Department History

In the beginning...

In February of 1887 Company Shops, a town that developed around the railroad maintenance shops in Alamance County changed its name to Burlington.
With the town being only about one square mile, fire protection was not high on the priority list.  It mainly consisted of an unorganized group of individuals occasionally with a bucket or two, no one really to count on.

Records show that Mr. C. D. Whitesell was the next Chief. He commanded a fine group of the “leading townsmen”. They were a top notch bucket brigade and hose reel unit. The hose reel was outfitted with two sections of hose and was quite effective, as long as the fire was within close proximity of one of the three hydrants located within the town limits.

Corey Whitesell

Bucket Brigade
During the time of the bucket brigade, the water system in Burlington was owned and operated by Southern Railway. It consisted of a water main that ran from a pond located in the vicinity of the current city park/Pine hill Cemetery, to a water tower at the end of Worth Street. Seeing the need for advanced fire protection and since an actual organized department was in place, arrangements were made to tap into and install hydrants for use by the fire department.

After much strategic planning hydrants were placed in the following locations: one on Main Street in the vicinity of the Piedmont Hotel and the Wachovia Building, second, in front of CF Neese Jewelry Store (commonly know as Bud Neese Corner) and third, further out South Main Street to protect “Chinch Row”. Once these hydrants were in place the actual hose cart was purchased and placed into service.

According to archived newspaper articles the first hose reel house was located on Worth Street, in a shed that Mr. N. S. Cardwell, a prominent horse and equipment trader, allowed the department to use.
Bucket Brigade

Walter Sellers
Walter Sellers, possibly the third of the Burlington Volunteer Fire Department
 B.M. Walker
Chief B.M. Walker of the Burlington Volunteer Fire Department
 John T. Love
Chief John T. Love of the Burlington Volunteer Fire Department

Notifying the members of fires during the early 1900’s was accomplished by either yelling fire or by shooting a handgun or rifle.  Either a murder had been committed or a fire was in progress, that was up to the town watchman to decide.  Then came the steam whistle alarm, located on the steam powered water pump used by the railroad to pressurize the water system.   After the whistle alarm, a large bell was used to alert the volunteers. At one time the bell was situated atop City Hall, (this being after 1917).  Currently, the bell makes its home on the front lawn of Headquarters as a monument to the volunteers that once served the city.

When the alarm sounded it was the job of Mr. Nathan Stansell, official “city pump operator” to make sure that there was sufficient pressure on the water system to fight the fire. A typical response went something like this; Mr. Stansell would run from his home to Moores Livery Stable where a mare horse, “Pony” was boarded for the sole purpose of transporting Mr. Stansell to the pump station. Mr. Stansell would shout fire all the way to the pump house notifying the townspeople as he sped along.

Mr. Stansell was known for his devotion to the job and ability to operate this pump with keen accuracy. Each day before he went home he would leave approximately 40 psi on the boiler which was enough to start the pump when needed. All that he had to do was” open the throttle valve and the direct -acting, steam driven duplex pump would start delivering the required water pressure in the main.”

May, 1904 a fire was discovered in the stately Burlington Inn. Immediately the townspeople responded to save all the furnishing and belongings. The fire continued to rage as the fire department fought to save the structure, hampered by low water pressure. It was later discovered that in the rush to save the inn and its contents, no one had thought to wake up Nathan Stansell, so the pump never operated.

1905 was a pivotal year for the expanding city, True horsepower came to the aid of the fire department. Mr. Julian Hughes of the Times-News provided us with the following information …… Rubin, the first horse to serve the Burlington Fire Department was purchased and donated to the city by E.H. Murray. The provisions were that the city must stable and care for the animal and that he be used to transport men and equipment to fires.


Holding the bridle is Fireman Jules McDade, In the background is Fireman J. Zeb Waller. A post mark date on the card indicates that the card was sent in 1908.

Rubin wasn’t the only horse to serve the city. Record show that horses named Prince, Dolph, and John all responded to fires while in the service of the Burlington Volunteer Fire Department. There are several different pieces of information concerning the story of great 1914, State Champion Burlington Fire Department Race Team and which horse actually pulled the wagon to victory.

It seems that in 1914, the Burlington Volunteer Fire Department trained diligently, traveled to Winston Salem and won the annual state hose wagon race in an astonishing time of 30.35 seconds. For their efforts the team was awarded $100.00. Burlington Volunteer Fire Department held the coveted title from 1914 until 1920.

A 1914 practice run for the race team


Otis Fogleman, a local horse trader, sold the city a 5 year old horse named John. Mr. Fogleman happened upon the horse while in Harrisonburg Va., purchased it, then resold it to the city. Two separate accounts list Old John as the power behind the hose cart.

(Note the bell under the driver. This bell or another one very similar is located at Headquarters Fire Station.)

An early article from the Times –News lists the horse pulling the hose wagon in the photo above as “Prince” Prince was “quartered” in a stable that was reportedly located in the vicinity of West Front and Worth Streets.


Other than this photo; no other information concerning Prince is available.

The photo below indicates that a different horse also had its time in the spotlight with the race team. Currently no name is available.

No Name.JPG