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Since 1963 the firefighters of Raleigh’s Station Nine
have served and protected the surrounding community.
By Carla Turchetti
Photos by Joe Reale
The firefighters at Station Nine on Six Forks Road have had a front-row seat to change for more than 30 years in North Raleigh, and now Midtown. The firehouse has changed little on the outside with its familiar brick exterior and flag flying high in the sky. There have been improvements inside, as well as technology updates, and there are talks of renovations in the future. But the physical structure of Station Nine doesn’t matter so much as the heroes who reside inside have been on the job 24 hours a day as Midtown has changed and grown.
The map on the wall clearly shows the primary area this fire station serves. And they know it like the backs of their hands.
“We have 300 streets in our first territory,” says Lt. William Janke, who is usually behind the wheel of Engine Nine when he’s on duty. “It takes time to get familiar with all the special issues you might run into.”
Their captain, Richard Siebel, says they have instant recall on street names and business locations as well as best routes and cut-throughs. But they are also likely to be called anywhere in the city when the fire department’s sophisticated responder software calculates that they can get to a scene faster than anyone else or they are needed to join in the fight against a large event like March’s big fire downtown at The Metropolitan apartment building.
“We saw the sky crane fall as we were coming into town,” says Capt. Siebel. “We saw it fall and that was the last thing we were thinking of on the way in. People were yelling ‘it’s falling’, and nobody knew which way.”
In that case – and always – this group rushes toward danger, instead of away from it.
“You don’t really think about it until it’s over, and then you think, wait a minute,” says firefighter Emmet Bagwell.
Bagwell’s dad, Battalion Chief G. Randy Bagwell, retired from the Raleigh Fire Department in 2016. The Bagwell family tree is loaded with Raleigh firefighters, and Emmet Bagwell says joining the department was a natural move for him.
“When I was born, my dad was a captain,” Bagwell says. “When I got older it was one of those things where it would have been pointless not to do it. I enjoy it and I understand it, and I’ve loved it ever since.”
Capt. Siebel is part of another family line in the department. His son decided in tenth grade that he too wanted to become a firefighter, and is currently training at the Raleigh Fire Academy. Capt. Siebel says he hopes that the active community outreach from Station Nine means that in addition to his son, others might become tomorrow’s firefighters-in-training.
“When you see someone come by the firehouse with Mom and years later they are graduating from the Fire Academy – there’s nothing like it.”
Each platoon works shifts that are 24 hours long, which means they arrive at work ready to take each and every call while immersed in maintenance of the station and the equipment. They shop for groceries and work together to prepare their meals – it’s not takeout here. One spring afternoon lunch included Caesar salads with chicken off the backyard grill, and the shrimp and grits prepared by firefighter Will Haliko is legendary around Station Nine. When it’s time to shut out the lights and go to sleep, the firefighters know that there is every possibility they will be awakened by an emergency. They finish the shift by dawn’s light with a morning shower once the next platoon arrives. Each day is structured in routine that is likely to be upended at any second by the next report of smoke, an accident, or a medical emergency.
The renaissance of North Hills, the firehouse’s next-door neighbor, has brought in additional workers, shoppers, diners and traffic. Residents in the new construction have increased the neighborhood population and live in high-rise buildings, which has introduced some issues that Station Nine never faced in the 1960s.
“The challenge is for us to constantly keep up and ride around and look at the buildings and find the little hidden alleyways, and the guys who have been here for a while know this stuff,” says Capt. Siebel. “There are big challenges as far as what you see, but also what you don’t see behind the scenes.”
Which can mean even if you don’t see smoke, there might be fire.
“A lot of times with those types of calls you may not see anything from outside the building, but once you get in there, there might be something going on,” says Capt. Siebel. “Sometimes it takes a little more time to figure out. It’s not like a house where you can just see smoke or fire.”
There are also multiple properties in the neighborhood that provide housing for senior citizens.
“With the older generation in our territory and a lot more high-rises, there are more calls for a fire alarm or someone in distress,” says firefighter Will Haliko.
But each new resident seems to become an old friend. Neighbors regularly stop by to drop off homemade treats or maybe some garden-fresh produce. Some peek in the windows to see if the truck is parked in the garage so they can come on back and say ‘hey’. There are station visits, field trips, presentations, and all kinds of outreach designed to increase the knowledge base of the community and keep it ever safer. For those on the outside of the firehouse, it matters who is on the inside of the firehouse. And the feeling is mutual.
“They look after us, that’s the one thing that hasn’t changed,” says Capt. Siebel. “When I worked here back in the 80s and 90s the community and the fire station were pretty well in touch. Now, it’s just as busy and just as involved. When you come here every day you know you have made a difference.”