To the reader,
This book contains 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.
In February 1825, volunteer fire companies were organized in Ward 1 and 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.
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.
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.