volunteer fireman

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.

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.

“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 colored firemen’s convention.

The Red Hot Hose Company of Wilson hosted the 1904 convention and tournament of North Carolina Volunteer Firemen’s Association (Colored). Southern Railway ran this notice of special round-trip rates for firemen and brass bands making the trip from various points across the state.

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The Morning Post (Raleigh, N.C.), 28 July 1904.

The end of the Red Hots?

In 1938, the city of Wilson professionalized its firefighting operations, converting the white volunteer department to semi-paid status. The Daily Times originally reported that the black volunteer organization, the Red Hots, would be abolished, but here clarified that, while they were being retired from active service, they would continue to send representatives to competitions and state conventions and would be called upon in emergencies.

Wilson Daily Times, 14 July 1938.

——

  • Ben Mincey
  • George Coppedge — in the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County: brickmason George Coppedge, 34; wife Mittie, 34; and children George Jr., 4, and Elenora, 2.
  • Aaron Best — William Aaron Best died 21 August 1949 at his home at 1009 East Nash Street, Wilson. Per his death certificate, he was born 21 September 1900 in Wilson County to Aaron Best and Nannie Best; was a widower; and had been a laborer at Export Tobacco Company. Audrey Best was informant.
  • Ambrose Floyd — in 1942, Ambrose Floyd registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 4 February 1901 in Lumberton, North Carolina; resided at 1214 East Nash Street; his contact was Clara Smith; and he was employed by Gary Fulghum, 901 Branch Street, United States Post Office.
  • W.J. Howell
  • Henry Sauls — in 1942, Henry Sauls registered for the World War II draft in Wilson. Per his registration card, he was born 10 February 1898 in Black Creek; resided at 21 Carolina Street (mailing address 1114 Carolina Street); his contact was Hattie Davis, 19 Carolina Street; and he worked for W.T. Clark Jr., 1415 West Nash Street, Barnes Street tobacco factory.
  • Louis Thomas — in the 1940 census of Wilson, Wilson County: at 715 East Green Street, carpenter Louis Thomas, 53; wife Lillie, 33; and children Louis Jr., 16, Charlie H., 14, and Van Jewel, 12.

The Red Hot Hose Company.

Wilson_Mirror_11_30_1887_Ed_Pool

Wilson Mirror, 30 November 1887.

Wilson_Advance_12_1_1887_Ed_Pool_appreciation

Wilson Advance, 1 December 1887.

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Wilson Advance, 14 September 1893.

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Wilson Advance, 22 February 1894.

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Wilson Advance, 10 May 1894.

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Wilson Advance, 11 April 1895.

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Wilson Daily Times, 31 July 1896.

Wilson_Advance_13_Aug_1896_Red_Hot

Wilson Advance, 13 August 1896.

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Wilson Advance, 19 January 1899.

WDT_8_18_1899_CFCo

Wilson Daily Times, 18 August 1899.

Raleigh_N_Carolinian_8_28_1902_Red_Hot_Hose

The North Carolinian (Raleigh NC), 28 August 1902.

 WDT_3_7_1911_Colored_fire_co

Wilson Daily Times, 7 March 1911.

WDT_12_10_1918_Ben_Mincey_fireman

Wilson Daily Times, 10 December 1918.

WDT_8_19_1921_COlored_firemen

Wilson Daily Times, 19 August 1921.

——

Edmund Poole (1846-?) was living in Wilson by 1882, when he married Adeline Gay. He worked as a teamster.

Greene County native Benjamin Mincey (1879-1950) was the son of Prince and Susan Mincey. The family moved to Wilson when Ben was young, and he married Mattie Barnes there in 1904. When not fighting fires, he worked as a laborer for the city.