Until a Fire, Charlotte Fire Department Was Unwelcome

When a building at Berkeley Place caught fire July 28, who arrived first? City firefighters, riding a city firetruck, from a 4-year-old city fire station.

The first city truck arrived at 3:54, and by 4 p.m., four city firetrucks had reached the scene, according to city records. As the fire department rotated crews around the city, firefighters came from as far away as Derita, Beatties Ford Road and Independence Boulevard.

That's standard practice, said Charlotte Fire Capt. Rob Brisley, the department spokesman.

Often, he added, volunteer fire departments will assist the city, particularly in suburban areas. Some volunteer departments, including Newell, have rescue equipment that can help save people who are trapped.

The volunteer departments get less than $90,000 a year each from Mecklenburg County, but they must also rely on donations. As once-rural areas become home to commuters, they struggle to recruit volunteers who can respond quickly to daytime fires.

And when they call the city, the city comes -- 213 times during 2004-05.

"Since 1887," Brisley said, "there's never been a bill from the Charlotte Fire Department to take care of your emergency."

Distributed by the Associated Press