On Saturday, May 6, 2006, firefighters from across the
state converged on Nash Square in downtown Raleigh to
dedicate the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters
Monument. A memorial service honored the fallen heroes
whose names, departments, and death dates are
inscribed on stone plaques.
The 164 names represent
line-of-duty firefighter deaths from 1902 to 2005;
both career and volunteer protectors who made the
supreme sacrifice. These were men and women who rode
engines, drove ambulances, flew helicopters, and
fought fire as industrial fire brigades. They were
heroes of every rank, from Secretary to Fire Chief.
These are some of their stories...
Downtown Shelby, May 25, 1979
One of the darkest days in North Carolina's fire
service history started as a smoke investigation in
downtown Shelby around 6:15 p.m. Firefighters arrived
in the 100 block of West Warren Street and found an
apparently routine fire in the rear of Geoffrey's
Men's Clothing Store. About thirty minutes into the
incident, a sudden blast shook the store and sent
bricks and glass flying into the streets. Walls had
collapsed, firefighters were buried, and heavy fire
and smoke was pouring from the rear of the two-story
Four firefighters and a civilian gas department
employee were dead. Another 12 firefighters were
injured. Killed instantly in the street in front of
the building were volunteer firefighter George
Magness, 44, career firefighter Nathan Hall,
27, and volunteer firefighter Donald Melton,
24. Magness was also the chief of the 12-member
volunteer fire department. Career firefighter Floyd
"Nicky" Sharts, 31, was found dead beneath the
rubble in the alley behind the building. Gas
department employee Max Bowling, who had apparently
gone to the scene to shut off the building's gas
supply, was also found dead in the alley.
Believed caused by a backdraft in a void between the
building's first and second floors, the explosion
snapped surrounding trees in two, twisted street
lamps, and destroyed a 1972 American LaFrance pumper.
Some 50 people were on the sidewalk when the building
exploded and 31 were injured. By sunset, the streets
were filled with thousands of onlookers.
Mutual aid from Cleveland, Boiling Springs, Boiling
Springs Rural, Grover, Kings Mountain, Oak Grove,
Shanghai, Waco, Fallston, and Polkville brought over
230 firefighters to the scene. Tractors and front-end
loaders were also employed to remove rubble so
firefighters could battle the blaze.
Within hours, the entire block was lost. Geoffrey’s
Men’s Clothing Store, J.E.’s Department Store, the
Bible Book Store, Wonderland Toys, Butler’s Shoe
Store, and Eleanor Shops were destroyed. Damages
totaled $5 million.
Investigators, which included dozens of federal,
state, and local law enforcement agencies, later
determined that the fire had been intentionally set.
The owner of the store was convicted on five counts of
voluntary manslaughter and served 10 years of a
90-year jail term.
Five separate funerals were conducted on Sunday, May
19, and hundreds of the city's 17,000 residents filled
a local church for a memorial service the next day. A
memorial fountain at Shelby's Charles Road fire
station bears the names of their fallen heroes.
See pictures of the Shelby fire.
National Spinning Company
Only one other time have four firefighters died at or
as a result of a single incident. On September 7,
1982, an early-morning fire at a textile plant in
Washington killed four members of the National
Spinning Company fire brigade. The midnight shift had
just started when a fire was discovered in the
pull-skein winding department of the dye plant at
Fueled by miles of synthetic yarn, the flames
activated the sprinkler system which helped confine
the blaze to a single room about the size of a
football field. The plant's 150 employees were safely
evacuated, though some employees stayed behind to
battle the blaze.
Four members of the plant fire brigade were overcome
by smoke and died: Maintenance Worker James Harris,
26, Packing Operator Greg Lamm, 22, Supervisor
Asa Squires, 39, and Machine Loader Jesse
A fifth worker, Supervisor Terry Wollard, was also
injured while fighting the fire. He was taken to
Washington Memorial Hospital, and then to Pitt
Memorial Hospital in Greenville. The fire was
extinguished by 4:30 p.m. by firefighters from
Washington and two other departments.
The First Fatality
The earliest recorded line-of-duty death also occurred
in Washington, when Salamander Fire Company member
Edward Peed was killed on February 8, 1902. About
5:00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, a fire was reported
at the Atlantic Coast Line Rail Road freight warehouse
on the waterfront.
Caused by a defective flue, the fire spread rapidly,
first to the grain elevator building, then to the Hoyt
Building, and on to a warehouse at the rear of the H.
Susman Furniture Company. Several railroad cars were
also engulfed, along with a number of sheds along the
As the town's volunteer fire companies battled
wind-fed flames and exploding powder kegs, telegrams
were sent to Rocky Mount, Tarboro, and Greenville to
send fire engines. Special trains were readied and
were about to leave when the fire was reported under
control at 8:30 p.m.
At 9:22 p.m., Nozzleman Peed was spraying a pile of
burning rubbish when the western wall of the Hoyt
Building collapsed. He was killed instantly. Peed, 46,
had been a member of the colored Salamander Fire
Company for more than 20 years. A monument was erected
by the town's white citizens and placed at his
In 2000, it was relocated to a memorial garden at the
present Washington fire station.
Other Early Fatalities
New Bern firefighter Johnnie Gaskill was kicked
in the head by a fire horse and died on November 6,
1904. Two years later, Rocky Mount fireman and Hook
and Ladder Company member Henry Mitchel
suffered a heart attack on March 20, 1906 while
attending a drill for an upcoming state fireman's
Winston firefighter Joseph Whitlow was killed
when a wall collapsed at a fire at the old Farmer's
Warehouse on Liberty and Trade streets on February 25,
1911. The large brick building was occupied by several
firms, including the Hub Candy Company. Whitlow was in
front of the confectioner when he was killed.
Charlotte Fire Chief J. Harvey Wallace and
Captain W. B. Glenn were killed when dynamite
exploded at a fire on July 1, 1914. They were fighting
a barn fire on Cedar Street when six sticks of
dynamite, stored in the nearby home of a contractor,
Winston-Salem firefighter Jonah Kiser was
electrocuted at a fire scene on July 14, 1915. He
touched an exposed wire during salvage and overhaul
operations at Miller's Tailor Shop in the Paramount
Theater Building. Two years later, Charlotte
firefighter George Spittle died after the
engine he was riding was struck by a streetcar on
March 10, 1917.
Winston-Salem's Fire Chiefs
Four Winston-Salem fire chiefs have died in the line
of duty. Chief Harry Nissen died on November
28, 1932, when his car collided with a Greyhound bus
while he and his driver were responding to a call.
Both were thrown from the vehicle and Chief Nissen
died at City Hospital without regaining consciousness.
Chief William Hobson died of a heart attack on
September 16, 1938, while on duty at Fire Station #2
on South Liberty Street. He had been chief for six
years, and was the first Winston-Salem firefighter to
die of a heart attack on duty.
Assistant Chief John Goforth collapsed and died
of a heart attack on October 29, 1956. He was at an
apartment fire and had ordered a firefighter inside to
cut a hole. When the firefighter returned, he found
his collapsed commander. Chief Goforth died on the way
to the hospital.
Chief Arnold Bullard died of a heart attack on
July 6, 1980 after collapsing at the city's Public
Safety Training Center. CPR was initiated within
minutes, but was ultimately unsuccessful. He had been
chief for two years. Central Fire Station on North
Marshall Street was later renamed the Arnold B.
Bullard Fire Station.
Father and Son
North Carolina Division of Forest Resources pilot
Marshall Newman died after a midair collision near
Kinston on November 19, 1973. He was their chief pilot
and had taken mechanic Larry Moody into the air
in their single-engine Beechcraft T-34B to make a
visual inspection of another T-34B. The second plane
had reported trouble with its nose wheel while
returning from a forest fire in Columbus County. When
the planes collided, the collision severed Newman's
plane's vertical stabilizer and rudder. They crashed
in a wooded area north of the runway at Stallings
Field. Both Newman and Moody were killed. The second
aircraft manually deployed its nose gear and landed
without a problem.
Twenty-seven years later, Marshall Newman's son also
died in an aircraft accident involving the Forest
Service. On September 7, 2000, pilot Tim Newman
and crew chief Mike Fossett were killed when
their Huey UH-1H helicopter crashed near the Blue
Ridge Parkway, near Waynesville in Haywood County.
They were traveling to a public education event when
they entered Balsam Gap and encountered heavy fog.
They were five minutes from their landing site when
Newman radioed that he would look for a place to land
until the fog lifted. Ten minutes later, the county
911 operator began receiving calls of a low-flying
helicopter and a possible crash. The wreckage, found
in a ravine less than a mile from the Waynesville
Overlook on the Parkway, was not located until the
next day due to thick fog and heavy foliage.
Tim Newman died at age 40, and his father Marshall
Newman died at age 39.
Other Aircraft Accidents
North Carolina Division of Forest Resources pilot
Charles Colton died on March 27, 1979, when his
single-engine Cessna L19 crashed about two miles west
of Fair Bluff in Columbus County during low-altitude
Forestry pilot Charles Cline died on July 11,
1964, the day after his single-engine Snow S2C air
tanker crashed near Dover in Craven County while
demonstrating fire bombing techniques. He died at
Lenoir Memorial Hospital in Kinston.
Forestry pilot Gerald Sundstrom died on May 11,
1996, when his single-engine Mielec M18A air tanker
crashed two minutes after taking off from Stallings
Field in Kinston. He was headed to a fire at Camp
Lejeune when he crashed about one mile south of the
airport near Dobbs Farm Road.
Forestry pilot Merton Jackson died on May 15,
1981, when his single-engine spotters plane crashed
near the edge of a 30-acre forest fire in Onslow
County. He was flown by helicopter to Onslow Memorial
Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company Chief Forester
John Earle and his pilot Albert Mann died
on April 26, 1961, when their single-engine aircraft
crashed in Gum Neck in Tyrrell County. Earle was
helping direct crews fighting a 7,000-acre forest
fire. Earle died instantly and Mann died three hours
later, while waiting for a helicopter to transport him
to a Norfolk hospital.
On November 14, 1952, Raleigh Fire Department Driver
Vernon Smith was injured when his 1926 American
LaFrance reserve pumper overturned on Lewis Farm Road
while returning from a call. Four other members of
Engine 6 were also hurt, but each recovered. Smith
underwent 29 operations before his death at Rex
Hospital on March 10, 1956. The cause of death was
listed as uremia, a condition resulting from kidney
On April 18, 2003, Charlotte Fire Department Engineer
Mark Franklin injured his right knee while
pulling hose from his engine at an apartment fire.
Despite five months of subsequent medical care, his
condition worsened. On October 17, 2003, Franklin
underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. On November 30,
2003, six weeks after the surgery, he suffered a fatal
massive pulmonary embolus from a deep-vein thrombus in
his right leg.
Fire Alarm Systems
fatalities have involved personnel working with
electric-telegraph fire alarm systems, which utilized
low-voltage electrical wires typically strung from
telephone and other poles.
W. Graham Cathey (Charlotte) died on
February 8, 1928. He was a member of the alarm system
line crew and atop a telephone pole when it snapped.
He rode the pole down and it landed on top of him.
Oscar Hayworth (High Point) died on July 29,
1936. He was Superintendent of the Electrical System
and was atop a pole when he was electrocuted. His
thirty-foot fall was listed as a contributing cause of
William Capps (Fayetteville) died on July 18,
1956. He was electrocuted when he came into contact
with a high-voltage power line while installing a new
alarm line in a residential area.
Other Unusual Circumstances
Luther Horne (Fayetteville) died on December
21, 1929, killed by a collapse at the ancestral home
of James McNeill, the Fayetteville Fire Chief who
reorganized the department in 1883.
Edgar Elliott (New Bern) died on June 10, 1931,
when he fell into the Neuse River and drowned while
battling a riverfront fire.
Pruitt Black (Charlotte) died on April 1, 1934,
when he tripped on his bunker pants and fell down the
James Rawls (Rockingham) died on July 24, 1952,
when he advanced a line across a metal fence that had
come into contact with an electric power line.
McDaniel Narron (Antioch) died on August 3, 1976,
when he suffered a heart attack while operating a pump
panel at a fire at his own residence.
Gary Fletcher (Durham) died on February 14, 1978,
eight days after catching a hydrant and being pulled
to the pavement when the hose ripped from its
Roy Bailey (West End) died on February 19, 1989,
when he was shot and killed while directing traffic.
Richard Dorsey (Bahama) died on September 6, 1996,
when a falling tree struck the passenger compartment
of his brush truck during the height of Hurricane
Statistics, 1902 to 2006
(Updated May 14, 2006)
By county, 64 of North Carolina's 100 counties have
lost firefighters in the line of duty. Forsyth and
Mecklenburg counties have had the greatest number with
12 each, followed by Cumberland (10), Wake (7),
Beaufort (6), Craven (6), Guilford (6), Sampson (6),
Cleveland (5), and New Hanover (5) counties.
By agency, 112 fire departments and fire protection
agencies have lost firefighters in the line of duty.
The North Carolina Department of Forest Resources has
had the greatest number with 18, followed by the
Charlotte Fire Department (11) and the Winston-Salem
Fire Department (8). Seven agencies have lost four or
more members, and twenty-three agencies have lost two or
By status, where known, career firefighter fatalities
(57%) outnumber volunteer firefighter fatalities
By age, where known, the youngest firefighter died at
18 and the oldest firefighter died at 68. By age and
status, where known, the average age of career
firefighter fatalities is 42. The average age of
volunteer firefighter fatalities is 43.
By cause, where known, the biggest killer of North
Carolina's firefighters is stress and overexertion
(36%), followed by road-vehicle accidents (20%), burns or asphyxiation (17%),
struck by vehicles or objects (7%), collapses (5%), and aircraft accidents
By age and cause, where known, the most common cause
of deaths for ages 35 and under is burns and
asphyxiation (33%) and road-vehicle accidents (24%).
For ages over 35, the most common cause of death is
overwhelmingly stress and overexertion (57%) with
road-vehicle accidents (14%) a distant second. By age
55, stress and overexertion account for 72% of
By day, the deadliest day of the year is September 7,
with six fatalities on that day. Four fatalities have
occurred on both May 25 and November 6, and three
fatalities have occurred on each of the days January
8, February 13, July 14, November 19, and November 30.
By year, the deadliest single year was 2003, with
eight duty deaths. The years 1973, 1982, and 1989 each
recorded seven deaths; the years 1976, 1977, 1979, and
2000 each recorded six deaths.
By decade, the deadliest decades were the 1970s, with
39 duty deaths between 1970 and 1979. The 1980s
recorded 38 fatalities, while the 2000s have already
passed 30 fatalities.
The primary source for the information in
this article is the
Carolina Fallen Firefighters Foundation Database.
Other databases used include the
Firefighters Foundation, the
US Fire Administration Firefighter Fatality Database,
and the NIOSH
Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention
Program. The LODD sections of
FireNews were also utilized.
Additional research was conducted using
via NewsBank via NC LIVE to locate both news
articles and obituaries. Access requires a password
available from many local libraries and colleges.
General Internet research was conducted using
Death certificates and death certificate indexes were
viewed on microfilm at
Olivia Raney Local History Library in Raleigh.
Death dates were also researched using the
The history sections of several fire department
yearbooks were utilized, notably from Asheville,
Charlotte, and Winston-Salem (the two towns and their
fire departments merged in 1913). The history sections
of several official and unofficial fire department web
sites were also consulted, such as this list of
Charlotte firefighter fatalities.
Copies of News & Observer and Raleigh Times
articles about the Shelby and National Spinning
Company fires were also viewed on microfilm at
Olivia Raney library. The Office of the State Fire
Marshall also published an excellent article on the
Great Shelby Fire in their
Fall 2005 Fire & Rescue Journal
Information about first fatality Edward Peed was drawn
from microfilm newspaper articles,
Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS, and
Black Firefighters of North Carolina. Researchers
should also consult
Sanborn Maps via NC LIVE for a waterfront map and
fire department details from 1901. The town had five
(!) fire companies at that time.
For aircraft accident information, the
Aviation Accident Database was utilized.
Pictured, Top to Bottom
Bridgett Autry (Herring)
Jackie Beard (Greensboro)
Pruitt Black (Charlotte)
Todd Blanchard (Eastern Wake)
Robby Blizzard (Arrington)
Joseph Boles (Westarea)
Thomas Brooks (Lumberton)
Brian Cannon (Taylors Bridge)
Terry Carroll (Coats-Grove)
Graham Cathey (Charlotte)
Joe Chandler (Durham)
Michael Childress (Level Cross)
Michael Copeland (Charlotte)
Richard Dorsey (Bahama)
Patrick Dougherty (Garner)
Josh Earley (Harrisburg)
Mark Franklin (Charlotte)
Roy Gay (High Point)
W. B. Glenn (Charlotte)
Jesse Gray (Greensboro)
George Guyer (Stokes-Rockingham)
James Haigler (Sanford)
Norman Harrison (East Rockingham)
Wayne Hawkins (Rocky Mount)
William Hobson (Winston-Salem)
Dale Holder (Northview)
Phillip Hulen (Vann's Crossroads)
Merton Jackson (NCDFR)
Randy Jones (Cool Springs)
Sidney Jones (Thoroughfare)
Kelly Kincaid (Morganton)
Eddie Mathis (Dallas)
R. E. Mendenhall (Charlotte)
Henry Mitchel (Rocky Mount)
Mark Morgan (NCDFR)
James Munday (Charlotte)
Marshall Newman (NCDFR)
Tim Newman (NCDFR)
Harry Nissen (Winston-Salem)
Marshall Pettus (Charlotte)
Sandy Powell (McLeansville)
Charles Schnibben (Wilmington)
David Sharp (Fayetteville)
James Shue (Locke)
Vernon Smith (Raleigh)
George Spittle (Charlotte)
John Stepp (Gastonia)
Sammie Waddell (Swannanoa)
Harvey Wallace (Charlotte)
Joe Westnedge (Charlotte)
Gerald Williams (Cool Springs)
Wayne Yarborough (Waynesville)
To add photos to
contact article author Mike Legeros
The author also welcomes comments, corrections, or
additions to any information contained in this
Mike with your information.
Carolina Fallen Firefighters Foundation
FireNews Fallen Firefighters Memorial
A version of this article was published on
April 25, 2006