To the reader,
This book contains, to the best of our knowledge, an illustrated history of the Columbia Fire Department from the establishment of the City of Columbia on September 26, 1787, through the 100th Anniversary year of career fire services ending on January 22, 2004. This period includes the establishment of fire regulations on May 1, 1801, the destruction of the City on February 17, 1865 and the 200th Anniversary of fire services in the City on December 19, 2002. Although the CFD has maintained a generous record of its heritage, It should be noted that a more complete history would have been possible if the city had not been destroyed by fire during the War Between the States.
Soon after the first settlement was established in South Carolina in 1670, local traders realized that the junction of the Broad, Saluda and Congaree rivers provided a natural gateway to the entire region. The area was above the fall line in the rivers providing central access from the North, South, East and West areas of the state. As a consequence, in 1718, a factory was established on the south side of the rivers at the “Congarees” and a fort was built nearby and garrisoned, in order that goods for the Indian trade might be stored there and protected while in the process of distribution. On May 11, 1754, the General Assembly authorized the establishment of a ferry connecting the settlement on the south side known as Granby to the north side. The north side high ground flourished and, because of flooding of the rivers, was preferred by settlers.
After the close of the war in 1783, the idea of moving the South Carolina seat of government to a central location was developed. General Sumter laid out a town on the high hills of the Santee with hopes of making it the seat of government with the name of Stateburgh but, others had a more logical idea. In 1785, a resolution was adopted by the General Assembly to form a committee to recommend a location for a new seat of government. On March 1, 1786, the committee offered its report in the House of Representatives and recommended Camden as the seat but, it was rejected the report by a vote of 68 to 54. On March 6th, a former Charleston merchant, Senator John Lewis Gervais, introduced a bill moving the seat of government to a location of 650 acres of land near Friday’s Ferry on the Congaree River, adjacent to the land of James and Thomas Taylor He hoped that in this town, “the oppressed of every land might find a refuge under the wings of Columbia”. The vote of the Senate was 11 to 7 in favor and, after much debate, the bill was sent to conference and ratified on March 22, 1786. The act stated that appointed commissioners could purchase land for the purpose of building a town and moving the seat of government forthwith.
The act specified that the town should be two square miles with eight acres for the purpose of erecting public buildings as may be necessary. Two streets, measured at 150 ft. wide at right angles were to be the center of town. Lots were to be one half acre and sold to the highest bidders. Purchasers of the lot were obligated to build thereon a frame, wood, stone, or brick house not less than thirty feet long and eighteen feet wide, with stone or brick chimney within the time of three years. On September 26, 1787, the first lots in Columbia were sold in Charleston and, by April 17, 1788, nearly 50 houses were under construction and the first story of the State House was completed.
On Monday, January 4, 1789, the General Assembly met for the first time in Columbia. In 1790, a flood swept away the 700-foot Wade Hampton Bridge over the Congaree River and, on May 22nd, George Washington visited Columbia. The first newspaper in town, the Columbia Gazette, began publishing on March 5, 1791. In 1792, the population of the city was 4,130 with only 596 of the white population being males over 16 years of age. In 1794, the first State House located in Columbia was constructed by James Brown of Camden with plans being prepared by James Hoban.
On May 1, 1801, the first session of the town board was held at which Ordinance No. 1 was passed and ratified. The act included prohibiting false alarms of fire under pain of $10.00 fine. The eight South Carolina Colleges also became the South Carolina College during 1801. On December 19, 1802, Commissioners of Columbia were given power to appropriate money for public wells and a fire engine. There were approximately two hundred houses and ten stores in Columbia.
In March and April of 1804, three destructive fires occurred in Columbia. On December 19, 1805, the act granting the city it’s first charter, incorporating it as the Town of Columbia was passed with the municipal power vested in one intendant and six wardens to be elected annually on April 1st. In 1811, an earthquake struck the city and, the walls of a building at South Carolina College were cracked. The On May 12, 1814, the town board passed an ordinance requiring each householder to supply himself with a well if he already did not have a natural spring. The household was also requested to purchase and maintain fire buckets, 1 bucket for each $50.00 of estimated annual rent. This was later revised the same year to 1 bucket per chimney and an additional bucket per $1,000 dollar property valuation over $3,000.
In 1816, the town’s population was nearly 1000 persons with 250 well-built houses. A new pump stood at the Court House located at the corner of Main and Washington Street to supply the citizens’ needs, and to fill firemen’s buckets in time of fire. On November 16th, the creation of an organized fire department began through ordinance when Fire Wardens were chosen to recruit engineers and axe men. These firemen would be paid 25 cents per hour during their work in extinguishing a fire and, there was also a ten-dollar reward for the men operating the first engine at the fire filled and prepared to discharge.
In 1817, the magnetic telegraph was introduced to the town. In 1818, the selection of Fire Wardens was ordered by ballot of the Town Board. Municipal officers and the men of the fire companies were authorized to select for themselves some simple uniforms. The citizens recruited to perform the tasks of firemasters were only required to serve 1 out of three years. To discourage them from taking the job lightly, the fine for non-performance of duty was increased from $12.00 to a sum such as the board might inflict.
An act on December 18th provided for the construction of a city hall on the North West corner of Main and Washington Streets. Lodge 68 Ancient Free Masons, the Medical Board of South Carolina and the South Carolina Agricultural & Mechanical Association conveyed the land to the city board. The 70 by 40 foot building to be constructed within three years would have a large and good clock, with fire bells sufficiently to be heard throughout the town. The tower housing the town clock and fire bell extended over the sidewalk and was a remarkable structure according to Robert Mills, renowned architect. This structure was destroyed by fire on February 17, 1865.
On March 12, 1819, Abram Blanding a sometime school teacher was contracted to construct the water works and provide water to Richardson, now Main Street from Senate to Upper, now Elmwood within two years. Water for fire hydrants were to be sold to the town at a rental of $10.00 per square. The fire hydrants, however, had to be provided by the town.
In 1820, the first demonstration of a steam engine water pump was held on December 12th. The demonstration by Blanding who was constructing the water works, used this pump, which was purchased in England, to pump water into elevated reservoirs for members of the General Assembly and citizens. The water, pumped up 120 feet from springs, was then distributed through cast iron pipes, and then conveyed to leaden pipes.
The City of Columbia Steamboat ascended the Santee and Congaree to Columbia in 1821. John McLean operated the first horse-powered train that ran to the canal at Gervais Street from Cotton Town at Elmwood and Main Street. The first Columbia Theater was located at the northwest corner of Assembly and Plain Street opposite the Catholic Church. Originally three stories, the third floor, which was used as a Ballroom, was removed due to unsafe conditions resulting in faulty construction. The theater had several names over the years: The New Theater, Young’s Theater, Coleman’s Theater, and the Brick Theater. The theater’s rival was the Circus located on the opposite side of the block on the other side of the church. The church was known as “Christ between the two thieves”. This Theater was used until the town hall was constructed.
The new theater in the town hall was utilized until 1865, when on the morning of February 18th as the clock struck 1:00 am the steeple fell, and the echoes stopped due to the conflagration. A new city hall was constructed at the same location incorporating the third theater. The theater would seat 700 but, on special occasions, it was known to accommodate one thousand people. Use of this theater ceased in 1899 after the building was destroyed once again by fire.
In February 1825, volunteer fire companies were organized in Ward 1and Ward 2 abolishing the fire warden system except in Ward 3, until a third volunteer company could be organized. The Captains and Lieutenants of those Volunteers Companies were invested with the powers of fire wardens. The experiment was abandoned later in the year as the volunteer company in Ward 1 was disbanded and no company in Ward 3 was organized. On February 14, 1826, the volunteer system was abolished except for the Vigilant Fire Company in Ward 2. The Fire Warden Plan was resurrected and the reward for the first fire company to the scene of a fire was increased to $20.00. The city later returned to the volunteer fire company system and the Independent Company was organized in 1837.
In 1826, a bridge across the Congaree River at the foot of Gervais Street was completed. In 1829, a bridge across the Saluda was completed. In 1835, Colonel Blanding sold the waterworks to Columbia for $24,000. In 1837, financial panic occurred affecting all walks of life due to drought. By 1840, the population of Columbia had grown to 4,340.
Columbia witnessed its first extensive fire in April of 1842 when twenty- nine structures involving stores and dwellings were destroyed, stimulating public reform efforts of fire protection. It was unclear how effective the volunteer firefighters were in time of crisis. If only a few structures were involved, the blaze may have been controlled.
Columbia was chartered as a City on December 21, 1848. The Monteith Fire Company was organized with the population of Columbia having risen to 6,060. At the beginning of this decade Columbia had several volunteer companies, The Independent Fire Engine Company (1837), Monteith Fire Engine Company (1848), the Vigilant Hand Engine Company (1825) and, the Axe, Ladder and Hook Company (February, 1846). Any free black or slave (with his masters permission) could join the engine brigades, but not the Axe, Ladder and Hook crew. As such, he was exempt from street and head tax (if slave), received $5.00 per year, and shared in the liquor when a jug and cup were passed around during a conflagration.
The names of these companies changed slightly after the 1850s with the Monteith becoming the Palmetto Fire Engine Company, and the Axe, Ladder and Hook group becoming the Phoenix Hook and Ladder Company (1872). A city sponsored contingent appeared with black firemen and white officers known as the Vigilant Fire Company (resurrected in 1866). Each had an engine house that served as social center and site for monthly meetings, and all except the Vigilants owned their engines. The Enterprise Hand Engine Company was established in approximately 1868. Lighting went from candles and oil lamp with the first illuminating gas plant being established in Columbia during this period.
Traditionally fires and hangings were the best show in town until the building of the State House began on December 15, 1851, the day the cornerstone of the new capitol was laid. This new structure was prompted on concerns that the old building was an unsafe depository for state records. Three years into construction the old building was moved slightly to the southwest so work could proceed. Construction deficiencies resulted in the demolition of the foundation and erecting the state house north and south instead of east and west as originally projected. Richardson (Main) Street was closed off to create more spacious grounds, thus destroying Russell’s Garden, a favorite haunt of local citizens for many years and a horticultural facility that supplied plants and shrubbery for scores of homes. The Exchange Bank of Columbia was organized on Main Street but, was destroyed by fire in February of 1865.
In 1855, a destructive conflagration took place and every store and dwelling on one whole square was destroyed with two exceptions. The South Carolinian office and machinery was completely destroyed with a loss of $40,000. This same year, an act was passed to aid the city of Columbia to construct a new waterworks by the issuance of bonds to the amount of $100,000. Also, the term “Mayor” was used for the first time in Columbia this year. On November 11th, the first State Fair took place on land provided on Elmwood Avenue and Elmwood Cemetery was formed. Nine police officers were hired in Columbia and an act to provide water for all the public buildings was passed.
In the summer of 1858, an early morning fire engulfed a stable, house and blacksmith shop on Sumter Street. According to the Daily Southern Guardian of July 31st, visiting fireman from Charleston performed brilliantly, even though their engine had to be removed from a railway car. In addition the Guardian praised the Independent Company and noted that the colored company also did good service.
The Palmetto Engine Company acquired a Rhode Island built engine in 1859 that could throw a steam of water horizontally over 200 feet. William D. Stanley was the President of the Palmetto Company, J. Brown was President of the Hook and Ladder Company and J. J. Mackey was President of the Independent Company.
The population of Columbia rose to 8,052 in 1860. On December 17th a meeting of the Secession Committee was to be held in the First Baptist Church but a smallpox epidemic in Columbia forced the meeting to be reconvened to Charleston. Columbia, though not at war, took on a somewhat military atmosphere as troops passed through the mobilization camp, first at the fairgrounds, and then at Lightwood Knot Springs near Killians. Throughout the war the Camp of Instruction was located here as well as the Bureau of Conscription, Confederate Commissary, Quartermasters Office, Paymaster, and Medical Department. Temporary encampments of troops in around the city, and Camp Sorgum, where Federal Prisoners were kept reminded citizens of the struggle being waged at more distant points.
The population of Columbia greatly increased towards the end of the war as people sought refuge. Columbia was considered a safe haven for people and their public and private treasures. The bells of Saint Michael’s, rare books from the Charleston Library, immense quantities of silver plate, banks with private and public funds, and valuables of all kinds were brought here from lower South Carolina and Georgia as well for safe keeping and protection. Unsuspectingly to the occupants, General Sherman would enter the city crowded with twenty thousand persons and untold wealth before the Spring of 1865 was over.
On Thursday, February 16, 1865 General Sherman approached the city where great confusion existed. All roads leading out of town were crowded with terrified fugitives. As Sherman threw shells onto the city from across the Congaree, rioters and robbers began to steal what they could despite martial law. During the night Governor Magrath and other officials withdrew from the city followed by most of the Confederate troops. On Friday, February 17th at dawn, the city was startled by an explosion set off accidentally by plunderers at the Railway Depot on lower Gervais Street. Some thirty-five persons were killed and the depot and contents destroyed by fire. Disorder continued as the commissary and quartermasters stores were thrown open. Eager soldiers took what they could.
At 9:00 am General Wade Hampton in command of the Calvary prepared to withdraw and directed Mayor Goodwyn to surrender the city. With three councilmen, the Mayor proceeded in a carriage, with a white flag of surrender towards the Broad River Road. Sherman at this time had proceeded up the Congaree to the Saluda Factory where a detachment had crossed into Columbia on pontoons. At this point Colonel Stone met the Mayor and received the surrender of the city. Promising in accordance with Sherman’s orders to General Howard to protect the citizens and respect private property, Stone proceeded down Main Street followed by Sherman before noon . In the afternoon of the 17th the nightmare continued as citizens were robbed and dwellings plundered by drunken and disorderly soldiers. This continued as darkness fell and fire simultaneously broke out in various parts of the city. Driven by high winds the fire was not subdued until the greater part of the city lay in ashes. Old men, women and children were left shivering in the streets and vacant lots. They viewed a wilderness of chimneys, as if lifting their darkened faces to heaven in a solemn protest of wrongs against a stricken and outraged community. Eighty-four of about one hundred and twenty-four blocks in the heart of the city had hardly a building left. In all 1,386 buildings had been destroyed by fire.
The cause of the conflagration has been disputed since the incident with conflicting testimony supporting numerous theories. Sherman’s official report claimed that General Hampton in his retreat left cotton burning in the streets, which was spread by high winds. Hampton denies this accusation and others testify that it was caused by drunken soldiers, escaped Federal prisoners, citizens or slaves. Regardless of how the fires began the impact to Columbia was enormous. To the people of Columbia, General Sherman’s fateful visit was the climax, and the end to the war. The surrender shortly afterward of General Lee in Virginia and General Johnston In North Carolina was merely an epilogue to a tragedy which was already completed.
Due to the heavy loss of fire equipment during February 1865, Columbia’s three fire companies merged into a single unit. By July 1st twenty-five stores were open and residents were able to supply anything from fishhooks to elephants. Business was brisk and new houses were being built all over the city and, while numerous, they were the cheaper sorts. In the fall, city council announced plans to build a new public market on Assembly Street and decreed that, in the future, only brick structures not wood would be erected on Main Street. Among the first acts of the freedman was to establish churches where they could praise and thank God for deliverance from bondage. The Sunday schools set up by different denominations often served to teach children and adults to read and write. One of the earliest black schools was located above the Enterprise Hand Fire Engine house at 44 South Richardson (Main Street) in 1866. J.E.Bingam conducted this early black school.
In 1866, the city was still occupied by troops under the command of Governor Daniel Sickles, a Union General who was not very hospitable to the citizens of South Carolina. He had lost his leg at Gettysburg and, vowed to make the “South pay for the act”. Under his command was a group of New York City Zouaves who were also members of the Metropolitan Fire Department. These troops helped build a fire station for the Palmetto Fire Engine Company, on the present site of the Villa Tronco Restaurant, 1200 block of Blanding Street, from the chimney bricks left after the 1865 fire. They also constructed a station for the Enterprise Hand Fire Engine Company, south of the Capitol building, from wood. These stations were used to house the small amount of fire equipment that was not destroyed by the fire on February 17, 1865. In addition, the City of Charleston, itself unscathed by destruction at the end of the war, sent a used hand tub to the Palmetto Fire Engine Columbia volunteers. The Vigilant Fire Company was reorganized under the direction of Columbia Fire Chief William D. Stanley in 1866.
Seeing the condition of fire protection in Columbia, the Zouaves petitioned the Metropolitan Fire Department in New York for assistance. The New York firefighters raised money to purchase a hose reel from the Sickles Company on Lafayette Street in Manhattan, as well as hose, helmets, belts and speaking trumpets. The hose reel was loaded on the steam packet Andulusa in March of 1867 and set sail to Charleston. Disaster struck when the Andulusa caught fire and sank off Cape Hatteras. Meanwhile, a contingent of NY firemen was arriving by train to make the presentation to the Independent Hose Company in Columbia.
In June 1867, the second hose reel was loaded onto the steam packet Manhattan for transportation to Columbia. It arrived successfully and, on June 28th, President Henry Wilson of the New York Firemen’s Association spoke to a crowd of Columbians at Sidney Park. He noted, “Today, the firemen of northern New York strike hands with their comrades of South Columbia, and in doing so, we call upon our fellow citizens of the two great sections to emulate our example, and thus hasten a restoration…of our once beautiful and still united national fabric.” Captain J. J. Mackey, speaking to the New York Contingent, stated, “These noble efforts of yours to assist us must remain forever green in our memory.”
Former Confederate Colonel Samuel Melton, a Columbian, stepped forward and said to the New Yorkers, “Should misfortune ever be yours, I hope Columbia would obey that golden rule by which you have been prompted in the performance of this most munificent kindness to a people in distress.” A collage, showing the hose reel with the Board of the Metropolitan Fire Department of New York, was also given to the City and, hangs in the Columbia Fire Museum at this time. Little did Colonel Melton know that Columbia would step forward and repay that act of kindness from the citizens of New York 134 years later.
In 1867, a forest fire destroyed the Bethel Church On the Edgewood, which was established in 1835. Colonel Taylor donated an acre of land for the church and supplied the lumber for the building. On the afternoon of December 14, 1868, the Columbia Fire Department suffered its first recorded line-of-duty-death when a wall collapsed onto Firefighter Daniel B. Carrington while fighting a fire in the downtown district. Several civilians, including the son of another Firefighter, were also killed. In 1869, the Barhamville School for higher education main building was destroyed by fire. This school for women, which operated between 1830 through 1865, had an enrollment high of 124 persons. A caretaker was in charge of the building when it was destroyed.
By 1870, the population had risen to 9,298. On February 26th, the City limits were extended, and on December 30th, business licenses for all enterprises required. In 1871, the Independent Fire Company purchased the city’s first horse drawn steam pumper from the Silsby Company and changed their name to the Independent Steam Fire Engine Company. 1872, the Phoenix Hook and Ladder Company was reorganized from the Axe, Ladder and Hook (Photo 1656) Company. In March 1872, the Palmetto Fire Engine Company officially became the Palmetto Steam Fire Engine Company with the delivery of a Clapp & Jones horse drawn steam engine. The hand tub donated to the Palmetto by the City of Charleston after the civil war turned over to the Vigilant Hand Engine Company for use.
In 1874, a new City Hall was contracted to be built on the same site at Main and Washington Streets at a cost of $65,000. Opera house bonds, as a theater was incorporated into the plans, increased the price to $300,000. This building, which also housed the Police Department, was dubbed as a conspicuous landmark on Main Street. In 1875, the Young American, a black fire company organized. In 1866, after the city government was restored to the local community, the Vigilant Hand Engine Company reorganized and served Columbia. The station was located at Assembly and Taylor Streets. The same year, the First Presbyterian Church spire was blown off by a cyclone
In 1880 it was said that, “for every individual who crowded around a Columbia baseball diamond in the 1880s, ten applauded the exploits of local fireman, whether battling actual flames or going through competitive drills. At the onset of the decade, the city had five groups of volunteers; two black engine companies (Vigilant and Enterprise), two white engine companies (Independent and Palmetto), and a white hook and ladder unit (Phoenix). Membership in the white companies ranged from twenty to forty, while each of the black companies had about seventy-five men on their rolls. These men, not baseball players were the true athletes of the era, idolized by youngsters and their older sisters. Any inter-city tournament in which they participated was an excuse for parades, banquets, and balls. Of course, each race organized its own outings, but this was one realm of daily life where the color line often was blurred. This is quite understandable since if disaster struck, all firemen rushed to the scene and joined forces to fight the blaze. Nevertheless, racial cooperation between the black and white firemen was a fragile flower.
In the fall of 1880, few black firemen participated in a parade marking the opening of the State Fair. According to the Daily Register on November 13th only thirty-three Vigilants joined the line of March, and no one wearing an Enterprise uniform appeared. In the opinion of the editor, rumors that this was a political dodge to trap and massacre blacks alarmed many who might otherwise have been present. When black fireman from Winnsboro and Greenville came to town for a parade and tournament in June of 1881, the mayor was on hand to greet them. In October 1882, a two-day fair staged by the black Enterprise Fire Engine Company was attended by large numbers of whites. The black company thanked them publicly for their support.
In June 1884, Mark Reynolds, an attorney, told his Statesburg sweetheart of a bizarre twist that occurred during a grand three-day program of foot races and reel contests hosted by local white firemen. When hundreds crowded into the business district where bleachers had been erected for 1,500 spectators, Melvin Kinard, co-owner of Kinard & Wiley’s haberdashery, decided to garner good will by throwing bits of clothing from the roof of his store. Reynolds, a struggling young lawyer, wrote that he largely ignored these festivities, but conceded he left his office from time to time to watch blacks scrambling for shirts, socks and underwear. Occasionally roofing slates would be thrown down and several Negroes were cracked on the head. He hoped that he might get a case from some innocent bystander for damages caused by injuries sustained on this interesting occasion but was disappointed. Reynolds who became a fixture in the legal circuit became the first Columbian to master the typewriter.
By 1888, The City had 15 municipal fire alarm stations operating. In 1890, The Palmetto Steam Fire Engine Company replaced their 1872 steamer with a new Clapp and Jones steam pumper. On December 21, 1892, a dispute at the scene of a fire in the business district led to the demise of black fire companies in Columbia. Just as a conflagration at the Lorick & Lowrance store was being brought under control, a white city police officer arrested J.L. Simonds and another black fireman when they refused to obey orders to leave the premises. Both were fined and released by the Mayor’s Court. Simonds, the President of the Vigilant Fire Engine Company and a member of the City’s Board of Fire Masters, protested the arrest, noting that he, as a Fire Master, had a right to enter any building in the performance of his duties. In the end, the Vigilant Fire Company and Enterprise Fire Company severed their ties to the City. Angered by this action both black companies voted to disband and published a letter in the local newspaper, noting that, “Whereas the action of the Police Wednesday and the decision of the Mayor’s Court this morning indicated that the people of Columbia do not appreciate our efforts. Therefore, be it resolved that we, the colored firemen of the Vigilant and Enterprise Companies, do hereby withdraw our allegiance to the fire department of Columbia, S.C.”. Editorially, the State News Paper expressed regret but noted that it might well be time to reorganize and establish a paid fire department. When this was done in 1903, experienced black drivers were requested to join the force.
The town had four wards, and each ward had a unit of the volunteer department. A fire watchman sat in a tower at Main and Blanding Streets, day and night, and kept on the lookout for fires. A volunteer firefighter noted that, ‘the wards were one, two, three, and four. If an ordinary fire occurred in any ward its number was tapped. The firefighters all listened for a general alarm, which was sounded by four taps in quick succession.” The city furnished quarters for storing equipment and, most firefighters ran to their quarters and took part in fighting every fire. Considering the time and the equipment they had, they protected property pretty well. The population of the City was 15,365 in that year.
The Columbia Steam Fire Engine Company was organized in 1893, the same year that the Independent Steam Fire Engine Company purchased a Silsby horse drawn steam pumper. In 1894, Silsby delivered another steam fire pumper to the Columbia Steam Fire Engine Company .
The Marion Street Methodist Church built in 1848, located on the corner of Calhoun & Marion Street was completely destroyed by fire on October 25, 1898. On March 30, 1899, City Hall was destroyed by fire. The telegraph alarm system for the fire and police department, which was installed prior to 1888, was temporarily disrupted due to the fire. The fire bell was relocated on a tower on Assembly Street. The destruction of the building was hailed as a good riddance of a thing “Conceived in sin and born in iniquity.” The site on Washington and Main Streets was sold to Carolina Bank for $26,100.
On January 5, 1900, a contract was let to W. J. May for $38,561.00 to build a new building at the Northwest corner of Gervais and Main Street to house a theater and City Hall. The population of Columbia was now 21,108. In July of 1902 a dispute between the city, Seaboard Railroad, and citizens resulted in the demolition of Sidney Park and the volunteer fire station at the corner of Assembly Street and Laurel. A legal fight declared that the park and the station would be restored however this never occurred. Seaboard settled the litigation by replacing a retaining wall on Assembly Street, building a station that eventually became the Amtrak Station. The issue of rebuilding the fire station became less relevant as the city was about to organize a paid fire department and the agreement to rebuild a new station was dropped.
On January 22, 1903, William. J. May, the Chief of the Columbia volunteer fire system was elected Fire Chief of the Columbia Fire Department. W. H. Sloan was elected Assistant Chief. The organization of the new career department was completed quickly and service began on February 1st. It was comprised of forty men selected from the four disbanded volunteer companies, divided among the four paid companies. Also included within the career department were two African-American drivers. Chief May insisted that they be retained due to the fact that, “ the experience that they had could not be replaced – they are the best men for the job!” T. C. Zoble was also appointed as a paid firefighter after serving as a volunteer fireman. Zoble rose through the ranks as Captain and Assistant Chief.
The Palmetto Steam Fire Engine Company (#2) located in the 1213 block of Blanding Street, the Phoenix Hook and Ladder Company located at 1601 Assembly Street, the Independent Steam Fire Engine Company (#1) located in the 1129 block of Washington and, the Columbia Steam Fire Engine Company (#3) located at 914 Main Street comprised the fire department. All apparatus operated from these stations were horse drawn. A new American LaFrance steam pumper was delivered to the Palmetto Steam Fire Engine Company in March of that year. A Firefighter’s salary was $40 a month; a Captain made $60 a month.
In 1904, a new fire station was completed at 1313 Sumter Street, the Independent Steam Fire Engine Company was relocated to that location as Engine Company No. 1, and the Phoenix Hook and Ladder Company was relocated to that location as Hook and Ladder No. 1. Representatives of the state’s fire departments, hosted by Chief May, met in Columbia to research the formation of the State Firemen’s Association which officially was established on May 31, 1905. In 1906, the Congaree Hotel burned. On August 7, 1907, A. McC. Marsh joined the Columbia Fire Department. Several large buildings of Columbia College were destroyed by fire on September 9, 1909. The college moved back to the old building for one year, which was now the Colonia Hotel. In 1910, the population of Columbia rose to 26,319.
On December 27, 1910, the first motorized apparatus, a 1910 Hudson Chiefs car was put in service within the fire department and its driver was A. McC. Marsh. The second piece of motor apparatus purchased by the department was an American LaFrance Combination Chemical and Hose car, put in service on July 15, 1911, at No. 2 station on Blanding Street. It was wrecked answering an alarm on April 3, 1919.
In 1911, an experiment was conducted regarding street paving. Washington and Hampton Streets from Assembly to Sumter Streets were paved with wood blocks. These were removed in 1925 after providing considerable amusement to visitors, as they buckled up in every rain and floated off in great sections down Main Street gutters. On July 15, 1911, a Webb 700-gpm triple-combination pumper was put in service at Station No. 1. This unit had the pump removed in 1921 and was utilized as a hose and ladder car until 1924, when it was traded to the Seagrave Company on a new City service truck. The American LaFrance Chemical wagon was involved in an accident at Assembly and Gervais street with a large touring car.
In 1913, the Logan School was constructed. The Palmetto building, under construction, was twisted several inches by high winds. On June 13th Shandon, South Waverly, and a portion of Eau Claire were annexed into the city. In 1914, the Masonic Temple on Main Street was destroyed by fire. A Robinson combination 900-gpm pumper and a 75-foot Seagrave aerial truck were bought and placed in service on May 7, 1914. A 1400-gpm American LaFrance combination pumper was placed in service on July 18, 1914.
In 1915, the Columbia Fire Department responded to a total of 282 alarms. The Second Baptist Church, which was organized in 1890, burned and the congregation was consolidated with Elmwood Park Baptist Church creating Park Street Baptist Church. A White Roadster chief’s car replaced the Hudson Roadster for Chief May on August 17, 1915.
On October 5, 1916, the fire department eliminated all horses when they transferred their four horses to the Street Department. This saved $80.00 per month in expenses and gave the department two additional men to handle hose lines. The Fire Department responded to 306 alarms including 16 false alarms and 45 building fires. 164 fires were caused from sparks from chimneys falling onto wooden roofs and 11 caused from defective flues. The department responded to 15 mutual aid calls including one to Lexington and two units to Augusta, Georgia. Total annual fire loss was $57,950.70. This loss did not include the Cotton Compress fire, which was considered transit. Including this loss the total is actually $372,45.70.
The Fire Chief contended in his annual report that the department has not grown with the city. The department has the identical number of apparatus as it did 20 years prior. The population was close to 40,000 with 60% more buildings. An additional Fire Inspector was added totaling two persons. 3562 inspections were conducted and a building code was adopted prohibiting shingle roofs. The Chief recommended building two more stations, at 1200 Richland Street for engine #2, and as the department lost the building for engine #3, sell the lot at 1100 Green Street or erect a new station on the site. The Staff totaled 44 men. One Metropolitan horse drawn steam fire engine and one horse drawn chemical engine were held in reserve. The total annual expenditure was $51,888.95, $42,633.10 of which was used for salaries.
In 1917, Camp Jackson was established with 70,000 men. The fire department responded to 338 alarms with a total expenditure $51,577.09, $44,271.92 of it designated for salaries. An American LaFrance Model 75 750-gpm combination pumper was put in service in August of 1917. In 1918, the Department responded to 322 alarms including 48 building fires. Sparks caused one hundred twenty six fires from chimneys landing on wooden roofs. Mutual aide responses to out of city locations included South Woodrow Street and Palmetto Mill Village. The total loss from fire was $74,311.88, not including the Veneer Plant, which was a regular firetrap and was currently involved in a lawsuit. If it were included the total loss would be $164,061.88. The expenditures for the year were $61,792.52, of which $49,269.91 was designated for salaries of the 44 men. During a response to fire alarm box 16, Main and Green Street, Chief Marsh’s car and Chemical Co. #1 collided at the corner of Senate and Main. The chief reported that it was a miracle no one was killed. A little girl transmitted the alarm, which was false.
A Little Giant chassis, M McCraney hose body with a 40-gallon chemical tank was placed in service in March 1918. The two-platoon system was inaugurated on April 1, 1918 after becoming law as introduced by Senator Gallman of Spartanburg, a former Fire Commissioner. This replaced the continuous duty system, which required men to be continuously on call. The 12-hour duty shift gave men comfort of home life and promoted happiness and contentment. It allowed members to attend church, secret orders, social gatherings shows and time with their families. It conserved the health of the firemen. Chief May advised that a change to the old system would make men quit without hesitation and render the department useless. Chief May thanked the council for adopting the system prior to becoming law. On May 29, 1918, a disastrous fire at the State Hospital for the Insane burned seventeen inmates to death when the Asylum was destroyed by fire. Firefighter Thomas C. Zobel noted that, “If the alarm had come to us when the blaze started, the inmates could have been saved.” Carl P. Smith was hired as a firefighter on December 2, 1918.
In 1919, the department responded to 393 fire alarms, 25 that were false. One hundred and forty fires occurred from sparks from chimneys, fourteen from defective flues. The department comprised of 51 men and total budget $75,052.11, $64,096.39 used for salaries. Fire loss for the year totaled $106,299.52. Six calls out of city including two to Edgewood, one to Palmetto Village, one to Haskell’s Home on Camden Road and one to Hampton Place on Camden Road. There were 8,142 buildings in the city; 1,075 were brick and 7,067 were frame. At this time 39% of the buildings had fireproof roofs, 61% had wooden shingles
On April 13th, while responding to a false alarm, an accident occurred at Assembly and Gervais Streets between “our little chemical and hose car, known as the pride of the department” and a Buick car. The collision caused the truck to crash into a tree. Our machine was wrecked beyond repair, and, it was a miracle that no men were killed outright”. An American LaFrance Model 75 750 GPM triple combination pumper was placed in service in July 1919.
In 1920, the population of Columbia had grown to 37,524. Work began converting a house into the Town Theater and the Colonia Hotel formally opened. Private automobiles, taxis, and buses replaced the streetcars as major means of transportation in Columbia. The fire department, which consisted of 48 men, responded to 412 alarms, including 52 building fires and 44 false alarms. Sparks caused One hundred and thirty-nine fires from chimneys onto wooden roofs, 13 from defective flues. Nine calls were to out of city responses. A fire at the Columbia warehouse, where 4,600 bales of cotton were menaced, many of the working firefighters were overcome by smoke on a cold winter night. The total fire loss for the City was $147,654.33. Expenditures were $81,406.42, of which $72,054.46 was salaries. The only serious injury to a firefighter that year was to J.J. Hollis who broke his ankle. During the year 6,012 inspections were conducted and the total number of buildings within Columbia was 8,281, of which 7,186 were frame and 1,095 brick. There remained 4,589 wood shingle roofs, with 3,692 fireproof roofs. A Packard Touring car replaced the chief’s White touring car in December 1920.
In 1921, discipline in the department was enforced around the clock, as no firefighter was really “off duty” unless they had permission to leave town. On January 16,1921, at 5:30 in the afternoon, firefighters C.R. Smith and D.F. Lovett were injured when their motorcycle turned over at the corner of Elmwood and Marion Streets. Due to their action, while off duty, both were suspended indefinitely on January 31st. Company #2 was disbanded on February 1st. All horse-drawn apparatus were discontinued on February 1, 1921 and, the only two African-American employees were reduced to the positions of janitors.
At 11:30 PM on February 5, 1924, the department lost a 32-year veteran and their leader of 21 years when Fire Chief W.J. May died on his wedding night at 65 years of age. T.W. Danielson was appointed acting Chief and, on February 26th A. McC. Marsh was elected Chief. T C Zoble was appointed as the first Chief Fire Inspector. A tornado killed twenty people in Richland County on May 1st. On September 1, 1924, a Seagrave City Service truck was placed in service. A monitor nozzle was installed on it in March 1926. This unit carried tarpaulins for “the protection of furniture against water damage.” A Seagrave 750 GPM triple combination pumper was placed in service on September 5, 1924.
The contractor turned over the new Headquarters station to the fire department on July 25, 1925. Station No. 3 was disbanded on August 1, 1925 and all apparatus and men transferred to headquarters. The same year, the Broad River Bridge was destroyed by fire and, at 7:30 pm on December 20th, a stubborn fire broke out at 1556 Main Street in the McCrory’s 5 & 10 cents store, causing $143,000 in damages. Master Mechanic McCraney fabricated the department’s first floodlight unit after the firefighters were forced to shut down power to the entire block. This unit, a trailer, was placed in service on April 1, 1926. It was first used on April 7th when a fire struck a dry goods shop on Main Street. The ALF Metropolitan steamer, received in 1903 after the formation of the career department, was placed in reserve duty after a full refurbishment. A volunteer staff would man it.
On February 7, 1927 a Reo Speed Wagon replaced the 1918 Little Giant chemical unit. In 1927, the bridge over the Congaree River was completed. On February 6, 1927, Firefighter Willie Warren was killed when a fire apparatus backed into him while he was behind another apparatus dispatched to fight a fire at the “duck” mill in the 300 block of Gervais Street. The city was struck by a hurricane in 1928 and a Reo Flying Cloud car replaced the Packard Touring car on March 5th.
The Chief of the Fire Department was afforded the honor of living, with his family, at the main fire station on Sumter Street. Mrs Marsh and her children became an integral part of the Columbia Fire family by their presence around the fire station. They can be seen in photos of department functions and those taken around headquarters. Marsh’s son Buddy, during the opening of the Fire Museum in 1996, said, “It was a very interesting way to grow up. It was like having your whole family around all the time”.
In 1929, part of the temporary Broad River Bridge was washed away by high water, again stranding Dutch Fork residents away from the city. An ALF Type, 1000 GPM triple combination pumper was received in a trade for the 1914 Robinson pumper and the 1911 ALF pumper. In 1932, the State of South Carolina established a law prohibiting people of different races from working together in the same room.
In 1934, the Municipal Stadium was built, the Melrose water tank was constructed as one of the world’s largest tanks and the Federal Land Bank Building was completed. In 1935, a new tradition began with the purchase of a Mack 600 GPM triple combination pumper on February 4th. The Chief received a new Buick sedan for Christmas and, it was put in service on December 26th. The department responded to 770 alarms and had a fire loss of $69,082.44. In June 1935, Walter Boyd Busby hired by the Department as painter, designer, and first photographer. He served in WWII and returned to duty.
Efficiency was the keyword for the career department. A Canadian citizen, visiting Columbia, witnessed a fire in a home adjacent to the one he was staying in and, remarked to a newspaper reporter that, “I’ve traveled all over this country and throughout Canada but never in my life have I seen such an efficient and careful fire department as Columbia has today. I called up the fire department,” he continued, “and before I could get from the telephone to the front door, the engines and apparatus were there. Not only did the machines come in record time, but the chief and his men went at extinguishing the blaze in a manner that gave me both a surprise and a thrill.” The man went on, “Instead of dashing water all over the premises and damaging the house, they went to the root of the flame, and used a chemical, the fire was out in a few minutes, and the house was almost in perfect order. I take my hat off to the Columbia Fire Department.”
In 1936, the entire Columbia Fire Department, which included fifty-two men, was housed in a single station at 1313 Sumter Street. The city encompassed 9 square miles and had a population of 60,000. Edward F. Broome was a private on Engine Company 2 and Carl P. Smith was Engineer and Chief Mechanic for the Department. In 1937 a 250-gpm Reo pumper was purchased. In 1938 the city bought a 1933 Mack 85′ Aerial 85′ drawn by a 1937 Mack tractor from the Chicago World’s Fair. A fire Alarm Building was constructed on the corner of Pickens and Wheat Street this year to serve an ever-growing municipal alarm system. In 1939, a firefighter’s starting salary was $130 a month. In 1940 a Mack 750 GPM pumper was purchased, as was a 1942 Mack 600 GPM pumper and a Chrysler sedan. W. D. Dowey was appointed Chief Fire Inspector, replacing the retiring C. Z. Zoble, who served 48 years.
Growth was something, which the City of Columbia realized in 1943, Station 9 was constructed in Shandon at 2847 Devine Street. On June 6, 1944, Local 793 of the International Association of Firefighters was chartered. During the same year, a meeting of the fire chiefs at Columbia, hosted by Chief Marsh, resulted in the establishment of the South Carolina State Association of Fire Chiefs. Chief Marsh was elected the first President and, the first Annual Fire Chiefs Conference was held in the City later that year.
In 1948 Station 7 was constructed at 2622 North Main Street. In 1948, two Columbia citizens, Clarence Mitchell and Samuel Snipes, both black, applied for firefighters positions with the City of Columbia. Being told that the City did not have a station for African-Americans to work in, the two men, with assistance from Reverend James Hinton, President of the State and Columbia branch of the NAACP, continued to fight for the jobs they wanted. A 1948 Mack City Service Truck and a 750 GPM Mack Pumper were delivered during this year. In 1949, a Lincoln Chiefs car was delivered. In 1950, a 1,000 GPM Mack pumper was delivered to the department.
A new headquarters was constructed at 1001 Senate Street and opened on May 17, 1951. On the same afternoon as the opening, a major fire struck the warehouse of the North Brothers Insulation at Seaboard Park causing major damage to the roof of the building before being brought under control. A Mack 85 foot aerial ladder and two 750 GPM Mack pumpers were delivered to the new Headquarters. Early on the morning of January 31, 1952, a fire caused by an overheated coal heater destroyed a great portion of an apartment house located at 919 Calhoun Street. Several residents were rescued from the first floor porch before firefighters arrived. A fire in February at the C, N & L Railroad facility at 615 Lady Street damaged buildings and rail equipment before being brought under control. A training tower was also dedicated behind Headquarters to provide for firefighter training. The South Carolina Firemen’s Association met in Columbia on May 19th for their Annual Conference. A fire in May at the Caughman Seed and Feed, 1311 Assembly Street caused major damage. Also in 1952, facing a law suit, the City Council finally agreed to construct a fire station on Harden Street to be staffed by African-American firefighters.
On January 21, 1953, a major fire in Martin’s Furniture Company, 1109 Hampton Street resulted in major damage to the building and stock. On March 27, 1953 a spectacular fire struck the Central Drug Store 1204 Main Street. During the year, Abraham Coles, Oscar Donaldson, Benjamin Frazier, Thomas Jones, Clarence Mitchell, Claude Stewart, James D. Williams and Lewis Williams, all African-American firemen, and eight white Drivers and Officers were appointed to a new fire station at Harden Street (#11). Chief Mechanic Carl P. Smith retired on April 15th. On September 3, 1953, CFD firefighters responded with mutual aid to a fire in the cafeteria building on the Area Trade School property at Columbia Airport. On June 3rd, 1954, a major fire struck the apartment complex at 1620 Laurel Street. Fire struck the Kimbrell Furniture Company at 1211 Main Street on the evening of December 21, 1955. This fire, which was received at 7:55 PM, taxed the resources of the department for several hours before it was brought under control.
In 1956, the first metal aerial ladder, a Maxim 85 foot Ladder Truck was purchased and was first used at a major fire at the South Carolina National Bank on June 26th. At 10:46 PM on March 7, 1957, an alarm was received for a building fire at the South Carolina State Penitentiary, located at 1515 Gist street. The fire destroyed a large portion of one building but was kept from adjacent structures. On November 28, 1957, a major fire destroyed the Capital Theatre, located at 1017 Washington Street, at 6:31 AM. A long hard fight saved the building from total destruction. A new fire station was constructed and opened in the newly annexed area of Eau Claire (#13 ) on October 14, 1958. On May 11, 1959, a fire destroyed the Petroleum Equipment Company at 701 Chester Street.
William W “Hank” Golden was appointed Chief Fire Inspector on April 9, 1962, replacing W. D. Dowey who retired after 28 years of service. On December 31, 1962, A. McC Marsh, 75, retired after 55 years with the department, 38 years as the second paid Chief of the Columbia Fire Department. Assistant Chief Edward F. Broome succeeded him
A major fire occurred at Columbia College on February 12, 1964 and, following that fire, according to Clarence Mitchell, “(racial) barriers began to fall, they began to look at me and I at them (white firemen) as just being another person that had a wife and family.” This began the total integration of the Department. Long-time CFD Photographer Walter Busby retired in June of 1964. In December of that year, a major fire at Friedman’s Jewelers, the 1500 block of Main Street, taxed the Department and provided a spectacular event for the citizenry. In 1967, a Mack 1000 GPM pumper was delivered to the department. A fire in the Crown Pawn Shop at 1200 Assembly Street damaged the building in November of 1967. In July of 1969, under the direction of Chief fire Inspector Hank Golden, the South Carolina Fire Inspector’s Association was founded at Fire headquarters.
A 1970 Seagrave 100′ aerial was purchased, raising the height a ladder could reach in the City. In 1971, a station was constructed at 1225 Briargate Circle in St Andrews and two engines were housed there. A new station was also constructed at 7214 Fire Lane Drive in Dentsville and, one city and one county engine were housed there. On September 6th, a major fire struck a law firm at 1206 Bull Street. Battalion Chief Joe M. Kee became the third CFD firefighter to die in the line of duty on October 6, 1971 when he collapsed with a heart attack after fighting a fire in a restaurant on Bluff Road.
In 1972, a station was constructed at 2740 The Boulevard in the Columbia Industrial Park . Fire in a tank truck on Broad River Road near Virginia Wingard Church, lit up the sky. In 1973, Edward Broome retired as the department’s third paid chief and, was succeeded by Assistant Chief H. B. “Bert” Dickert. Fires at the Columbia Grinding Co, the Graham Mattress Company and the Gatehouse Restaurant made life interesting for the Department that same year. Memorable fires on January 26, 1974 at the Palmetto Sign Company, 700 Marlboro Street and Allen University, Harden and Taylor Streets, on August 28, 1974, keep the Department busy that year. A Mack 100 foot aerial ladder was delivered in 1974 also. In February 1976, the fire department decreased the working hours from 60 to 56 hours, allowing firefighters to go on the three-platoon system. The 1970s brought coverage by two 1500 GPM American LaFrance and three 1500 GPM Mack pumpers delivered to the department.
On November 19, 1977, a massive fire struck the Latimore Manor Apartments on Lorick Circle, destroying a major portion of one building. On June 29, 1978, a fire on the railroad trestle over the Broad River made a spectacular sight but, CFD crews extinguished it before much major damage was done. The same year, Bert Dickert retired as fourth paid Chief and was succeeded by Assistant Chief Harvey Evans. On September 6, 1979, a spectacular fire at the Adco Sign Company, Lady and Lincoln Streets destroyed the Company’s headquarters. In 1980, a Hendrickson 100 foot LTI aerial Tower was delivered to the department. Back-to-back fires on December 2nd and 3rd of 1980 destroyed a dress shop at 4010 Main street and the Columbia Supper Club at 522 Gervais Street. The Atlas Road station, located at 153 Atlas Road was constructed the same year. During 1980, the CFD responded to a touchy incident on Sumter Highway, involving an overturned propane tanker truck. In order to eliminate the serious hazard, the propane was successfully vented and flared from the truck in order to empty it.
Stations were constructed at 130 Sparkleberry Lane in Sandhills (#24 (PHOTO 1423)) and at 2612 Lower Richland Boulevard in Lower Richland (#22 (PHOTO 1424)) with Paul Derrick as District Chief in 1984. In 1985, the City of Columbia and Richland County entered into a formal five-year agreement to provide fire services. A new station #20 (PHOTO 1425) was built at 10,717 Broad River Road in Ballentine in 1985. While responding to a fire, an engine company was involved in a deadly accident at the corner of Sunset and Main Street on March 24, 1985. The apparatus overturned, killing Firefighter Osakie Knotts. The driver of the other vehicle was also killed.
On April 20, 1986, a spectacular fire destroyed the vacant DeSoto Hotel at Assembly and Lady Streets. On Saturday morning December 27, 1986, at 4:30 AM, Firefighter John M. “Jay” Barry lost his life while fighting an arson fire in a vacant store on 5580 North Main Street. He apparently became disoriented by the smoke conditions and ran out of breathing air. The arsonist was subsequently convicted and sent to prison. The new Capital View (#30) fire station was built at 8,100 Burdell Drive in 1987 with Joe McElhaney as District Chief. The 1980s saw a number of Seagrave 1500 GPM pumpers placed in service.
In 1988, Hank Golden retired from the department and Robert D. Axson was appointed Chief Fire Inspector. During his long career, Golden became nationally recognized for his prevention efforts. On September 18,1989, career FEO personnel were added to Station 20. On September 26, 1989, twelve CFD employees traveled to Summerville to assist in the relief efforts following Hurricane Hugo. They returned to Columbia 49 hours later. On November 12, 1989, a fire at Cell Page, 1211-13 Gadsden Street was fought for several hours.
On March 21, 1990, Dale Surrett was appointed as District Chief of the Ballentine Fire District. In June of 1990 the City of Columbia and Richland County renewed the fire service agreement with a ten-year contract entitled the “Unified Fire Service Agreement”. The agreement called for the County to construct and equip new fire stations and, the City to hire and train new firefighters to drive apparatus from the new stations. A new city station was established in a mobile home in Harbison (#16) due to the annexation of the Columbiana Mall area. This temporary station was relocated to a farmhouse and newly constructed metal shed at 131 Lake Murray Boulevard. Clarence B. Mitchell, the first black firefighter in the career fire service retired with 37 years of service. He had risen from Firefighter to Relief Engineer, Engineer, Captain and Safety Officer before his retirement in 1990.
A new station was also constructed in 1990 at 300 Campground Road in Upper Richland with George Mick as District Chief. The existing volunteer fire stations, located at Upper Richland, Ballentine, Lower Richland, Sandhills, Blythewood, Eastover and Capital View, along with the City-owned County career station at Dentsville were integrated into the fire department. On December 12, 1990 fire struck a vacant house on Seaboard Alley, seriously threatening several other homes.
On March 1, 1991, William B. Anderson was hired as an Assistant to the Fire Chief. This was the first occurrence of hiring a person outside the CFD to work in a senior role. On April 1, 1991, with the retirement of Harvey Evans as the department’s fifth career chief, John D. “Jack” Jansen, Jr, with 32 years of fire service experience including the Chief of the Albany, Georgia Fire Department (1986-1991) and State Fire Marshal for the State of North Dakota (1982-1986) became the fire department’s sixth career fire chief and the first person to take the position from outside the department.
With the proposed growth of the fire service within the County, all fire stations were numbered, eliminating the reference to the station location. On July 6, 1991, a serious fire struck the Coronet Motel at 6319 Main Street, destroying most of the structure. On July 10, 1991, Robert Busbee was appointed the official photographer of the Columbia Fire Department. Two new fire stations were opened at 122 Gadsden Community Center Drive in Gadsden (#19) with Jimmie James as the District Chief and at 1631 Clarkson Street in Hopkins (#23) with John Becknell as the District Chief.
John G Reich was appointed by Chief Jansen to replace Bob Axson who retired June 30, 1991. The title “Chief Fire Inspector” was retired with his designation as Assistant Chief/Fire Marshal. On January 31, 1992, the remaining remnants of the City of Columbia Municipal Fire Alarm System, about 100 fire alarm boxes, were sold to city employees. On March 1, 1992, the Columbia Flashover Brothers United (CFBU) received a membership Charter from the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters from IABPFF President Romeo Spaulding. Jerrell Gresham was elected the first President of the CFBU. A spectacular fire destroyed an old US Army building at 5100 Forest Drive. The City also received an ISO classification rating of 2 during this year. Station #18, was established at 7401 Fairfield Road in Crane Creek. Another station, #27, was opened in December at 9651 Farrow Road in Killian with Thomas Alsup as District Chief.
A third new station, #29, was constructed at 115 Old Congaree Run Road at Congaree Run, with Robert Boswell as District Fire Chief. The old Blythewood station was replaced with a new station, #26, at 435 Main Street, with Richard Branham as the District Chief. Battalion Chiefs no longer rode fire apparatus but were assigned vehicles to cover all areas of the City and County. Battalion 1 was established at station #11; Battalion 2 at station #6, Battalion 3 at station 27 and Battalion 4 was established at station 22.
In 1993, a new station, #28, was constructed at 504 Henry Street in Eastover to replace the existing station located in an old gasoline station, with Bobby Davis as District Chief. An unmanned substation, #15, part of the Upper Richland Fire District, was constructed at 8300 Winnsboro Road in Cedar Creek. Another unmanned substation, #21, part of the Ballentine Fire District, was constructed at 11,809 Broad River Road in Spring Hill. On April 8, 1993, Ladder 13 was renumbered Ladder 7 and located at the North Columbia station with a new Sutphen 104 foot aerial . Ladder Company 11 was renumbered Ladder 8 and placed in service at the Atlas Road Station. On June 6, 1993, a fire in an historic structure at 817 Calhoun Street seriously damaged a major portion of the structure.
On October 6, 1993, Station 25, located at Bear Creek, was placed in service with Bill Patton as District Captain. On November 3, 1993, Robert Boswell was appointed District Chief for Station 29. Station 21, located at Spring Hill, was attached to the Ballentine Fire District and, the Dutch Fork Fire & Rescue District, under District Chief Barry Stone was born. Station 15, located at Cedar Creek, was attached to the Upper Richland Fire District under District Chief George Mick. On December 8, 1993, a major fire destroyed the landmark structure containing Cromer’s Peanuts at the corner of Lady and Assembly Streets. A falling wall just after arrival of apparatus struck several firefighters, requiring hospitalization.
On February 22, 1994, Mack A. Brown Jr was appointed as District Chief of Station 27. On February 27th, a major fire struck an apartment house located at 1735 Busby Street. The bright morning of March 6, 1994 was shattered when a three alarm fire at 2728 Rosewood Avenue destroyed the Smith Hardware Company. June 14, 1994 brought a three alarm fire at M A Marjos Department Store at Main and Hampton Streets which attracted a large crowd. A three alarm fire destroyed the Madison condominiums at 1718 Madison Road in Forest Acres on October 7, 1994.
During 1995, a new Station 16 was opened at 131 Lake Murray Boulevard. The old station, a farmhouse with a shed for the apparatus, met its demise by fire on November 29, 1995. The shed was transformed into a CPD substation. At Noon on Wednesday, March 6, 1995, a new Fire Headquarters and station 1 was dedicated at 1800 Laurel Street. The old station at Senate Street was abandoned. Engines 1 and 11 were housed there with Battalion 1 and various support vehicles. Old Station 11 was recycled for the Logistics Bureau and all supply function and Hydrant Maintenance were relocated to the building. For years, the fire protection for the State Fairgrounds during the State Fair was accomplished by placing a fire company in a makeshift facility on site.
Station 2, was established at 1015 Ferguson Street to cover the Downtown, Olympia and Granby areas. Engine 2 was moved from Headquarters. The Harden Street fire station was changed into the Logistics Bureau. Station 9 was temporarily moved to 802 Maple Street on October 24, 1994 and the old station was demolished and a new station constructed on site. When completed, Ladder 5 was renumbered Ladder 9 and relocated to the new station. The Shandon Rose Garden, tended by Proctor Davis, was integrated into the front of the station on November 11th. On March 27, 1995, work was begun on a new fire station at 20 Blume Court. On May 25, 1995, David Hartness was appointed District Chief for Station 18.
In 1996, Engine Company #5, located at station 13, was disbanded and, Rescue Company #1 was established at Headquarters. This same year, Station 11 was established at 20 Blume Court. Columbia firefighters constructed the station by connecting a warehouse and a dwelling together. Engine 11 moved from Headquarters to this site. A new Pierce 100 foot “quint” was delivered to Ladder Company 9 and a rebuilt 1985 tanker-turned-Rescue truck was placed in service as Rescue Company 1. In order to replace the old training tower located at the Senate Street site, a new training tower and burn building were constructed behind Fire Station #3 to allow for recruit and in-service training. A fire destroyed two vacant structures in the 1300 block of Calhoun Street which were being readied to be moved on December 28, 1996.
Station 12, Located at 6810 North Main Street, was dedicated on North Main Street and equipped with one Engine Company.
With history abounding within the department the Columbia Fire Department Museum was dedicated on October 6, 1996. A committee of fire personnel interested in the development of the museum, along with local artists, USC and state museum experts began laying out a state-of-the-art user-friendly display of historic CFD memorabilia. On May 5, 1997, Clarence B. Mitchell, former Safety Officer, was laid to rest after being murdered by a youth Mitchell was trying to help.
On May 5, 1998, three Chaplains were appointed to serve with the department. They were the Reverend Anthony A. Dix, pastor of the Friendship Baptist Church, the Reverend Gary W. Cheek, pastor of the Columbia Northeast Christian Church and the Reverend Mike Finney. A new FES heavy rescue truck was placed in service as Rescue Company 1 and the existing 1986 rescue truck was reassigned as HazMat 1. Pumping apparatus during the 1990s included Emergency One 1500 GPM pumper and KME 1250 and 1500 GPM apparatus. In 1998, a new American LaFrance 1500 GPM “quint” was delivered to Station 14 with the expansion of ladder coverage into the County. On January 1, 2000 the CFRS witnessed a “close call” for one of its member when Captain Robert Rabon was trapped inside the fully-involved lobby of the Keswick Apartments during an early-morning fire. Subjected to intense live fire for several minutes, Rabon escaped the inferno and, was subsequently treated for burns to his face, wrists, arms and legs. The fact that Rabon was full-encapsulated in protective clothing and SCBA saved his life. In February 2000, The Columbia Fire department became the Columbia Fire & Rescue Service with the incorporation of medical first response within the City limits.
The morning of September 11, 2001 will ever be etched in the memories of all who viewed the horrific destruction thrust upon the Cities of New York, Washington, DC and a rural area of Pennsylvania at the beginning of an otherwise beautiful day. As the world watched, chaos rained into the streets of New York’s financial center as two planes, piloted by Islamic fanatics, tore through the upper floors of the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. During the next hour or so, amazement turned to horror as both towers burned out of control and, finally, disintegrated into a pile of rubble in the streets below, killing almost 3,000 people. These events almost overshadowed a similar event unfolding at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, where an American Airlines 757, loaded with 64 people on board was, again, used as a weapon of destruction, killing almost 200 people.
America’s heart went out to the victims and their families and, thousands of fund-raising projects were initiated to bring relief to those who suffered losses on that fateful day. With everyone concentrating on the victims, a few efforts began to spring up in support of the fire, police and EMS agencies that lost numerous vehicles and massive amounts of equipment when the twin towers fell. In Lexington County, at the White Knoll Middle School, the children wondered out loud as to what they do to help. Their principal, Doctor Nancy Turner, and Janice Chubbock, a student advisor, decided to foster the efforts of the children and, do something that would make a difference. The school began to get the gears turning in order to raise funds to buy the FDNY a fire truck to replace one destroyed in the attack. Little did Dr. Turner know that Columbia had a debt to pay to the FDNY, dating back to the end of the Civil War, when the New Yorkers donated a hose carriage to an almost non-existent and floundering Columbia Fire Department. At that time, the Columbia firefighters vowed to come to the aid of the NY fire department, if the need should arise.
Approximately a week after the 9/11 attacks, Chief John Jansen was attending an American Red Cross news conference to announce the raising of $1,000,000 for relief efforts with Governor Jim Hodges when Sam Tennenbaum, a local entrepreneur, began to discuss a plan to buy a fire truck for New York, noting that he had heard on the radio that the White Knoll Students were doing the same. At that time, Chief Jansen began to tell the story of the NY hose wagon given as a gift and it was suggested that he contact the WKMS principal. Ironically, when he returned to headquarters, Captain Ralph Guyton told him that Dr. Turner had called, asking about buying a fire truck. Chief Jansen called Dr. Turner and he told her the story about the gift. He pledged to help anyway he could.
Fire Marshal John Reich had done a lot of research on this event and, he asked John Monk, staff writer for the State newspaper, to pen an article about the debt owed so that the fund-raising efforts could be bolstered. John entered into the story with great enthusiasm and, one month after the attacks, the story ran on the front page of the State newspaper. United Press International and the Associated Press picked up the story and several days later, the New York Times ran the story in its entirety. From that point on, the story was spread by interviews of Dr. Turner, Chief Jansen, and the White Knoll Students on Good Morning America, the Today Show and similar TV and radio shows. Funds began arriving at the school and at fire headquarters daily, sent by people from all over the country who wanted to help.
Before long, the fund had enough money to buy a pumper for the FDNY, and when it was evident that the money coming in would probably allow for the purchase of a ladder truck instead, Chief Jansen began to search for a fire station to deliver the truck to. Noting that seven firefighters from Ladder Company 101 in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn had been killed in the 9/11 attacks, Chief Jansen decided to select that station to receive the ladder truck. The irony of this was the fact that, as a young volunteer firefighter, Jansen had ridden with that fire company on occasion and, realized that he could do something to repay their kindness by this selection.
Through the efforts of Sam Tennenbaum, Dr. Turner, Ms Chubbock, Chief Jansen, Chief Mike Sonefeld of the Irmo Fire District and four students traveled to New York on Thanksgiving Day, 2001 to deliver a check to Mayor Rudolph Guilani for a new pumper. They appeared on the Today Show in Rockefeller Center and, the children were invited to ride on the official City float with the mayor and Joe Torre, Manager of the NY Yankees, in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. While the parade was in progress, Captain Tom Giordano of Ladder 101 accompanied Chief Jansen, his wife Renate and Chief Sonefeld to “ground zero” and then over to the Red Hook firehouse. From that point on, there was a definite bond between the FDNY firefighters and Columbia.
Nancy Turner, Sam Tennenbaum, Chief Jansen and several WKMS students traveled to the Red Hook station on June 1, 2002 to watch the dedication of the new fire truck. On hand were families of the “7 in Heaven”, the firefighters lost on 9/11 and the members and their families of Engine 202, Ladder 101 and the 32nd Battalion. Following the purchase of the Ladder truck, FDNY firefighters from Ladder 101 traveled to Columbia to show their appreciation for the gift. Today, that truck flies a South Carolina state flag and bears a dedication plaque from the White Knoll Middle School, Columbia Fire & Rescue Services and, citizens of South Carolina.
After 135 years, the debt was finally repaid.
Chaplain Ernie Sheldon left the state for a position in North Carolina and was replaced by the Reverend Mike S. Bingham of the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in 2002. Ground was broken for a new Station 33 in Forest Acres. .District Chief Alex Dew of Station 29 was appointed as District Chief for Stations 28, 29 and 31 while District Chief Jimmie James was appointed as District Chief for Stations 19 and 23 and District chief George Mick was appointed District Chief for Stations 15, 17 and 18. Chief Jansen also appointed photographer Pete Rogers to fill the position as “Photo 2” for the Department. On April 22, 2003, a new Station 13 in Eau Claire was opened at 4112 Main Street, replacing the Ensor Avenue station.
Station 33 was opened at Old Forest Drive, filling a gap in the Forest Acres and Arcadia Lakes areas. The 2000s saw ten new Pierce 1500 GPM pumpers delivered to City and County stations and, a new 100 foot Pierce 1500 GPM quint was delivered to Ladder 7.
Between 1991 and 2004, nineteen new fire stations and two new training facilities were constructed within the Unified Fire Service. 285 new firefighters were hired and 173 promotions were made. Five distinct Divisions, each headed by an Assistant Chief were established to support the operation of the department. The Columbia Fire Department operated 119 vehicles from 29 stations with 418 career and 300 volunteer personnel allotments. The annual combined budget is in excess of almost $24 million.
On the drawing board as we write are several new stations. Annexations into the City and growth in Richland County have warranted new facilities and additional resources to serve the public. A new Station #10, located on the United States Veteran’s Hospital grounds is planned to house Engine #10 to serve the Hampton Hill area and surrounding communities. A new Station #4, located on Spears Creek Church Road is slated to house Engine 4 and Ladder 4 for the expanding northeastern corridor of the City. A new Ladder 12 is slated to be located at the Greenview station to give expanded coverage to the Greenview, Belvedere, Dentsville and eastern Eau Claire. A new Station #5 is planned to house Engine 5 on Broad River Road and Greystone Boulevard to fill a gap in coverage to City residents. A relocated Station #6 near Beatty Road and Broad River Road is planned to house Engine 6, Battalion 2 and a new Ladder 6 to serve the annexed areas in St Andrews and Harbison.
Richland County is planning to construct Station #32; near Spring Valley on Two Notch Road to house Engine 32 and a relocated Ladder 14 (new Ladder 32) to give better coverage to the urbanized Two Notch Road Area. An expanded Station #20 will house Rescue 2 and an addition ambulance for the County EMS service and, another station (#34) is planned for the Lake Carolina area to support growth in that area.
Columbia and the Capitol Region of South Carolina are alive and growing daily. Our forefathers from 1670 would be amazed to see the growth of the community they planned and dedicated firefighters of the past two centuries would be in awe at the size and scope of the State’s largest and premier fire service – The Columbia Fire Department.