Solving the “Mystery” of Two Associations

Solving the “Mystery” of Two Associations

By: Carter Jones
Special Projects Coordinator

Soon after being employed by the Firefighters’ Association in 2014, this writer discovered at the State Archives a Petition of Incorporation for “The S. C. Volunteer Firemen’s Association”, dated June 6, 1898. It is petitioned by eleven (11) individuals, all fire service leaders residing mainly in Greenville and Orangeburg, with one each from Florence and Winnsboro. The petition is signed by D. H. Tompkins, Secretary of State.

To quote the petition, the general purpose of the corporation and nature of business “is to effect an organization to promote the efficiency of our firemen, to insure prosperity and success, to provide for the best interest of the firemen of this State, to compile statistics of information concerning the practical workings of the various systems and the merits of the various apparatus in use for the extinguishing of fire, and to form a closer fellowship between the different fire departments of the State.

The immediate question which came to my mind was “what happened to this new Association?” We know that our current S. C. State Firemen’s Association was established in 1905 by an entirely different group of individuals just eight years after the “mystery” Association’s incorporation. Well, it has taken me three years of research to have possibly discovered the answers to this lingering question. However, to adequately tell the whole story, we need to go back in time to those early years of the mid-1800s.

As fire departments were formed throughout the villages, small towns and cities of South Carolina to fight the increasing number of devastating fires, the firemen of that time found ways of channeling their energies between alarms of fire by competing locally and regionally in tournaments, public demonstrations and grand parades.

According to William Browning in his book, Firefighting in Greenville (1840-1990), “it appeared to me that putting out fires became almost secondary to the social and recreational benefits of becoming a volunteer fireman. The highlight of a fire company was traveling to other cities and competing against other fire companies drawn to the competitions.” Browning goes on by saying “these events were preceded by a parade followed by the competitions between the fire companies. To win an award at one of these competitions was quite an honor for the fire company, as well as the home town. A parade would usually follow a victorious company’s return home.”

The Daily Phoenix, a Columbia newspaper, dated May 9, 1872, describes in great detail the firemen’s tournament held in Charleston. The article states “there were no visiting companies, but the display was grand, and the excitement not exceeded by any previous year.” Again, in The Daily Phoenix, dated April 11, 1875, an article appeared which said “the colored firemen are making splendid headway in their proposed tournament in the first part of May. They deserve all the help our citizens can give them toward success, as they have ever been ready, energetic and willing co-workers with the white companies in fighting the fiery element. They propose to invite several colored companies to participate with them in their festivities; and we are satisfied that the visitors will have to be at the top round of the ladder of experience and activity to surpass the Vigilant, Enterprise and Congaree.”

In the June 14, 1888, edition of The Anderson Intelligencer, the Firemen’s Tournament is described as “a grand success” with thousands of visitors. The commentary says that “Anderson is alive with firemen and visitors…the grandest demonstration that has ever occurred in our prosperous little city.” It further states that Anderson’s firemen are determined “to make it one of the grandest firemen’s demonstrations that has ever occurred in the State.” It is noted that fire companies from Augusta and Athens, Georgia, made the trip to Anderson to participate in the competitions, and even Governor John Peter Richardson attended the festivities.

The Watchman and Southron, a Sumter newspaper, announced in the August 7, 1895, edition that the firemen of Florence are planning a tournament on Labor Day. The article states “the contest will be for handsome purses and the championship of the State. All companies in the State will be invited.” Competitions between fire departments were keen, to say the least. In the same writing, the reporter talks about the Delgar Reel Squad of the Game Cock City (Sumter) and the Independents of Columbia will “meet and decide which squad is entitled to claim the superiority.”

It is interesting to note that these tournaments were so popular across our State that even the railroads offered discounts to fire companies traveling to distant cities to compete. In the June 24, 1908, edition of The Manning Times, an advertisement for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad offers “exceedingly low rates…for individuals $2.05, and Firemen and Brass Bands in parties of ten or more…at $1.49, via Sumter.”

There is no shortage of documentation and records providing accounts of the important role of firemen’s tournaments in the evolution of South Carolina’s fire service and to the prosperity of individual communities. So, let’s get back to the 1898 incorporation of The South Carolina Volunteer Firemen’s Association.

Again, in Sumter’s Watchman and Southron, of August 19, 1896, there appears a piece which gives the first glimpse of an effort to officially bring the volunteer firemen of the State together as an Association. It says, in part, that “Chief Bloom, of this city (Sumter), and Chief Cauble, of the Greenville Fire Department, are making an effort to enlist the interest of the firemen of this State in the organization of a State (Volunteer) Firemen’s Association, which will be the means of bringing the firemen of the State into closer touch and ultimately effect decided improvement in every fire department in the State.”

The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg) reports in the November 10, 1897, edition that the Board of Fire Masters attended a convention In Greenville for the purpose of organizing a State Firemen’s Association. The article says the delegation from the Orangeburg Fire Department was the largest in attendance outside of that from Greenville. The piece goes on to report that “the matter of securing a charter and an appropriation for the volunteer firemen of the State from our next legislature was assigned to the solicitor of the East End Reel Company.” Interestingly, the decision was made to hold the next annual meeting in Orangeburg in August of 1898.

Between November of 1897 and August of 1898, a group of fire service leaders petitioned the Secretary of State to seek incorporation for the South Carolina Volunteer Firemen’s Association. The “Board of Corporators” was made up of the following chiefs and officers: J. O. Cauble (Chief of Greenville), Daniel E. Dukes (Chief of Orangeburg), L. H. Peebles (Greenville), B. J. Quattlebaum (Winnsboro), J. P. Haynes (Greenville), Samuel A. Dukes (Assistant Chief of Orangeburg), Charles A. Buchheit (Chief of Florence), L. M. Sullivan (Greenville), W. F. Martin (Assistant Chief of Greenville), William Goldsmith (Greenville), and I. W. Bowman (Orangeburg).

On August 9, 1898, the South Carolina Volunteer Firemen’s Association convened in Orangeburg in annual session. The Times and Democrat reported “a very interesting program was arranged by Dr. Oliver and his committee of arrangements for the entertainment of our visitors. The opening meeting was held at the Courthouse at 10 o’clock Tuesday morning, when an address of welcome was delivered by Dr. A. S. Hydrick on behalf of the city. Then at 5 o’clock a parade of the fire department took place and in the evening a banquet was served at the Edisto Armory.”

What happened to this newly incorporated “volunteer” association? No mention has ever been made of this organization since the second convention was held in Orangeburg in November of 1898. This writer thinks the answers of why this association faded away may have been found by looking at the status of the founding members, the limitations of membership, and an unsuccessful attempt to obtain any permanent underwriting.

At the time of incorporation, most, if not all, of those chiefs and chief officers were volunteer firemen due to the fact that their departments had not yet become paid departments. However, in the early 1900s, several of these founding leaders became paid fireman in their respective departments and were no longer considered volunteer members. Additionally, membership in this association was apparently restricted just to the volunteer service. And, lastly, there is no record of the Association pursuing a permanent funding source from the legislature as originally desired. Without groomed or seasoned leaders to take positions of authority, the volunteer association likely withered on the vine for a short time until Charleston’s Chief Louis Behrens took up the cause and proposed that another Association should be more appropriately organized which would represent all firemen, volunteer as well as paid.

Now, we just may have the rest of the story. In May of 1905, a group of fire service leaders representing both volunteer and career firemen met in Columbia to form the South Carolina State Firemen’s Association. Chief Louis Behrens of the Charleston Fire Department was elected the first president and served for twenty-seven (27) years in that position. And, in 1910, the Legislature of South Carolina passed a law creating a fund for fire departments derived from a tax on insurance premiums of which 5% of those proceeds were assigned to the State Association for benefits and operational expenses.

In closing, much credit must be given to those early volunteer firemen who crafted a vision for the fire service and tried to get solid footing as a viable statewide organization. However, time charted another more effective and all-inclusive course designed to benefit all of our State’s firemen, volunteer and career. Truly we are the beneficiaries of the vision and toil of those pioneers which now allows us the privilege to share in that “Brotherhood Like No Other”.

 

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