63-year-old NC fire drill tower to be demolished

The tower is being remembered fondly as the training grounds for many firefighters over the decades


Danielle Battaglia
News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In 1956, a newly built five-story tower on the edge of Church Street – back then just a dirt road – inspired 7-year-old Gary Church to become a firefighter.

Now that tower, which served as the training grounds for countless Greensboro firefighters, is being torn down.

The Greensboro Fire Department's five-story drill tower, built in 1956, was set to be demolished on Saturday. Retired firefighters will be allowed to retrieve a brick from the tower after the demolition. (Photo/Greensboro Fire Department Facebook)
The Greensboro Fire Department's five-story drill tower, built in 1956, was set to be demolished on Saturday. Retired firefighters will be allowed to retrieve a brick from the tower after the demolition. (Photo/Greensboro Fire Department Facebook)

"It means a lot to me because we used it about once a month during my career," said Church, a retired captain with the fire department.

For more than 60 years the building has been used to test the limits of applicants to see if they could rappel down the side, lift themselves up into windows and carry 55 pounds of gear to the top floor in under nine minutes.

When Church was training he also had to jump out a second-story window into a life net below, a practice that ended in 1993.

"It was kind of scary as a young guy but kind of exciting," Church said, remembering his reaction to seeing the firefighters train when he was 7.

A lot has changed since then.

Church Street is now paved.

And Church, who became a firefighter in 1970, retired in 2003 after 33 years of service.

However, a Church still works for the department. Church's son, Dwayne Church, serves as the fire department's spokesman and is a deputy chief.

"The training tower was built to simulate a high-rise tower, or any emergency that we had at a high-rise structure downtown," Dwayne Church said.

His father's fondest memory of training comes from his first day in that tower, when he had to jump into – and landed in – that net. Dwayne Church says his best day was when he realized he could become a firefighter after he passed the agility course.

Both father and son said their worst day was trying to plug a sprinkler line that soaked them in brisk January temperatures.

And while none of the firefighters wanted to see the tower go, it was necessary, Dwayne Church said.

Engineers have labeled both the tower and the burn building that stands a few yards in front of it as unstable. And with nowhere on the property to build replacements, it made sense to tear down the tower and start over.

"It will be a tower and a burn building," Dwayne Church said.

After the demolition is complete, which is expected to be on Saturday, retirees will be allowed to come by and choose a brick from the building.

In the meantime, watching crews tear down the tower has been hard to watch for the many firefighters who trained in it.

"It's very sad looking to me," Gary Church said. "It has always been there as long as I can remember."

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©2019 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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