On Sunday, November 15, 1936, the Statesville Fire Department answered four fire calls because of roof fires. Unfortunately, one of the blazes contributed to the death of the department’s chief. On that day, Chief William Lloyd Neely was at his home when an alarm was turned in. The fifty-two-year-old chief joined his firefighters at the dwelling of Mr. G. E. French at around 1:35 in the afternoon to fight the roof fire. At the scene, the chief, along with Fireman J. R. Benfield, began pulling hose from the fire truck. Chief Neely went into the dwelling and up into the attic. He assisted and directed his firefighters in a situation with dense smoke and intense heat. Men had to seek fresh air. After approximately ten or fifteen minutes, Chief Neely left the attic and went to a landing at the head of the stairway. After a brief period, he collapsed, falling on the stairway. Firemen carried him out into the yard. The chief died en route to the hospital. The North Carolina Reports, volume 212, recorded that “the proximate cause of his death was excitement, exhaustion, and heart failure.” For over two years, he had suffered from a heart condition. As for the blaze, firemen fought it for over an hour. The fire badly destroyed the roof, and water damaged the second floor.
A native of Rowan County, Chief Neely had been a part of the Statesville Fire Department for almost a quarter century. He had served as a regular firefighter and assistant chief. In 1934 Neely became chief. The chief previously had held positions as city tax collector and as a retail grocer. He died less that a month before his fifty-third birthday.
Landmark (Statesville, biweekly), November 16, 1936.
North Carolina Death Certificate of William Lloyd Neely, November 15, 1936, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
North Carolina Supreme Court. Mrs. Pinkley Tomlin Neely, Widow, and Dependents of William Lloyd Neely, Deceased, v. City of Statesville and The Travelers Insurance Company, Carrier, North Carolina Reports 212 (Fall Term 1937): 365-367.
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