal tank. The unit was placed in service after training and equipment could be mounted.  We are looking forward to breaking ground on our second station. It will be located on the west side of the city.

In 2007, we had a opening for a Captain so a promotion process was held. Engineer Jeffery White was promoted to the rank of Captain and assigned as shift commander of C-shift. Captain Scottie Taylor was moved to shift commander of  B-shift. We finally were able to break ground on our second station. The station will be located at 2064 West 15th street. This station will operate to cover the west side of the city and will house the aerial unit, one engine, and one EMS unit. This station will greatly improve our response times to residents and businesses on the West side of town. Due to changes involved with staffing this station with personnel we needed to reclassify several positions in the department. Once we did that there were promotion processes done for Engineers and also for the Lieutenant's positions. FF/EMT-I Tobby Wainwright was promoted to the rank of Engineer that took effect in October of this year. FF/EMT-I Josh Ingram, Robbie Taylor, and Johnathan Hardin would be promoted but not effective until January 1, 2008.

In 2008 we were finally able to get our second station open and running. It was open on April 1 and the shifts personnel were divided between the two stations. Three members were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant to run the shifts at Station 2. Those promoted to the rank of Lieutenant were R.M. Flowers, Jeremy Wetherington and Gary Johnson. Also two members were promoted to the rank of Engineer. Those members were Steven Hodges and Mike Stalls. Ladder 1, EMS-2 and Engine 2 were placed at the new station. EMS 1 was replaced with a new EMS unit in October of this year. Tim Hines was promoted to the rank of Engineer to replace Mike Stalls who left the department.

In 2009 we had a change in the leadership of the department. Division Chief Robbie Rose was placed as the interim Chief of the Department in July. Also FF Doug Bissette was promoted to Lieutenant  in January to replace Lt. Flowers who was promoted to Captain of C-shift after Captain White retired in late 2008.

2010-2020

In March of 2010 Interim Chief Rose was promoted to Chief of the Department. Captain Taylor retired from the department. The department retired Rescue-1 and Chief Rose consolidated some divisions as we went back to Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS and dropped the inspections off of the name as they were transferred back to the planning department. In May 2011 Amber Carter transferred to Administrative Specialist. In the summer of 2011 the department purchased a new EMS unit to replace our 2003 Ford/Wheel Coach EMS unit. The 2008 EMS-1 will be now EMS-2 at Station-2 and the new EMS unit will be EMS-1 at Station-1. A promotional process was held in September 2012. Engineer Toby Wainwright was promoted to Lieutenant in October to replace Lt. Gary Johnson on B-Shift. FF Alan O'Kane was promoted to Engineer on B-Shift to replace Engineer Toby Wainwright who was promoted to Lieutenant. Robbie Taylor & Ottis Harrell were promoted in January 2013 to replace the retirement of Captain Lee Dawson. During 2012 calendar year the department has had some great training. RT Ropes was taught by Joe Burris through Beaufort County Community College. This was an important training for the department to keep members skill level up in the event of any rescue that may arrise.

In March 2013 Chief Jasper Hardison retired. Chief Hardison was the Fire Marshal for several years before his retirement. Chief Mark Yates is now the Fire Marshal. Chief Robbie Rose is now the Fire Division Commander of the Department. Stacey Drakeford is the Director of Fire & Police. Washington Fire Department started a Water Rescue class in April 2013 and completed the class with a TR Water Rescue certification in July 2013. Several members started the Paramedic program November 2013 that is being offered through Beaufort County Community College. The program goes through November 2014 and once completing class they will take the state test in December. 

January 2014 training started with TR Confined Space with Instructor Joe Burris. Members completed the class with a TR Confined Space certification in March 2014. August 2014 training started with TR Ag Rescue with Joe Burris. Members completed class with a TR Ag Rescue in September 2014. The department received Heavy Rescue in October 2014 from the NC Association of Rescue & Emergency Medical Services. 

In January of 2015 Lieutenant Doug Bissette was promoted to Captain and placed in the newly created office of EMS Coordinator. In February of 2015 the department increased its EMS service to the Paramedic Level. A promotional process was held in March/April which resulted in Engineer Bryan Lilley being promoted to Lieutenant and FF/Paramedic Jonathan Patterson being promoted to Engineer. Later that year the department started TR Wilderness with Instructor Joe Burris. Members completed the class with a TR Wilderness certification. In 2015 Captain RM Flowers, Captain Jeremy Wetherington, Captain Johnathan Hardin and Captain Doug Bissette completed the Eastern North Carolina Senior Fire Officer Leadership Institute certification. The class was provided by Wilson County Community College. Captain RM Flowers, Captain Johnathan Hardin & Captain Doug Bissette North Carolina Executive Fire Officer Development Course completed in October 2015.

July 1st 2016 Director Drakeford does some restructuring in the department and changes the titles of our  officers. Engineers became Lieutenants, Lieutenants became Captains, and Captains became Battalion Chiefs. The officers of the department are now; Battalion Chief Johnathan Hardin, Battalion Chief Jeremy Wetherington, Battalion Chief RM Flowers, Battalion Chief Doug Bissette, Captain Robbie Taylor, Captain Tobby Wainwright, Captain Bryan Lilley, Lieutenant Harold Johnson, Lieutenant Chris Brock, Lieutenant Tim Hines, Lieutenant Jonathan Patterson, Lieutenant Josh Ingram, and Lieutenant Steven Hodges. 

FF/Paramedic Chris Boyd was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in May of 2017.

FF/AEMT Brent Hamilton was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in March of 2019.

May of 2019 brought the retirement of Fire Chief Robbie Rose after 31 years of service with the department. Chief Rose served many roles during his career including Engineer, Lieutenant, Captain, Division Chief, and Chief. After his retirement Division Chief Mark Yates is named Interim Fire Chief and Battalion Chief Doug Bissette becomes Interim Division Chief and is placed in the Fire Marshal's Office.

In August of 2020 Division Chief Doug Bissette left the department and Battalion Chief RM Flowers was promoted to the Rank of Division Chief and took over the Fire Marshal's Office. 

2020 - Current

In August of 2021 Tobby Wainwright is promoted to Battalion Chief of C-Shift to fill the vacancy created by Chief Flowers' earlier promotion. Later that year William Rushton is promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and Jonathan Patterson is promoted to Captain.

March 31st 2022 brings Fire Chief Mark Yates career to an end as he retires with 26 years of service. During his career he served as Engineer, Division Chief of Operations, Fire Marshal, and finished the last 3 years as Chief of the Department. Following his retirement Chief Flowers is named Interim Fire Chief and B.C Hardin is promoted to Interim Division Chief and moves into the role of Fire Marshal. In June of 2022 the department takes delivery of a new 78' Rosenbauer Aerial after nearly a 2 year build process. This unit is replacing the 1996 E-One Freightliner known as Engine 3. The new apparatus will be named Ladder-1 and the department's older aerial unit is renamed Tower-1. August 2022 brings another restructuring plan for our agency with the creation of an EMS Division within the department. The new EMS Division will work a 24-72 schedule compared to the 24-48 fire schedule and will be staffed by Full Time Paramedics not required to be fire fighters. With this new division Steven Hodges is promoted to the rank of Battalion Chief and named EMS Coordinator to oversee all EMS Operations. Later that year Justin Burnette and Matt VanNortwick are both promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.

July 20th 2023 Interim Chief RM Flowers is named Fire Chief of the Department. Following Chief Flowers promotion to Fire Chief, Jonathan Hardin is promoted to Division Chief and remains in the Fire Marshal's Office. On November 10th 2023 Jonathan Patterson is promoted to Battalion Chief and will be the Shift Commander of A-Shift. Brent Hamilton is also promoted that same day and assumes the role of Captain on B Shift.