In the 1970s, Cary desegregated its fire department, admitting minorities and women for the first time. Ned Perry was Cary’s fire chief from 1975 until 1993.
Ned Perry: Things have changed rather dramatically in Cary’s fire department over the years. When I came to Cary as fire chief in 1975, we had 11 volunteers and 14 paid personnel.
As we grew and demand for fire protection increased, we obviously needed more full-time people. So I started to reduce the reliance on the volunteer people. We didn’t release any of our volunteers, we kept them all until they chose to retire or leave. They were eligible for a retirement program under the North Carolina Firemen’s Pension Fund.
We developed a recruiting program that enabled us to cross over racial barriers and sexual barriers – male and female. There were no blacks in the fire department when I came here. Now we are well integrated.
We were able to bring in blacks and other minority or protected groups into our program in a legal way that has been problem-free. The program has been very fair to the people we brought in, and has enabled us to continue with promotions and transfers that are an integrated part of our service. Our department is highly integrated today, and it runs smoothly.
There were no females in the department when I started. Bringing in women gets a bit complicated when you have people sleeping at the fire station. In most fire stations at that time, all of the fire fighters slept in one dormitory room except for the officers, who had a private bedroom.
After we took a hard look at this challenge, other fire chiefs and I decided to do away with the officers’ room. We put everybody in the one dormitory to sleep, dressed in a standard uniform at night.
In the area where the showers were, we had to redesign fire stations to have separate bathrooms for men and women. Then when it was time to go to bed, everyone would go to their bathrooms and dress for bed in the attire that was standard for everybody.
When the bell rings at night, bright lights come on, the bells go off and you’re awakened instantly. When that happens, you get into boots that are lined with wool so you don’t have to put on socks, and your pants are already over the boots so when you step into the boots, you’re dressed usually in less than 10 seconds, and ready to get on the truck. This happened with men and women alike.
It has all worked extremely well in Cary.
Cary’s Heritage is taken from the book “Desegregating Cary,” which was first published in February 2010. The book is a collection of oral history interviews conducted between local citizens and Friends of the Page-Walker.