Greensboro, North Carolina was chartered in 1808. The first fire protection for the town was authorized in 1828 and officially put into law in 1833 by a group of newly appointed City Commissioners. Initially, households were required to have two ladders on their premises, reaching the length of the ground to the top of their house, and clear their property of debris and hazards. However, after the town’s first major fire in 1849, which destroyed much of the business community, Greensboro officials purchased a pump and two cisterns which provided their new fire engine with a water supply.
For decades, these fire engines were pulled either by volunteers or horses. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that motor vehicles began replacing horse drawn vehicles. After much review, the City Council authorized approximately $300,000 to be spent on Fire Department improvements, including motored fire engines, improvements to existing fire stations, and the grand opening of Greensboro’s new Central Fire Station in 1926. It was at this time that the fire department became a paid organization.
Fire fighters of the Greensboro Fire Department first organized and applied to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) in October 1947. Representing nearly 100% of the fire fighters in the mid 1950’s, Local 947 worked diligently with the department administration and city officials to implement the 72-hour work week, an action that truly boosted fire fighter morale.
Greensboro Local 947 and others across the state were disbanded in 1959 due to a North Carolina General Statute outlawing public safety employees from organizing and belonging to a union. After ten long years, the statute was ruled unconstitutional in 1969 and North Carolina firefighters could once again form employee associations and be afforded union representation. The decisions at that time still prohibited local unions from doing business and forming contracts with municipalities and state government, a ruling which is still in place today. In March of 1969 Local 947 was reinstated into the IAFF with over 200 charter members at 90% of the department.
A leader in the civil rights movement, the Greensboro Fire Department hired their first African-American firefighters in 1961. Housed at Station 4 on Gorrell Street, these firefighters represented some of the first African-American firefighters in the state of North Carolina and south. Fully integrated in 1967, the Greensboro Fire Department and IAFF have continued their work to support equity and diversity in the fire service and society.
In November of 1981 Local 947 was dissolved and the charter was forfeited for non-payment of per capita taxes. Greensboro’s charter and seal were then returned to the IAFF and the Union ceased to exist.
Interest in organizing a new association grew and the Greensboro fire fighters organized once again and rejoined the IAFF in June 1988. Designated and assigned as Local 3157, the officers and members of the new Greensboro Local soon requested that the number 947 be reinstated. In October 1988 the IAFF approved the request and Greensboro’s Local was restored to its original: 947.
Since then, Greensboro has continued to learn from, improve upon, and expand their fire fighting services. It recognized the importance of better working conditions for its fire fighters, enhanced training facilities, and more accessible stations. Additionally, the department established a number of Special Teams focused on Hazardous Materials, Technical Rope & Confined Space Rescue, Air Resource, Trench Rescue, Structural Collapse, Water Rescue, Honor Guard, and a dedicated Training Division.
The PFFG continues to represent the fire fighters who protect the life and property in the City of Greensboro.
For an extensive timeline of Greensboro firefighters’ history created through the GFD History Book Committee, please click here.