The Record Holder of the Hand Reel Contest & More From the NC Fire Fighters’ Association

Two adults standing in front of a fire truck. The one on the right is wearing a uniform.

Have you ever wondered what fire fighting was like in the 1930s and ’40s? Our latest batch of materials from the Greensboro History Museum offers a look into some of the gatherings of the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association through a set of booklets documenting their annual convention and tournament.

The convention rotated between several North Carolina cities, including Asheville, Winston-Salem, and New Bern, among others. The convention booklets contain lists of officers, transcripts of speeches from the leaders, and memorial pages dedicated to the fire fighters lost in the line of duty. They also include editions of the Association’s constitution and bylaws.

Fire fighters climbing a ladder leaning against a burning building.

The tournament part of the gathering seems to include competitive drills that test fire fighters’ abilities. The last few pages of the most recent booklet (from 1942) list the records of some of the events from previous years, including the Horse Hose Wagon Contest (tied between Kinston and Morehead City in 1916 at 27 and 2/5 seconds), the Hand Reel Contest (won by Kannapolis in 1937 in 16 and 2/5 seconds), grab races and motor contests.

In addition to the convention booklets, this batch also includes some early proceedings of the Association from 1888, which describes the organization of white, volunteer companies. Also included in this set of materials (though unrelated to fire fighting) are three more editions of the Whirligig yearbook from Grimsley High School. You can browse the full batch of materials here. To see more from the Greensboro History Museum, you can visit their partner page and their website. You can also browse our collection of North Carolina High School yearbooks to see all available editions of the Whirligig and browse our Images of North Carolina collection for more photographs of fire fighters in action.

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