Civil War Era Beginnings
The Beaufort Fire Department can trace its origins back to the Civil War years. But 1874 makes a milestone, when the Washington Stream Fire Engine Company was formed.
A Silsby Fourth Size steam fire engine was purchased by the City of Beaufort on Nov. 9, 1874, for $2,000 and leased to the fire company for $1,000 per year. The Washington Steam Fire Engine Company put $500 of its own money towards the purchase of the steamer as earnest money.
The Washington engine was housed in a two-story structure on Carteret Street, where it remained until approximately 1910, when it was moved to its new location on Scott and Craven Streets.
Other fire companies
Three other fire companies operated in Beaufort between 1874 and the early 1900s -- the Palmetto Steam Fire Engine Company, the New York Hook & Ladder Company, and the Pioneer Hose Company (colored). The Palmetto Steam Fire Engine Company was disbanded in the early 1900s and the pump was sold to an asphalt company.
The Pioneers remained active at their station located on Prince Street until 1970, when they disbanded and merged into the Beaufort Fire Department.
Conflagration of 1907
In the years since it was first formed, the Beaufort Fire Department was confronted by at least one conflagration. On Saturday, Jan. 19, 1907, a fire started in the grocery and general merchandise store owned by F. W Scheper. The time was recorded at 1:30 p.m. and the fire quickly spread to adjacent structures. Traveling from rooftop to rooftop, the fire consumed over 40 buildings before being brought under control. Steam fire engines were brought to the city from the Naval Station at Port Royal and from Savannah by barge to join in the battle.
During December of 1924, the city purchased its first motorized apparatus -- a 1924 American LaFrance Type 75, 750 G.P.M. pumper. Both Silsby steamer and the '24 LaFrance are still owned by the city and are awaiting funds to restore 'Big Jim' to operating condition. The fire service in Beaufort remained all volunteer until 1956, when the first paid firefighter was hired. Additional firefighters were hired during the late 1960s. The first paid fire chief was hired in 1977.
The 1980s was a period of growth for the Beaufort Fire Department. A new Headquarters Station was dedicated on Jan. 14, 1984. Nine additional career firefighters were hired, a 100-foot aerial ladder truck was purchased, and three firefighterswere promoted to lieutenant.
During 1985, the city's Insurance Services Office (ISO) Public Fire protection rating was upgraded from a Class 6 to a Class 2. Two 1,500 gallon per minute pumpers were purchased and placed in service during 1988 and 1989 respectively.
Town of Port Royal Integration
On Sept. 1, 1991, the Town of Port Royal entered into contract with the City of Beaufort and was given the authority to manage the operation of the Town's fire service. Career employees now total 33, volunteer membership averages 25, and new 1,500 gallon per minute pumpers placed in service for the Town, a new fire station 3 constructed, and the city is placing in service a third 1,500 gallon per minute pumper. Between the two municipalities, the combined pumping capacity of its pumping apparatus is 9,000 gallon per minute.
The Beaufort Fire / Rescue Department has come a long way from the days of hand-drawn steam fire engines and hook and ladder rigs. Today's Beaufort Fire Department provides a wide variety of services over and above fire suppression, such as:
- cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) instruction
- hazardous material spill response
- medical first aid
- public education
- rescue and recovery
- water search