Thursday, March 1, 2018

Fire Takes Out Telephone Service in Rockingham for 24 Hours, 1922

“Narrow Escape for Central Office,” from the March 2, 1922 issue of the Rockingham Post-Dispatch
Fire Broke Out Last Saturday Morning in Heart of Town. Chief Operator Escapes from Second Story Through Window. Phone Switchboard Out of Use for 24 Hours. Effectiveness of Fire Truck Demonstrated. Town Places Order for Electric Fire Alarm System, with Boxes in Various Parts of Town
Rockingham was without phone service from 10 o’clock last Saturday morning to 10:30 Sunday night due to fire which gutted the lower part of one half of the Central building.
The alarm was sounded about 10 o’clock, and with remarkable suddenness the fire gained headway. The truck was quick in responding, but by the time it arrived, smoke in dense volume was pouring from the lower windows. The fire started in the rear room under the Central office, possibly from a live coal dropping from the furnace door. At any rate, the furnace room was in flames and the rubber insulations therein intensive the smoke. Due to the fact that the building is next to the Hotel, and on Main street, two lines of hose were stretched and these with the chemical hose were soon playing upon the smoke filled rooms. At first it was difficult to locate the actual flames, and as a precaution, water was sent into the office occupied by H.B. Humphrey and also into the Central room upstairs. However, in short order the flames were arrested.
The operators on duty at the time were Mrs. James Threadgill, chief operator, and Misses Essie Clark and Frances Gaddy. Miss Belle Gibson had just been relieved, and she and Miss Mary Fields, bookkeeper, were in the outer office talking. They noticed the room filling with smoke, but at first thought it was from the Hotel kitchen. In a few seconds it perceptibly increased. The two girls decided something must be wrong, so they ran downstairs and into the hotel to ask Mr. Moore (who was installing the hotel phone system) to come and see if anything was the matter. But in the brief interval it took them to go and return, the fire had gained strong headway and the upstairs had completely filled with smoke, so much so that Misses Clark and Gaddy had gotten out by way of the stairs, with Mrs. Threadgill staying a moment longer in order to phone Manager Morris at Hamlet that the building was on fire. When she, too, turned to leave she found the way cut off by smoke. By this time Moore and Hunsworth had pushed through the smoke into the room, and raising the window the three made their escape this way and down a ladder that persons outside had raised.
The building was owned by Mrs. W.B. Stansill, whose loss is fully covered by insurance. The chief damage was by water to the large switchboard of the Sou. Bell. Within half an hour after the fire the company had “cut in” a long distance line to a phone nailed to a post outside the building so that the town could have at least one long distance connection. Material was ordered by Morris and Clark from Charlotte, and small stoves placed in the room in order to dry out the switchboard. A steady temperature was maintained for 24 hours, and by Sunday night the phone service was resumed.
The public is appreciative of the promptness with which the Sou. Bell officials went to work in this restoration; and right here the Post-Dispatch is requested to express the appreciation of the Sou. Bell and its employees to the firemen for their work, and to the people for their indulgence while the system was “hors de combat.”
The optometrical office of H.B. Humphrey on the first floor was damaged by water but most of his equipment was taken out. He, too, wishes to express his thanks for the help, and to state that he is again open for work.
At no time was the hotel in danger. The fire demonstrated again the wisdom of the purchase of the $12,500 La France truck.
The town commissioners have placed an order for an electrical fire alarm system, this to cost around $3,000 it is said. Fire boxes will be placed in different parts of the town, numbered, so that when the alarm sounds the firemen and others will know just where the fire is.

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