Red Hot Hose Company

One hand reel.

The first page of the 1913 Sanborn fire insurance map contains a paragraph detailing the city’s fire protection. West of the tracks the fire department utilized horse-drawn equipment, including a steam fire engine, a hook and ladder truck with extension ladders, and 2500 feet of hose. East of the tracks, in “Colored Section” covering roughly sections 11, 12, most of 13, 22, and 23, there was one hand reel with 300 feet of hose — operated by the famous Red Hots.

Run over by a reel.

Wilson Advance, 9 January 1896.

John A. Corbett collided with the Red Hots’ hose reel as both dashed to a fire in January 1896. The Red Hots’ reel, which was pulled by hand until the city gave them a horse in 1921, likely looked much like the one below, restored and displayed in the Raleigh Fire Museum. See here for interesting info about the history and operation of hose reels.

Photo courtesy of the Raleigh Fire Museum, Raleigh, North Carolina.

The colored firemen issue an invitation to feast.

Wilson Daily Times, 30 December 1925.

The Red Hot fire company issued an invitation to Wilson’s leaders to celebrate the New Year. Those who received offers to partake in a barbecue supper included City Fire Department Chief A.L. Lancaster; Herring’s Drug Store proprietor Needham B. Herring and pharmacist Doane Herring; R.J. Grantham, vice-president of Wilson Trust Company and superintendent of the City Water, Light & Gas Department; Roscoe Briggs, president of Citizens Bank, W.W. Simms Company, and Wilson Cotton Mill Company, and vice-president of Wilson Home & Loan Association; R.C. Welfare, president of Welfare Auto Company; clerk of City Police Theo Hinnant; clerk of City Police Court Glaucus Hinnant; Wilson Daily Times editor John D. Gold; and Silas R. Lucas, mayor and City Police Court judge.

Curiously, the invitation noted that “the colored fireman have been 28 years in service helping protect the property of the people of Wilson.” However, as contemporary news articles attest, Black volunteer firefighters were working in Wilson as early as 1887 and were known as the Red Hots as early as 1896.

Red Hots attend convention in Greenville.

Wilson Daily Times, 17 August 1932.

  • Ben Mincey
  • George Coppedge
  • Louis Thomas
  • Ned Barnes
  • Will Farmer
  • Ambrose Floyd
  • Henry Sauls
  • W.T. Howell
  • Herman Adkins
  • Dave McPhail
  • Allison Holden
  • Ernest Bril
  • Thomas Daniels
  • Herbert Dixon — in the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., Dixon Herbert (c; Lenora) gro 704 Robeson h 415 Stantonsburg 
  • Charles Barnes
  • Grady Wood
  • John Hargett — in the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., Hargett John A (c) student 515 Spring
  • Paul Camber
  • Brel Dunn
  • Madison Mincey — Ben Mincey’s son.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.

Ben Mincey’s legacy.

I stumbled upon this history of the East Nash Volunteer Fire Department while searching for information about Frank W. Barnes. First, I’ll highlight the fascinating details of the career of Benjamin Mincey, the early twentieth-century chief of the Red Hot Hose Company. Then, though it happened well after the period of this blog’s focus, I’ll outline the history of inspiring story E.N.V.F.D., which carries on the 130+ year legacy of the Red Hots.

John Mincey, one of the leaders in the [Volunteer Fire Department], gets his firemanship naturally. A teacher at Speight High School, Mincey is the son of the late Ben Mincey, long a champion of the Negro fire organization in Wilson and North Carolina.

“The elder Mincey served several years as captain of the Negro fire company with the Wilson Fire Department.

“His company, considered one of the top Negro fire-fighting companies anywhere, was appropriately dubbed ‘The Red Hot Hose, Reel and Truck Co.’

“During statewide competition, Mincey’s company virtually walked off with first prize in every contest — including reel races, truck races and fire extinguishing.

“An employe of the city fire department for nearly one-half century, Mincey died in August of 1959 [sic; 1950].

“He was carried to the Rountree Church [actually, Odd Fellows] cemetery aboard a city fire department, and resting above his grave today is a fire hydrant, symbolic of his love for fire-fighting.

“Mincey started to work for the city fire department when there were no trucks and when the reels had to be pulled by the firemen.

“He had a fire alarm hooked up to his house and connected the main station. When it rang, he was off and pedaling his bicycle to the blaze.

“It has been said that Mincey was the fastest bicyclist in the city.

“During his service with the city, Mincey fought nearly every major major fire.

“Mincey was one of the leaders of N.C. Colored Volunteer Firemen’s Association, and worked in every department of the association.

“Before he died, he received an award for saving a family trapped in a home during a serious flood.”

Wilson Daily Times, 7 March 1965.

Now, in a nutshell, the story of E.N.V.F.D.:

In the 1950s, Clarence Hoskins, David Suggs, J.E. Williams, Henry Hagans, and L.H. Coley began meeting in a back room at Frank W. Barnes’ Sanitary Barber Shop to discuss the urgent need for firefighting services east of U.S. Highway 301. As interest grew, the group moved to Brown Chapel Missionary Baptist Church and then Rountree Missionary Baptist Church to accommodate larger gatherings.

The group sold barbecue and chicken dinners to raise money. The fire that destroyed Clarence Hoskins’ home in 1960 and other catastrophic losses spurred them in 1962 to establish a $25 per home assessment to build and equip a fire station.

In 1964, the group received a state charter as a volunteer fire department. They bought two second-hand trucks and sent them to Rocky Mount to be converted into fire engines. The next built their own building with donated labor. By then, they were $7000 in debt.

In 1965, Wilson County approved the department, added it to the county’s rural fire system, and began issuing $100 per month in funds. E.N.V.F.D. continued its weekend plate sales to retire its debt.

East Nash Volunteer Fire Department remains active, with a main facility on N.C. Highway 91 east of Wilson and a sub-station on U.S. 301.

Lane Street Project: Chief Ben Mincey’s grave.

Here is a closer look at a photograph published in the Wilson Daily Times in February 1989. Ben Mincey Jr. is shown standing at the grave of his father, Benjamin Mincey, renowned as a chief of the Red Hot Hose Company, an all-Black volunteer fire company. Fittingly, Mincey Sr.’s gravemarker is a fire hydrant.

Tragically, that grave is in Odd Fellows cemetery, and today the hydrant is strangled by wisteria vines. 

Marker of the grave of Benjamin Mincey (ca. 1881-1950).

Photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, December 2020.

 

The obituary of John W. Jeffries (or Jefferson), member of the Red Hots.

Wilson Daily Times, 27 June 1938.

The “local negro fire company” was, of course, the Red Hots.

——

On 20 November 1887, John W. Jefferson, 36, of Wilson County, son of Jack Jefferson, married Lizzie D. Dotson (or Doster) at “the rectory at St. Timothys church.” Episcopal priest B.S. Bronson performed the ceremony.

In the 1900 census of Wilson, Wilson County: day laborer John Jefferson, 52, widower.

In the 1908 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jeffreys John V (c) lab h 708 S Spring

In the 1910 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 360 Spring Street, odd jobs laborer John Jeffries, 60, and wife Maggie, 30.

In the 1916 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jefferson John (c) lab h 708 S Spring

In the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 607 Spring, house carper John Jefferson, 68, and wife Maggie, 31.

In the 1920 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jefferson John (c) lab h 607 S Spring

In the 1922 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jefferson John (c) carp h 521 Spring

In the 1925 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jeffreys Jno W (c) carp h 521 Spring

In the 1928 Hill’s Wilson, N.C., city directory: Jeffries John W (c) carp h 521 Spring

John Wesley Jeffrey died 27 June 1938 at Mercy Hospital in Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 9 May 1849 in Harnett County, N.C.; lived at 307 Spruce Street, Wilson; was divorced from Maggie Wilson; and was a laborer.