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History of the South Boston Fire Department

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Written by Kenneth Cook for publication in the News & Record, circa 1974


      South Boston's fire department was organized at about the same time the town itself was incorporated, in 1884, by E. Nash Hardy (1848-1920), who was variously a town Councilman, treasurer, clerk and sergeant. By today's standards it was a rather primitive operation.

      It was built around the hose reel, a piece of equipment about six feet high that held 500 feet of hose. At first it was pulled to fires by a horse or by the firemen themselves; some time later a Ford truck was acquired and used to pull the reel as well as carry extra equipment.

      There were two "hose houses" in use by 1889. One of them, shown on the 1889 Sanborn map, was on Main Street near Ferry. The other, according to Mrs. Elizabeth Jordan Booth, was on Third Street, between North Main Street (then called Ferry Road) and Washington Avenue. The reels were kept in them until needed.

  FirstFireTruck    Water was supplied to the town's mains by the standpipe, a 75-foot high, 12-foot diameter storage tank off Fenton Street. It had a capacity of 65,000 gallons. The pumping station, located between the railroad tracks and Dan River, directly in line with Broad Street, was powered by a Worthington Compound Double-Acting Steam Pump with a capacity of 250,000 gallons daily. The elevation of the standpipe was 100 feet from pump house to its base. (See lower right hand corner of this map.)

      In 1889 it was noted that the town's water pressure was "sufficient to throw over any building." However, water pressure was an almost constant problem in the early days, resulting in the inability to get water to the upper floors of many buildings.

      By 1910 a new fire station had been built on Main Street on the site of the old downtown hose house." This building served until the new Broad Street station was built. About 1932, when fire struck the Municipal Building, the fire station was also damaged, but equipment was not harmed.

      Danville had a pumping engine some years before South Boston purchased one. On several occasions, when a serious fire threatened to sweep out of control, the pumper was brought from Danville on a special Southern train. It is thought that many early fires, like the 1907 Reynolds Tobacco Co. fire, would have done far greater damage had it not been for Danville's assistance.

      About 1920 the town purchased its first real fire engine, an American-LaFrance, which was used for many years.

The South Boston lire Department was reorganized in 1957 with a paid fire chief, three full-time employees and 28 volunteer firemen. Lawson W. Osborne has been the city's fire chief since that time. A dream of many years was realized when the new fire station was built on Broad Street. It was occupied on June 18, 1974.