Raleigh Fire Department History - Line of Duty Deaths


Raleigh Fire Department

Nathan C. Burgess

November 12, 2023

Captain Nathan C. Burgess, 49, died of occupational cancer, 18 months after his diagnosis. On February 1, 2023, the North Carolina Industrial Commission recognized his passing as a line-of-duty death.

Burgess entered the department on October 7, 2002. He was promoted to First Class Firefighter on January 7, 2006, and later promoted to Senior Firefighter. He was promoted to Lieutenant on January 7, 2017. He was promoted to Captain on April 22, 2023.

A memorial service was held on November 19 at the Johnston Community College auditorium in Smithfield. His pallbearers were members of the Raleigh Fire Department and 50-210 Fire Department in Johnston County, where he served for 24 years and rose to the position of Fire Chief. His honorary pallbearers were Cody Burgess, Travis Ellison, Joe Fiorella, John Morgan, M. H. Walters, John Sealey, Scott Davitz, and Mike Ezzell.

Brent A. Upton

March 17, 2021

Retired Lt. Brent A. Upton, 38, died of occupational cancer and two years after his medical retirement on January 1, 2019, which followed 12.3 years of service and six months of undergoing chemotherapy. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in May 2018. 

Upton entered the department on September 18, 2006. He was promoted to First Class Firefighter on March 13, 2010, to Senior Firefighter on March 23, 2013, and to Lieutenant on December 13, 2015.

Funeral services were held on March 24 at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Raleigh. The private event was live-streamed for others to virtually attend.

W. Keith Tessinear

August 29, 2019

Assistant Chief of Training Wallace Keith Tessinear, 55, died of occupational cancer.  He was diagnosed with lymphoma on June 1, 2018. He passed away fourteen months later. On November 27, 2019, the North Carolina Industrial Commission recognized his passing as a line-of-duty death.

Tessinear entered the department on February 13, 1991. He rose through the ranks, promoted to Firefighter First Class (1994), Lieutenant (1997), Captain (2001), and Battalion Chief (2007). He was appointed as a Division Chief on January 14, 2012, first serving in Operations and then assigned to Training .

He was appointed Assistant Chief on March 31, 2015, first assigned to Services, followed by the Office of the Fire Marshal where he served as the city Fire Marshal starting on July 13, 2015. He was later reassigned to the Training division. He had served 28.6 years at the time of his death.

Funeral services were held on September 1 at the Chapel at Bright Funeral Home in Wake Forest, with burial at Clyde's Chapel Baptist Church Cemetery in Wendell on the same day. Fire department members Lowell Smith, Dennis Marshal, Jerry Pace (ret.), Marvin Brooks (ret.), Raymond Harrell (ret.) and Randall Wright (ret.) served as pallbearers.

Chief Tessinear was the brother-in-law of Battalion Chief David Whitley, the uncle of Firefighter Justin B. Hales, and the nephew of retired Lieutenant Bobby L. Smith (ret. 1977), and thus related to Smith's son-in-law retired Asst. Chief Garry Spain (ret. 2015), his son Firefighter Coulton G. Spain, and Garry's brother retired Division Chief Barry Spain (ret. 2016).

Photo courtesy Raleigh Fire Department.

Herman S. Jones

January 22, 2008

Lieutenant Herman S. Jones, 58, died after suffering an apparent heart attack.. He was on duty Friday, January 18, at Station 10, when he began to experience chest pains. He was transported to WakeMed and then to UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill. He died at the hospital on January 22, 2008.

Jones entered the department on May 5, 1980. He was promoted to the ranks of Firefighter First Class on June 15, 1983, and to Lieutenant on June 16, 2001. He had served 27.7 years at the time of his death.

He was buried following a church service on Saturday, January 26, at Juniper Level Baptist Church in Raleigh. Fire department members Ronald Ricks, Joseph Callender, Patrick Canady, Gregory Buxton, George Jones Sr., and Michael Barnes served as pallbearers.

Photo courtesy Raleigh Fire Department.

Paul A. Mimms

April 20, 1965

Firefighter II Paul A. "Pallie" Mimms, 41, died of an apparent heart attack while operating a pumper at a commercial structure fire, at  1908 Hillsboro Street. He fainted at the pump panel and was pronounced dead on arrival at Rex Hospital. The fire at Norden Laboratories Incorporated was discovered about 12:15 a.m. Mimms was the driver of Engine 5.

Funeral services were held on April 22 at Overby Mortuary Chapel in Raleigh, with burial at Montlawn Memorial Park the same day.

Mimms entered the department on July 16, 1951. He had served 13.8 years at the time of his death. His brother Harry retired as a Captain in 1977, serving from November 24, 1952, to March 1, 1977. Photo courtesy Joe Mimms.

More information.

Vernon J. Smith

March 10, 1956

Driver Vernon J. Smith, 44, died at Rex Hospital, succumbing to injuries occurred November 14, 1952 while operating Engine 6. The 1926 American LaFrance pumper, being operated as a reserve unit, overturned while returning from a call at the sharp curve where Brooks Avenue turns into Lewis Farm Road.

The 1:00 p.m. accident also pinned Captain James T. White under the wreckage and injured the three firefighters hanging onto the tailboard. The accident was blamed on a broken brake lever and the City Council immediately approved funding for a new pumper, to retire the other 1926 reserve pumper as soon as possible.

The other firefighters recovered from their injuries, while Smith underwent 29 operations before his death. He also continued serving the department as a dispatcher.

Funeral services were held on March 12 at Hayes Barton Baptist Church, with burial at Montlawn Cemetery the same day. Fire Chief Jack B. Keeter, Assistant Fire Chief R. Lee Matthews, and fire department members James M. Burnette, James T. White, Herbert E. Partin, and Jack T. Wall served as pallbearers.

Smith entered the department on July 17, 1942. He had served 13.7 years at the time of his death. Photo courtesy Harold Smith.

More information.

Raleigh Emergency Rescue Squad, Inc.

Robert L. Battle

April 23, 1959

Volunteer Robert Battle, 45, drowned in the Cape Fear River near Battle Dam, about five miles below Buckhorn Dam, while searching for the body of a Fuquay Springs man, who had apparently drowned the day before when his fishing boat overturned two miles or so above Buckhorn Dam.

Battle had entered the water to swim out and investigate an object on the back of an overturned boat, spotted by a Wildlife Commission plane being used in the search. Battle was unable to make it back to shore and drowned in the river.

He had a rope around his waist, but the rope wasn't long enough to reach the found object, and he had requested that his fellow squad members let go of the rope. When he became exhausted on the return trip, he tied himself to a willow tree in the river, but was apparently too tired to hold his head out of the water.

Battle was an employee of the Wake County Sheriff's Department and had worked as a night jailer for four years. He had previously served as a Raleigh police officer.

He was buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, following a service on Saturday, April 25.

The Raleigh Emergency Rescue Squad was organized in 1953, and housed at Station 1 and staffed by a full-time fire department driver.

Source: News and Observer, August 24, 1959.

This page was last updated March 10, 2024.


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