The Gibsonville Fire Department was organized in December of 1923, shortly after the water system for the Town of Gibsonville was completed.
The organizational meeting was held in Buchanan’s Plumbing Shop, which was then located in the west side of the present Masonic building on East Main Street. It was, of course, a volunteer department, consisting of twenty men. The Department was accepted as a member of the North Carolina State Fireman’s Association December 8, 1923. Mr. A. Koch, who was associated with the contractor installing the water system in Gibsonville, consented to become the City’s first Water Superintendent, and was appointed the first Fire Chief. Mr. Koch did not serve long in either capacity and moved from Gibsonville. Whereupon, Mr. Gannon B. May, who was then connected with Burke’s Department Store and charter member of the Fire Department, was on April 15, 1924 appointed Fire Chief. W.G. Boon, also a charter member, was appointed the first Secretary-Treasurer.
The first company of men to serve as firemen, and who are the charter members are as follows: A. Koch, T.H. Boone, Lingle Cobb, S.B. Clapp, Carl Allen, J.L. Scoggins, Frank Hornbuckle, G.B. May, Lee A. Wharton, E.J. Cobb Sr., George Hornbuckle, George W. Wagoner, J.A. Walker, J.T. Love, P.M. Jordan, W.G. Boon, D.M. Davidson, Byrd Shepherd, C.C. Hammer, and F.E. Thompson. Only the following are still living: G.B. May, W.G. Boon, Lingle Cobb, E.J. Cobb Sr., S.B. Clapp, Frank Hornbuckle, P.M. Jordan and D.M. Davidson.
The following men resigned during the first year of service: A. Koch, J.L. Scoggins, George Hornbuckle, J.T. Love, and Byrd Shepherd. Taking the place of those resigned were: L.H. Story, Sidney Younger, Lawrence Lovell, Luther Pettigrew, and A.T. Reid.
The first fire equipment consisted of five fire hose reels with from 200 to 300 feet of 2 ½” fire hose on each. These reels were located in small tin buildings near thickly settled areas. A siren, capable of being heard anywhere in the city limits, was the first fire alarm, and was located atop four light poles situated on the then owned City lot on Lewis Street.
During these early days of firefighting, it was a test of strength and agility, for when the alarm was sounded the firemen would rush, by car or on foot, to the closest hose reel, grab the reel and run as fast as they could with it to the scene of the fire, which could be several hundred yards away.
The purchase of a brand new T Model Ford Truck in 1925, with a homemade bed for holding a thousand feet of fire hose and other equipment, outmoded the hose reels and was a formidable piece of firefighting equipment in its day. This truck was housed on the City owned lot on Lewis street until 1931 when a different truck was purchased and the t Model discontinued. In 1931 a used 1917 Model White Pumper Truck, with solid tires, was purchased from the City of Greensboro and was housed in the old Ford Garage on Piedmont Avenue until the present City Hall and Fire Station was constructed in 1932 to where it was moved and remained until 1944. This old piece of equipment saw a lot of service during its more than 12 years and did a fair job of extinguishing fires when called upon.
In 1944 a new Mack Fire Truck was secured after much difficulty in obtaining a permit to purchase from the War Production Board. This was during World War II when steel was a scarce item, and it was 2 ½ years after making application before the permit was granted. The Mack Pumper carried 1,500 feet of 2 ½” hose, 300 feet of 1 1/2’” hose, two Scott Air Paks, several fog nozzles and other pertinent accessories. The Pumper is also equipped with a two-way radio, connected with other units of the Guilford County Fire Protective Association. There is also a base radio station in the Fire Station itself.
A Street Flusher, equipped with a fire pump, was purchased in 1959, and, after several changes were made to make it more adaptable for firefighting, it was made available for use by the Fire Department. This piece of equipment carries 1,500 gallons of water, 300 feet of 1 ½” hose, 150 feet of 2 ½” hose and is especially adapted for fighting fire outside the city limits, where the Town does have a small number of properties to protect under special contract.
An up-to-date fire alarm system was installed in 1950. It consisted of 12 boxes, located at strategic places over town. The bulk of the work of installing the boxes was performed by members of the Fire Department. One of the local civic clubs, the Business and Professional Women’s Club, was instrumental along with the firemen in helping raise funds with which to purchase the alarm system. Of course, the bulk of the cost was paid for by the Town. There are 35 alarm boxes located over the town now.
The Town of Gibsonville has an outlay of some $20,000.00 in fire equipment, consisting of the Mack Fire Truck, the Gamewell Fire Alarm System and other pertinent firefighting accessories. Not included in the figure is the GMC tanker, the Fire Station and the assembly room for the firemen. Again, the firemen themselves did most of the labor in connection with the assembly room. In fact, the firemen over the years have performed, not only their duties as firemen in extinguishing and preventing fires, but have done so much of the work in installing and maintaining the equipment for which they received no pay nor did they request any.
Prior to World War II, Tournaments were held over the State and participated on by various volunteer fire departments. The Gibsonville Fire Department always had a part in these tournaments. The main purpose of the tournaments was to encourage training of firemen and at the same time afford the firemen some pleasure as well.
The Gibsonville Firemen always gave a good account of themselves because it was a rare occasion when they returned home without having won at least one prize, be it first, second or third in either water or chemical. On at least one occasion, the Gibsonville Firemen won first prize in both water and chemical, a feat that only two other fire departments in the State accomplished.
About a month before the Tournament began, Chief would have his men practice about twice a week so as to be ready for the contest. The water team, composed of one man to open hydrant, one to connect hose to hydrant, one to pull slack, and two to disconnect hose and put on nozzle, would jump off the truck which was moving at the rate of 25 MPH to see how long it would take to connect the hose to the hydrant and have water flowing out of 100 feet of fire hose. Similarly, the chemical team, composed of two ladder men and one (chemical) hose man would jump off the moving truck to determine how quick the bell, which was attached to a board about 20 feet high and which represented the second story of a building, could be rung. Several spectators were always present when the team practiced, which usually took place of Eugene Street beside the old Gem Cotton Mill. Tournaments were discontinued during World War II when it was difficult to secure gasoline to make trips to the site of the tournament.
G.B. May served as Fire Chief for 33 years and was succeeded by Joe N. Ledbetter, who served 2 years. Ledbetter had served 23 years as a fireman before becoming Chief. Upon resignation of Ledbetter in 1960, Matthew Foster was appointed chief and is still serving in that capacity.
Three men, who were charter members of the department and who have had long careers as firemen are G. B. May with 33 years’ service, W.G. Boone with 35 years and Lingle Cobb with 41 years. Cobb has served longer than any other person as a member of the Gibsonville Fire Department, resigning in January 1964. All three of these men, now honorary firemen, have experienced pulling the hose reels, riding on the Model T Fire Truck, the old 1917 White Truck and the present Mack Truck.
The Gibsonville Fire Department has had a long and enviable record as a firefighting unit and fire losses in Gibsonville have been extremely low, with the exception of two or three fires.