Red Hot Hose Company

W.C.P.L. presents “Wilson County’s African American Firefighters 1893-1965.”

I cannot say enough in praise of Wilson County Public Library and its incredible cadre of dedicated librarians. WCPL offers an incredible array of services and steadfastly walks the walk of inclusion, holding space for the stories of all of us.

This month, local history librarian Tammy Medlin produced an information-packed segment on the histories of our favorite Red Hot Hose Company and the East Nash Volunteer Fire Department.

Please support your local library — here’s how

A new reel house for the Red Hots.

Wilson Advance, 19 January 1899.

Robert L. Wyatt Sr., a well-to-do tinsmith and town commissioner, died in 1893, but his adult children remained in his house on Spring Street. I do not know the exact location of the Red Hots’ new reel house, but the reference to proximity to the stemmeries suggests that it was west of Nash Street toward South Street. (With the burgeoning tobacco trade, this area would soon become heavily industrial, but in the 1890s it was home to several large houses.) However, neither the 1897 nor 1903 Sanborn fire insurance map reveals anything that looks like a reel house.

The newly opened Kinsey Female Seminary was at Whitehead and Lee Streets at what was then the northwestern edge of residential settlement in Wilson.

Colored firemen seek a racing reel.

A regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners of the Town of Wilson was held in the Mayor’s office, August 1, 1900.

The Colored Hose Reel Company made an application for a racing Reel and for an appropriation to assist them in attending the Colored Firemen Association.

It was moved and carried that the Town purchase a racing Reel for its Fire Departments and lend it to the Companies and pay one half of their expense to the Firemen Association.


Minutes of City Council, Wilson, North Carolina, transcribed in bound volumes shelved at Wilson County Public Library, Wilson.

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.