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Our History

The Roanoke Fire Department was first organized in the fall of 1882 by concerned citizens, specifically Norfolk & Western Railroad employees and downtown businessmen. In 1883, 40 volunteers with horse-drawn equipment operated from 1st Street and Campbell Ave. ​     



The first paid firefighters were hired in 1906 with the establishment of Fire Station 1 on Church Street. Due to the size of this city at this time, most fires could be spotted from the bell tower of this historic building. 

In 1911, the first engine powered fire trucks were purchased: three Seagrave Pumpers, each with a powerful 75-horse-powered engine. In 1918 the last horse drawn fire wagon was placed out of service, a sign of the changing times for the Roanoke Fire Department. 

As major fires plagued the downtown business district, the Department slowly grew. In 1936, men were hired to start a two platoon system. This led to significant growth in the department and is the current shift configuration. 

Major jurisdictional annexations took place in 1949, when twenty-nine square miles were acquired, and again in 1976, when the western boundary was established. These annexations caused growth in both numbers of fire stations and personnel. In 1952, firefighters organized to form a union, IAFF (International Association of Firefighters) Local 1132. To this day, IAFF Local 1132 plays a significant role in the culture and services provided to Roanoke citizens. 

A significant customer service initiative was undertaken in 1991, the First Responder program.  This was the department's first involvement in providing medical services to the community. In 1995, the Roanoke Fire Department merged with the Roanoke EMS (Emergency Medical Services) to form the Roanoke Fire-EMS Department. This merger also linked the fire department with REMS (Roanoke Emergency Medical Services), the first volunteer rescue organization in the nation. REMS helps provide ambulance and rescue services by staffing at least one Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulance nights and weekends. REMS draws a set stipend from ambulance fees and acts as a purchasing agent for all the medical supplies used by any city ambulance, in addition to providing all ambulance maintenance. 


Expanded regional cooperation with the County of Roanoke, City of Salem, and Town of Vinton, has taken place since 1995. A regional radio system, permitting the four jurisdictions' emergency units to talk directly with each other, has greatly enhanced the ability to respond to major incidents and coordinate emergency efforts. Standardization of equipment and fire fighting components, such as 5" supply hose and the adoption of a valley-wide Incident Management System (IMS), have laid the foundation for greater regional cooperation.

The most significant regional cooperative effort for the fire service has been the construction of the Roanoke Valley Regional Fire-EMS Training Center. This modern training complex provides the Roanoke Valley with a state-of-the-art training facility that will foster and support future regional efforts, including a Regional Fire-EMS Recruit Academy.

Since 1882, Roanoke Fire-EMS has grown and evolved in efforts to provide the best solutions for our team and community. We are now nationally accredited and take pride in the services we provide. Our department is eager to continue seeking opportunities for advancement and making history along the way. 

Historical Roanoke Fire EMS
Firefighters Cooking
Firefighters working a fire
Historical Roanoke Fire EMS
Historical Roanoke Fire EMS
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