Fayetteville History, January 2022

The Fayetteville Fire Department

By Weeks Parker

The Fayetteville Fire Department is one of the oldest in the state. It was chartered by the North Carolina Legislature in 1791. It consisted mainly of citizens who volunteered for the fire brigade that had limited equipment, using only leather buckets and a tall ladder. Although Fayetteville has had many fire companies, the first to be officially called The Fayetteville Fire Department was organized by Capt. James Dobbin McNeill (1850-1927), whose monument still stands at the corner of Green and Bow streets on the north side of the Fascinate-U Children’s Museum.

Captain Jim, as he was affectionately called, served as chief of the Fayetteville Fire Department for 40 years. He also held the office of president of the North Carolina Firemen’s Association for six terms and was part-time police chief. He was the owner and manager of the McNeill Milling Company, which was built on the site of the Cochran Mill on the corner of Green and Old streets across from the First Citizens Bank parking lot ramp.

When the fire bell would ring, children who attended nearby Central School on Burgess Street would slip out of class to go wherever the fire was. They were always eager to hear Captain Jim as he, in typical colorful language, ordered his firemen to put out the fire.

In 1896, the fire department headquarters was at 502 Green St. where Highsmith Hospital was later built, and where the First Citizens Bank building now stands. When the fire department used the building on Green Street, the old “Silsby Steam Pumper” was parked under the Market House, and the horses that pulled the engine were kept at Bevill’s Stables just a short distance away.

Fayetteville’s first black fire department marched up Person Street during a November 1939 parade celebrating the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the U. S. Constitution in Fayetteville in 1778. Silsby Steam Pumpers were used by fire departments throughout the United States. Because the boilers of these engines would sometimes explode and either kill or injure the firemen, this type of engine soon became extinct.

In 1948, members of the Fayetteville Fire Department drove their old Steam Pumper around the Market House during the 61st North Carolina State Firemen’s Association convention which was held in Fayetteville.