Book looks at history of ‘Firefighting in Buncombe County’

Asheville's first horse-drawn fire hose carriage was purchased in May 1887.  The first hose company was formed in 1884, after the first city water lines were installed.  With 1,500 feet of hose, firemen were usually worn out by the time they reached the scene.  By 1888, there were three hose carts and 40 volunteers. Asheville Fire Department photo,  reprinted by permission from "Firefighting in Buncombe County" by Brian Lawrence. Available by publisher online at arcadiapublishing.com or  by calling 888-313-2665.
Asheville's first horse-drawn fire hose carriage was purchased in May 1887. The first hose company was formed in 1884, after the first city water lines were installed. With 1,500 feet of hose, firemen were usually worn out by the time they reached the scene. By 1888, there were three hose carts and 40 volunteers. Asheville Fire Department photo, reprinted by permission from "Firefighting in Buncombe County" by Brian Lawrence. Available by publisher online at arcadiapublishing.com or by calling 888-313-2665.

Firefighting has played a big role in Brian Lawrence’s life. His father was a firefighter and he grew up around the firehouse outside Decatur, Illinois. His fascination with firefighting followed him through his teen years, through college and into his current role as an engineer with the Asheville Fire Department.

Lawrence’s keen interest in history complements his passion for firefighting in Firefighting in Buncombe County, a book scheduled for publication on Monday, Aug. 25. Lawrence is also the historian for the Asheville Fire Department, and the book supports his desire to salvage and preserve the stories of local fire departments.

“I spent time going through the archives of the Asheville Fire Department, hours pouring over accounts in the North Carolina Collection at Pack Memorial Library and additional time visiting each of the county fire departments,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence credits Buddy Thompson, who recently retired as an arson investigator, with encouraging him to compile the history for posterity.  “He was always encouraging me to put something together about the local history of firefighting.”

The result is a history of each fire department in context with a capsule history of each community. There are pictures (205 total) tracing the histories and nearly 20,000 words highlighting important events, founding fathers and critical supporters, such as local ladies auxiliaries. “They [the auxiliaries] played such important roles, especially in the volunteer departments,” Lawrence said.

In addition, the book has a section on supporting agencies, including rescue squads, and training to fight wildfires. “In 1921, Buncombe County became one of the first in the state to appropriate money for wildfire control,” Lawrence says.

The book was a three-year effort. His wife, Laura, a teacher at Asheville School, was supportive. The couple has two young children.

While events like the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, focused more attention on first responders, including firefighters, Lawrence says that in Asheville an important event for firefighters was the July 2011 fire that took the life of firefighter Jeff Bowen. He was the first Asheville firefighter since 1982 to die in the line of duty.

Others have also died through the years, and Lawrence notes their contributions as well.

Firefighting in Buncombe County will be available online and in local retail outlets. The book is published by Arcadia Publishing (arcadiapublishing.com).

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