Raleigh, N.C. — Lights and sirens surged through downtown Raleigh Saturday as the city's Fire Department celebrated its 100th year.
Although the profession has come a long way in Raleigh since 1912, some things – like the motivation to become a firefighter – never change.
"It's just a pride and a camaraderie and service to the are you live in," retired Raleigh firefighter Tim Wall said.
Hundreds of people lined Fayetteville Street Saturday morning to get a glimpse of the history of the department, from the 1905 antique steam engine that came back to life to more current ladder trucks and engines used today.
For the family of Dan Fox, a Raleigh firefighter who pulled a woman from a burning condo before it collapsed in 2008, Saturday's celebration was a good reminder of how important firefighters can be to the community.
"When he goes on the fire calls I always get scares, but now that I can see him do his job, I really see what he has done and what he can do for the community," said Savannah Fox, Dan's daughter.
In the beginning, the all-volunteer force rode to emergencies in horse-drawn cars behind a chief who made $600 a year. Today, the Raleigh Fire Department boasts 500 men and women working top-of-the-line equipment out of 27 fire stations. And it's still growing.
Earlier this month, firefighters visited the Raleigh City Council to ask for more money and more manpower to help keep up with a growing population in the city.
"We are the help, we can't call anybody else. When you call us, we are the help," Keith Wilder, president of the Raleigh Professional Firefighters Association, said. "We need to maintain our staffing at high levels, we need to maintain our coverage throughout the city so we can keep our response times lower."
To understand the sacrifices that Raleigh firefighters make to keep the city safe, WRAL's Stacy Davis suited up for a day of training. She learned that the heavy gear, the powerful hose and staying cool and calm in hot, dark, dangerous places is not for the faint of heart.
"It's a lifestyle. It's a family," said Lt. Nick Rhodes. "Everywhere you go, I don't care where you go in this country, if you meet another firefighter, automatically, that's your brother, that's your sister and they're going to treat you as such."
Rhodes helped Davis with the gear, including a breathing tank and personalized helmet. Donning the extra 60 pounds was no problem, she said, " I just can't imagine carrying it into a building."
She learned how strong firefighters have to be to rescue those who might be trapped, or to manage the force of a fire hose.
"There's 100 pounds of force per inch pushing backward when you open this up," Rhodes described. When Davis took the nozzle, photographer Greg Clark and all the firefighters watching got drenched.
She also practiced crawling in dark, confined spaces and eventually tested her skill in a controlled burn setting.
The Raleigh Fire Department responds to just about any life-threatening situation. A full 70 percent of their calls are medical. And they've been doing it for 100 years.