A History of Hometown Heroes

Every child knows the thrill of seeing a great red firetruck flying to its next urgent destination. The flashing lights, the glistening red exterior, and the piercing sound that comes in waves is enough to draw attention. Burly “BB” Bascum Norris was one of the many children in the world who were fascinated by fire trucks and the life of a fireman. He was so fascinated that he eventually became a fireman, and after only a few years, BB Norris progressed and became a captain during the early 1940s. He then became the fire chief of the Andalusia Fire Department in 1955 according to the Andalusia Star-News. Being a firefighter became a family tradition when BB’s brother, Farris Norris, and one of his sons, Bobby Norris, followed in his footsteps, joining the department and working together for many years. BB was widely known for many positive things in Andalusia, Alabama, but he was mostly known for his duties as the fire chief before his retirement in 1982. An article was written in the Andalusia Star-News on his achievements in the department.

Opp Fire Chief Jake Benton, Andalusia Fire Chief BB Norris, and Andalusia Capt. Farris Norris at BB’s Retirement Party on June 30th, 1982. Photo by Kay Kirkland

Although my great grandfather was only a firefighter during the 1900s, the evolution of the fire truck has stretched over hundreds of years. Beginning in the 1700s, fire trucks were simply “water pumps on wheels” meant to bring water wherever it was needed (Patrascu). In the 1800s, horses were used to pull the water pumps on a carriage, similar to the ones you might see today, but lengthier so that there was enough room to carry the water. In 1841, a more convenient engine was created, introducing a steam-powered fire truck to the scene. During the Great Depression, the fire truck’s newest addition was a ladder. The strong and extendable ladder is something still used today as a helpful tool used by the fire departments, but the adjustable aspect of the fireman’s ladder is what differentiates it from that of a common ladder.

During the Great Depression, the fire truck was still in its early stages of “renovation.” It was not until the “cherry pickers,” or buckets, were added in the 1960s that the truck was complete (Patrascu). The buckets were used on fire trucks to lift up the firefighters, whether the need be to electronically lift up firemen to reach the top of a building or to save someone from the window of a burning building.

When BB Norris was a fireman, some of the fire trucks were not the cherry red color that is so recognizable today. Although the red trucks have always been associated with a typical fire truck, his department notably used trucks painted a striking yellow. According to an image from the Andalusia Fire Departments’ personal photograph collection, some of the trucks were a striking yellow color, with red and white as accent colors. Yet, the body and model are still recognizable due to the rectangular shape, the silver ladder stretching parallel to the ground and across the side of the truck, and the lights attached to the top front of the vehicle.

Fire Chief BB Norris and the Andalusia Fire Department Standing in Front of a Fire Truck. Photo Credit: Andalusia Fire Department Photo Collection.

Today, a beige garage connects to the brown-bricked Andalusia Fire Department and houses four cherry red fire trucks and one vibrant yellow truck. Comparing the station from then to now, there are different trucks, locations, and people. Although the station has changed over the past century, the history of the Andalusia Fire Department’s origins in 1904 have not faded over time (Andalusia Star-News). The evolution of the fire trucks and the firemen are still visible in old archives of photographs kept inside of the station, available for viewing. When children of Andalusia, Alabama pass the fire department on Church Street, they gaze at the trucks and the firefighters in their uniforms with the same admiration that my great grandfather once had. They share the same excitement as BB Norris did many years ago – the sight of an adventure and a history of hometown heroes.

Works Cited

Anonymous. “The Andalusia Star-News.” 30 June 1982.

Patrascu, Daniel. “Fire Truck History.” Autoevolution, 29 May 2009,