Fire Buffs promote the general welfare of the fire and rescue service and protect its heritage and history. Famous Fire Buffs through the years include New York Fire Surgeon Harry Archer, Boston Pops Conductor Arthur Fiedler, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and - legend has it - President George Washington.

Saturday, December 21, 2019


I am a fire service volunteer
I give my time
I give my talents
To help the fire service
To help my brothers and sisters
Career and volunteer
To help my community
To help my country
I am a fire service volunteer

Thursday, October 17, 2019


In 1924, the Washington Senators won the World Series. Sports Writer Shirley Povich covered the victory parade. He reported: "
The city’s joy was best expressed, perhaps, by the enthusiasm of the men on the hook-and-ladder float of the Cherrydale, Va., Fire Department, which flaunted a huge banner that read: `Let Cherrydale Burn.'" 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Arlington County Truck 4 and battalion chief's buggy, circa 1970s 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019


Photo: Defense Media Network

: ARFF rig at Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 - READ MORE

Monday, September 09, 2019


The late Honey Biggs is an Arlington County Fire Department legend for his flame dance at an oil refinery fire in Rosslyn.

The following - from the Aug. 1, 1948 edition of the magazine Fire Engineering - tells the Biggs story:

Orchids to Arlington Chief

Volunteer Fire Chief William R. Biggs of the Arlington. Va., Fire Department is credited with helping halt a spectacular oil refinery fire in Rosslyn, Va., by dashing through a 25-foot wall of flame to shut off a gushing jet of blazing oil at its source. According to Battalion Chief G. A. Cole, of the District of Columbia Fire Department, three of whose companies worked with Arlington County fire forces to control the fire, “Chief Bigg’s daring action not only shortened the fire by four hours, but kept the surrounding tanks from burning.”

The fire broke out May 3rd at the Worthington Refining Co., along the bluff of the Potomac River above Key Bridge. A geyser of fire from an open valve sent a huge column of smoke and flame high in the air, destroyed a brick refinery building, and threatened to touch off three huge oil storage tanks, nearby.

Chief Biggs, of Arlington’s Volunteer Fire Department No. 2 who knows the layout, sprinted through the circle of flames while firemen directed hose streams around him. He succeeded in twisting shut a red hot valve that controlled the flow of oil.

The blaze started when an employe went to the 20,000 gallon tank to take a sample of refined oil. When he opened the valve, a jet of oil, heated to 600 deg. F., spurted out and ignited in the air. The worker was seriously burned. The fractioning tank, where the fire started, converted used crank case oil into motor fuel oil. Surrounding it were three storage tanks of like size, which were scorched by the radiated heat.

Firemen worked desperately to prevent extension of fire to these tanks, cooling their surfaces, while at the same time attempting to control the flames in the burning tank. Until Chief Bigg’s desperate dash, these and four other adjacent tanks were in danger of letting go


Editor's Note
Engine 4 from Clarendon and Engine 3 from Cherrydale were dispatched on the first alarm. Engine 2 from Ballston ran the second alarm. These were the days before Station No. 10 was opened on Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn.

Friday, September 06, 2019


Fort Myer - Engine 61 

Arlington Hall - Engine 66

Arlington County - Truck 74

"It's not easy being green," Kermit the Frog once said.

In the 1970s and 1980s,  many fire departments, such as those at U.S. Army posts in the Washington area, fielded safety lime and safety yellow fire apparatus to improve visibility and cut down on traffic accidents.

Arlington County's were more of a yellow-orange shade.

Scientists had determined human eyes are "most sensitive to greenish-yellow colors under dim conditions, making lime shades easiest to see in low lighting," according to the American Psychological Association.

However, later scientific studies determined "
recognizing the vehicle was more important than paint color" the APA said. "If people in a particular community don't associate the color lime with fire trucks, then yellow-green vehicles may not actually be as conspicuous."

The trend has since shifted back to red, just like Kermit the Frog's Sesame Street neighbor - Elmo.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Photo: Arlington County Fire Department
Wagon 2 - 1969 Ward LaFrance engine based at old Fire Station No. 2 at Ballston.

Photo: Arlington County Fire Department
Truck 5 -  1947 American LaFrance aerial based at old Fire Station No. 5, then known as Jefferson District. Today it's Crystal City. 

Photo: Higgins collection
Wagon 5 - a 1948 American LaFrance, also at the old Jefferson District firehouse.

Wagon 3 -  American LaFrance engine based at old Fire Station No. 3, Cherrydale.

U.S. TREASURY - 1922 & 1996

Feb. 8, 1922

On Feb. 8, 1922, fire raged atop the U.S. Treasury. A newspaper reported: "
Blazing scaffolding and repair materials, accompanied by the explosion of a barrel of kerosene." Eerily, flames engulfed Treasury's roof during repairs seven decades later - on June 26, 1996. 

Monday, August 26, 2019


Recovering tail section
U.S. Park Police Eagle 1 making rescue

Rush hour wreckage on 14th Street Bridge - Captain Pete Vasquez (judging by name on turnout coat) of Arlington County Fire Department
Lenny Skutnik makes rescue 
View of shoreline

On Jan. 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 slammed into the 14th Street Bridge and sank in the river during a winter storm. More than 80 people died. Less than an hour later, a Metrorail train derailed in downtown Washington.

The twin-engine Boeing 737 jetliner carrying 83 passengers and crew, departed to the north on National Airport’s main runway at 1600 hours on Jan. 13, 1982.

Seven inches of snow had fallen in the nation’s capital that day. The ground temperature was 24 degrees. Visibility was limited. Ice had built up on the wings of the jetliner as it waited its turn to takeoff, preventing Flight 90 from gaining altitude. The aircraft shuddered.

Below, traffic on the 14th Street Bridge was heavy as the storm led to the early dismissal of federal workers. ``With an awful metallic crack, a blue-and-white jet swept out of the swirling snow … smacked against one of the bridge’s spans, sheared through five cars like a machete, ripped through 50 feet of guard rail and plunged nose first into the frozen Potomac River,’’ The Washington Post said.

Call for help

At 1605 hours, the Arlington County Emergency Communications Center received a telephone call from CB radio operator Evie White - a member of the REACT emergency service - advising of trouble at the 14th Street Bridge, possibly an aircraft down. ``One phone call,’’ said Craig Allen, the ECC system manager. ``That’s what we had to go with.’’ Cellular phones were for the future.

At 1606, ECC transmitted Box 7503, a full first alarm assignment consisting of Engines 75, 74, and 70; Trucks 74 and 79; Medics 75 and 76; and Chief 77.

``We didn't know what we had,'' said Capt. Howard Piansky, then a private assigned to Engine 75, in a recent interview. ``We thought it was a small plane.''

It was much worse. Of the 83 people on the aircraft, only a few had survived the crash into the Potomac. They were struggling in the freezing river amid ice chunks, debris, luggage, seat cushions and jet fuel. On the bridge, four people were dead or dying. Others were injured.

The District of Columbia Fire Department alarm office received word of the crash at 1607, and struck Box 417 for the 14th St Bridge. That brought Engines 13, 7, 16 and 2; Trucks 10 and 3; Rescue Squads 1, 2 and 3; Ambulances 6, 7 and 5; Medics 9 and 11; Battalion 6 and the citywide tour commander and a variety of special units.

Responding to a call on the ``crash phone’’ from the airport tower, the National Airport Fire Department sent two rigs – Red 373 and Red 397 -- to the end of the Runway 18. Two other rigs – Red 376 and Red 396 – headed north on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, which runs parallel to the river, toward the bridge.

Treacherous highways

Getting to the scene was treacherous because of the snow and ice and the volume of commuter traffic on both sides of the river. Engine 75 stalled en route, and Piansky and the rest of the crew headed for the river on foot – arriving in time to help survivors brought ashore. Other fire companies were delayed in traffic on both sides of the river.

Subsequent alarms and special calls brought more help, including Medic 71, Medic 74, Chief 71 and Chief 73 from Arlington, Medic 62 from the airport, Medic 56 from Alexandria, a foam truck from Fort Myer, and the fireboat John Glenn from the district. Additionally, Fairfax County, Loudoun County and Montgomery County sent mutual aid. Dulles airport dispatched two crash rigs, Red 360 and Red 361.

Police played a crucial role. The U.S. Park Police helicopter Eagle 1 arrived over the river at 1620 to assist in the rescue effort, having lifted it off from its base five minutes earlier. Hovering over the river surface, the chopper plucked four survivors from the ice and carried them to the Virginia shoreline. On land, firefighters and paramedics wrapped the survivors in blankets and escorted them to ambulances.

Lenny Skutnik and others

There were other heroics. A passerby, Lenny Skutnik, 28, who worked at the Congressional Budget Office, dove into the river and rescued a woman who was too weak to hang onto a rescue line. ``She was screaming `Would somebody please help me!’’ Skutnik told The Post.

Firefighter John Leck, of D.C. Truck 3, also went into the water. ``Without hesitation and regard for his own safety, he secured a lifeline around his waist and entered the freezing water which was contaminated with jet fuel,’’ according his superior, Lt. Daniel O’Donnell. ``He swam to the injured woman and kept her head above water until the members on the river bank pulled them to safety by means of the lifeline.’’ O’Donnell’s report was published in the newsletter of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

The last survivor of the crash – a balding, middle aged man - vanished in the river after passing the helicopter lifeline to the others, the greatest act of heroism that day. As the Post reported: ``To the copter’s two-man Park Police crew, he seemed the most alert. Life vests were dropped, then a flotation ball. The man passed them on to the others. On two occasions, the crew recalled … he handed away a lifeline from the hovering machine that could have dragged him to safety.’’

That man was later identified as Arland Williams -- and one of the bridge’s spans was named in his honor. An autopsy showed Williams was the only victim to drown. The others suffered traumatic injuries.

On the 14th Bridge itself, the members of Engine 74, Medic 75 and Medic 71 marked on the scene at 1615 and began treating casualties and working to free motorists from the wreckage of their vehicles. Medic 75 called for 10 additional medic units.

'Like a battle zone'

Flight 90’s landing gear crushed several cars and tipped a large truck. ``It was like a battle zone,’’ said retired Firefighter Chuck Satterfield, who was driving Engine 74’s wagon. ``They kept saying it was a small plane – a private plane.’’

Engine 74, under the command of Capt. Mike Dove, had just cleared a call for alarm bells in Rosslyn. Wanting to avoid heavy traffic on Wilson Boulevard, Satterfield and Dove decided to use a roundabout route to get back to their station in Clarendon. That decision helped put them on an almost clear course for the bridge when alarm was sounded.

Once on the bridge, Engine 74’s crew tended to an Air Force captain pinned in a car. ``He was alive but died later,’’ Satterfield said.

Some of the other victims were obviously dead. Their bodies were covered with tarps and removed later. The expression of death on the face of one victim suggested he saw the plane descending toward the bridge.

Even though Arlington County firefighters were among the first on the bridge, a D.C. fire chief who arrived at 1630 requested that they leave because the river was within his jurisdiction, according to a task force report on the disaster.

Arlington Fire Chief Thomas Hawkins ``directed that a staging area be set up on the GW Parkway,’’ the task force report said. Hawkins, quoted by The Washington Post, said: "My guys were pretty frustrated."

At about the same time, police and firefighters started recovering the dead from the river. Within the first hour, two dozen bodies had been brought ashore. ``It was an absolutely ghastly sight,’’ said John Gamble, a volunteer firefighter quoted by the Post.

Recalling that surreal scene almost two decades later, Piansky said there was little left to do after the survivors had been pulled from the river and sent to hospitals.

Most of the passengers and crew died on impact, some still strapped to their seats in the submerged fuselage. ``It was a helpless feeling,’’ Piansky said.

In the hour or so after the airplane crashed, Arlington 911 received only one other fire or EMS call, Allen said. It was ``an OB’’ – a woman had gone into labor in the far northeastern part of the county, he said. A new life was about to begin.

Metrorail accident downtown

Meantime, another deadly drama was unfolding in downtown Washington. At 1640, the D.C. fire alarm office transmitted Box 484 for a derailment in a subway tunnel between Federal Triangle and Smithsonian stations. That alarm brought out Engines 23, 3, 1 and 18; Trucks 1 and 2; Rescue Squad 4; Battalions 2 and 7; and the Salvage and Air Unit.

Metrorail personnel were attempting to reverse an eastbound train that had crossed over to the westbound track, when the lead car smashed into a concrete bulkhead – splitting the train open. Emergency lighting failed and plunged the train into darkness.

Transit police officer Terry Rylick, who was riding in the subway car that derailed, radioed the initial call for assistance.

As the magnitude of the accident became apparent, Engines 8 and 9, Truck 4, several medic units and ambulances, were sent to Box 484. In some cases, fire and EMS units were diverted from the 14th Street Bridge.

Responding to a call for mutual aid, Prince George’s County sent Rescue Squad 22, several ambulances and a medic unit.

The Metrorail accident claimed several lives and injured about two dozen people. In all 1,200 commuters were evacuated from the tunnel.

Air Florida Investigation

The FAA report on Flight 90 said:

"The fuselage broke into four major pieces which included: (1) nose section with cockpit; (2) fuselage section between nose section and wing center section; (3) fuselageto-wing intersection; and (4) aft body structure with empennage attached.

"The wing structure was separated into three major pieces which included: (1) left wing outboard of the No. 1 engine, including all associated flight control surfaces; (2) wing center section, lower surface, including wing lower surface stubs between the No. 1 engine mounts and the No. 2 engine mounts; and (3) right wing outboard of the No. 2 engine with the outboard 20 feet mostly disintegrated.

"The left main landing gear was separated from the wing, and the right main gear remained attached except for the wheels and oleo piston. The nose landing gear and its attaching structure were separated from the nose section. Both engines and their pylon structures were separated from the wings. There was no evidence of fire on any of the recovered structure."


Water tower up!

On Dec. 28, 1925, a five-alarm fire struck the George J. Mueller Candy Co. at 336 Pennsylvania Ave., Northwest, in Washington's Chinatown.

The Washington Post said:

"The much-maligned water tower, which has failed at so many big fires, was given credit for checking the fire. The tower was lofted to a position directly in front of the blaze.

"For an hour it hurled water into the building, the stream being pumped by four engines."


Photo: Wikipedia

Fire struck Washington's National Hotel in 1921, killing two people. The hotel at Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street Northwest, had a checkered past. In 1857, 
a mysterious disease struck the hotel, sickening hundreds, some fatally.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


Arlington County's Bobby Steelman (front right) and Chip Theodore (center) with junior firefighter, circa 1980

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


From Fire Engineering
Aug. 1, 1951

Arlington County, Va., located across the Potomac River from Washington, D. C., placed in operation its own complete two-way radio system on June 7, 1951.

The set-up includes a headquarters radio station, mobile units and telephone switchboard.

The station is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by fire department personnel.

The two-way mobile units have been installed on the first line pieces of fire apparatus in the County’s eight fire stations, plus the two chiefs’ cars, making a total of thirteen two-way mobile units.

Thursday, February 01, 2018


Photo:  Arlington County Public Library, Higgins collection

The first of Arlington County's black firefighters - members of the Hall's Hill Volunteer Fire Department and the paid men at Station No. 8 - grappled with taunts and inequities in the days of Jim Crow, according to Arlington Public Library records.

In a 2008 oral history compiled by the library,  retired fire lieutenant 
Hartman Reed said: ``We were a segregated station and for some reason, the feeling during those years was that they wouldn’t involve us in things that were outside of our jurisdiction too often.”

On runs outside Hall's Hill, the firefighters would be subjected to insults and slurs from the people they were trying to aid,  including a man whose home was on fire and a drunkard with a broken ankle, Reed said in the library's oral history. ``We were trying to help him but it didn’t make no difference,” he said.

In a bizarre incident, George Lincoln Rockwell,  leader of  the American Nazi Party, visited the firehouse to discuss his plan to pay African-Americans to move Africa, Reed said. (Rockwell's party was headquartered in Arlington.)

When Station No. 8 was racially integrated in the early 1960s, Alfred Clark, the county's first African American fire captain, faced a mutiny by some of the white firefighters who said they ``
would not serve under a ‘Ni…’ and even wrote it on the chalkboard,'' according to Clark's daughter, Kitty. 

``The battalion chief came up, ordered it removed, and told the white firefighters they will serve and respect Captain Clark,'' Kitty said.

The library said the original paid firefighters assigned to Station No. 8, in order of hire, were 
Alfred Clark, Julian Syphax, George McNeal, Archie Syphax, Hartman Reed, James K. Jones, Carroll Deskins, Henry Vincent, Carl Cooper, Ervin Richardson, Jimmy Terry, Wilton Hendricks, Bill Warrington and Bobby Hill.

Another brigade of black firefighters served 
Queen City, a long-gone black community  in East Arlington. ``We needed one, so (the residents) had dinners and parties and whatnot and they bought an engine and built the fire station," Eddie Corbin, who lived Queen City, recalled at a library event in 2011. There's little doubt Queen City's firefighters dealt with the same obstacles as the men of Hall's Hill.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018



On March 17, 1911, the wooden stands at Boundary Field - home of the original Washington Nationals baseball team - burned to the ground.

The stadium occupied land in Northwest Washington bordered by Georgia Avenue, 5th Street, W Street and Florida Avenue, according to Wikipedia.

It was rebuilt and later renamed, Griffith Stadium, home of baseball's Washington Senators and football's Washington Redskins.

The Washington Post said the fire was started by a p
lumber's blow lamp and spread to an adjacent lumber yard.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

MT. WEATHER - 1974

On Dec. 1, 1974, a jetliner bound for Dulles Airport crashed into Mount Weather in Loudoun County, killing all 92 aboard - and revealing to the public a secret Cold War facility for sheltering government officials in a nuclear war.

Federal officials were tight-lipped but the underground installation remained intact.

UPPERVILLE, Va. (AP) - A Trans World Airlines 727 slammed into a wooded slope near a super-secret government installation Sunday, killing all 92 persons aboard.
Capt. WILLIAM CARVLLO of the state police declared "there are no survivors" after rescue workers had combed for hours through the wreckage on Mount Weather, a foothill of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The plane, Flight 514, was bound for Washington from Columbus, Ohio and was approaching Dulles International Airport in a driving rainstorm when the tower lost radar contact at 11:10 a. m. EST.
The crash site is about five miles north of Upperville, a tiny community in the tip of the state, and about 20 miles northwest of Dulles.
A TWA spokesman said 85 passengers and a crew of seven were aboard the flight, which originated in Indianapolis. He said 46 persons got on at the intermediate stop in Columbus.
The plane impacted about 1½ miles from an underground complex which reportedly is designed to serve as a headquarters for high government officials in the event of nuclear war. A federal spokesman would acknowledge only that the facility is operated by the little-known Office of Preparedness, whose responsibilities, he said, include "continuity of government in a time of national disaster."

Monday, January 01, 2018



Hello from Denver!

Your editor moved to Colorado in February 2012 and continues to update Arlington Fire Journal. Please consider sharing fire and rescue service history and photos from Arlington County and the rest of the Washington area.

In the meantime, please visit my other Fire Journal Group blogs - including
Denver Fire Journal.

Thank you.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Editor's Note: The following is a first person account of the Skyline disaster in Bailey's Crossroads on March 2, 1973. For a detailed version of the incident, click here.

By Ray Komar
Special to Arlington Fire Journal

I worked for Arlington County Fire from March 10, 1972 to March 10, 1973, when I was hired by Prince George's County in Maryland as a police officer.

Steve Heitzler and myself (front center in the photo, with glasses and watch band) were first on the scene at Skyline.

I was detailed to Rescue 5 and we were at Station 4 fueling up when the call came out.

The Bailey's Crossroads fire station was on another call.

When dispatched we were told four floors collapsed and upon arrival we told dispatch that all the floors had collapsed.

We went down in the basement of what was left of the building and found several bodies.

The one we carried out was the first one out that I know of.

We just kept bringing them out and putting the men that were still living into any ambulance or rescue unit we could find and then went back in.

Of course it was not long before there were fire units and rescue units all over the place.

I recall it was a few hours later that we actually took a guy that was injured but not life treating to Arlington Hospital.

After we came 10-8 they told us we could return to our station.

It was surely a sight I won’t forget.

Fire Academy Class 1972 - Komar in front row, on right

Thursday, September 22, 2016



March 1, 1934

Fire Chief,
Clarendon Fire Department,
Clarendon, Virginia

Dear Sir:

On behalf of the officers and men garrisoned at Fort Myer I desire to thank you and your men for the prompt and effective manner in which you participated in fighting the fire in the Riding Hall at this station on the night of February 28th-March 1st.

Your assistance was invaluable and it is felt, but for your efforts, the fire might and probably would have spread to other buildings, possibly endangering the very existence of Fort Myer.

Again assuring you of our deep appreciation, I am

Most sincerely yours,

Major, 3d Cavalary


Letter courtesy of Betty Fought 
From collection of her father, Battalion Chief James Fought


On Nov. 2, 1965,  Norman Morrison, 32, a devout Quaker, set himself ablaze outside the Pentagon to protest the war in Vietnam. Morrison had taken his baby daughter, Emily, with him and either set her down or handed her off before dousing himself in gasoline beneath the office of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


On May 5, 2016, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz named James Bonzano as the county's seventh fire chief.

Bonzano began his career in 1984 as a firefighter/paramedic and has worked in a variety of positions, most recently Acting Assistant Chief.

“Chief Bonzano brings a wealth of experience to this position, as well as deep ties to the Arlington community and Fire Department,” Schwartz said. “Over the last three decades, he has been committed to being a strong and progressive leader and I am thrilled that he will continue to do so as our new Fire Chief.”

Bonzano, who was born in Arlington County, holds a master’s degree from Marymount University as well as a bachelor’s degree from Old Dominion University.

He replaces James Schwartz, who was appointed deputy county manager.


Photos: Collection of Frank Higgins

On April 14, 1949, flames raged in the two-story Odd Fellows Hall at Wilson Boulevard and Hudson Street, the heart of Clarendon’s business district. Firefighters saved the building, which still stands today.

The Washington Post called it ``Arlington’s worst fire in five years.’’

 A merchant quoted by The Post estimated damage at $50,000.

The first alarm was sounded at 9:45 a.m. Second- and third-alarms followed. Offices on the second floor of the brick and masonry structure were gutted. On the ground floor, the Baby Fair Linen Shop and Mayer gift shop sustained smoke and water damage.

Firefighters advanced a hose line into the entrance to a beauty shop on the Hudson Street side of the building and also raised Truck 1’s aerial ladder on Wilson Boulevard to advance lines to the second floor. Ground ladders were also raised.

A police line was established across from the blaze, where spectators lined the sidewalk in front of the old Ashton Theatre, which was showing the movie ``Command Decision,’’ starring Walter Pidgeon and Clark Gable.


Photos: Collection of Randy Higgins, ACFD files, Wikipedia

Firefighters battled a major blaze at the Hollinger box factory at 3824 Four Mile Run Dr., Arlington, on Aug. 17, 1957. Founded in 1945, Hollinger Metal Edge Co., developed special storage boxes with the Library of Congress and National Archives.


Photos: Arlington County Library, Higgins Collection
Old Clarendon Fire Station


The Arlington County Fire Department waged battle on a stubborn blaze at the Noland Co. plumbing and heating supply warehouse in Rosslyn on June 26, 1952.

As if the smoke and flames were’t hot enough, a heat wave had punished the Washington area that summer. When the fire alarm was struck at about 2:30 p.m., the mercury topped 100 degrees outside 1823 North Arlington Ridge Road.

Crews encountered great difficulty reaching the seat of the fire among stacked cardboard and wooden boxes on the third floor of the brick building.``We could only get to the top of the stairs – it was too damn hot,’’ recalled George Kirschbaum, then a 22-year-old volunteer riding at Company 1.

The tar on the roof was bubbling, said retired firefighter Frank Higgins, also a volunteer at the time. Higgins was riding the truck from Clarendon. Ladder pipes were pressed into service.

A District of Columbia fire boat stood by on the Potomac River in case the fire threatened the American and Cities Service Oil Co. across the street. It never did.

The district also sent a ladder company.

By the time it was over four hours later, more than 20 firefighters suffered injuries, ranging from smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion to cuts and bruises.

The District of Columbia, Alexandria and Fairfax County sent ambulances and rescue squads to treat the casualties. The men were ``dropping like flies,’’ a firefighter told The Washington Post.
A detachment of Marines was sent to the scene ``when the heat threatened to wipe out the fire-fighting force,’’ The Washington Star said.

Arlington County’s drillmaster and acting fire chief, Joseph Clements, was overcome and carried from the warehouse. The D.C. fire department’s physician, Dr. William Claudy, suffered smoke inhalation. Also among the injured was firefighter Charles Theodore, who would die a decade later in the line of duty.

Volunteer George Vahoney, 19, of Company 3, was the only firefighter to be admitted to Arlington Hospital, newspapers said. Vahoney fell unconscious after making two trips into the burning warehouse and was pulled out by Kirschbaum.

``They told me that my heart stopped beating a couple of times,’’ Vahoney told a Daily Sun reporter Woody Hubbell from his bed at Arlington Hospital. ``I sure am glad to be here.’’

Kirschbaum, himself, also suffered the effects of the heat and smoke and was administered oxygen and taken to Arlington Hospital in Squad 5. After his tour of duty in the fire service, Vahoney went on to become a surgeon, Kirschbaum said.


Another noteworthy industrial fire broke out in Rosslyn on May 3, 1948.

Flames destroyed Worthington Oil Refiners Inc. The Arlington County Firemen’s Association cited Firefighter William ``Honey’’ Biggs of the Ballston VFD for his heroism at the fire, according to The Sun newspaper. Protected by a water curtain, Biggs shut off a valve on an oil line feeding the fire. |

The refinery processed used petroleum products. Engine 4 from Clarendon and Engine 3 from Cherrydale were dispatched on the first alarm. Engine 2 from Ballston ran the second alarm. (These were the days before Station No. 10 was opened on Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn.)

In another instance, crews coped with bitter cold and a frozen hydrant when fire gutted the Standard Linen Service Co. at 1425 Lee Highway on Dec. 19, 1942. Frostbite was a problem. Three firefighters were injured, according to The Sun. The industrial laundry used chemicals to clean linen, uniforms and work clothes, such as coveralls.

In 1944 or 1945, a fuel truck and a milk truck collided at Rosslyn Circle, setting some buildings ablaze. And, according to some accounts, a meat packing plant near the site of the current Key Bridge Marriott hotel caught fire sometime in the 1910s or 1920s.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Photo: Abbey Roads blog

"John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration was on fire — literally. Cardinal Richard Cushing’s podium caught on fire because of an electrical short while he was saying the invocation. Kennedy kept it cool, though, cracking a smile once the situation was handled." - Politico


On Feb. 1, 1961, fire killed seven patients on the top floor of the Mount Vernon Nursing Home at 2301 Calvert St., Northwest, Washington, D.C.

Twenty-seven people were reported injured.

Residents of the first three floors were rescued by employees, firefighters and passersby.

The dead were identified by the Associated Press as:


Washington (AP) -- Seven aged, bedridden patients burned to death yesterday when racing flames quickly engulfed a four story private nursing home for the elderly.

At least 27 other persons -- patients, employes, firemen, policemen and passersby -- were treated in hospitals.

Fire Chief Millard H. Sutton called it "one of the worst fires in years" here.

The seven who died -- four women and three men -- were in bed on the top floor when the fire reached them from the basement. Their bodies were found either still in bed or on the floor.

Two nurses, NANCY COGINS and LUCY CARTNER, said they were on the fourth floor when the ararm was sounded. They said they managed to drag one of the floor's eight patients to safety, hoping firemen could rescue the other seven.
Patients on the first three floors were taken out by employes, firemen and passing citizens. The aged survivors, shock and bewilderment evident in their faces, were led to nearby buildings. There they waited their turns for ambulances shuttling back and forth to hospitals.

All available doctors and ambulances in the city were ordered to the scene and many ambulances from nearby Maryland were pressed into service.

At least one woman patient was taken down a ladder about an hour after the flames broke out, despite the speed with which the fire spread.

The brick building -- the Mount Vernon Nursing Home -- is located in the fashionable Rock Creek Park area near the Calvert street and Connecticut avenue bridges across the park.
The streets nearby are normally heavy with traffic. The added rush of fire and rescue equipment plus a rush of onlookers created such a jam that at one time it nearly halted the movement of ambulances.

There were 24 patients in the home along with five nurses and two assistants.

The cause of the fire was not immediately determined.

It was discovered by a nurse, MRS. RUTH PEACE, when she opened a basement door.

She ran upstairs and began helping patients to escape.

The first alarm was turned in by two police officers who were passing in a police cruiser and spotted the flames.

Workers at the home, passersby and firemen who suffered injuries did so mostly in trying to rescue the elderly patients. Some of them made several trips.

RICHARD CARTER, 23, who works across the street, ran into the burning building, passing several persons who were carrying out patients. He was told the first and second floors had been cleared.

So he struck out for the third floor. There, in a thick haze of smoke, he found a woman on the floor. He carried her in his arms, down the stairs and out of the building. CARTER said he was coughing so violently from inhaling smoke he could not make another trip.

The first alarm was sounded at 1:42 p.m. (EST), but it was 3:15 p.m. before firemen were able to enter the building and locate the dead.


The Associated Press reported a house fire in the District of Columbia killed seven people, including five children, on April 12, 1935.

The victims were:

"Firemen carried the seven dead from the house and took them to a hospital, where efforts to revive them failed," AP said. "Although the bodies were burned, asphyxiation was given as the cause of death.

"The fire was said to have started from a faulty flue in the kitchen on the first floor."

Friday, July 24, 2015


Scenes from 1959 Pentagon fire: Smoke pushing from basement; Capt. Charles Theodore and a soot-covered Capt. Leon Dodson Sr. , with Theodore carrying an MSA breathing apparatus.

To the Editor:

I read with great interest, the article about the fire at the Pentagon which took place July 2nd 1959.  Link to article

I was surprised to read that "miraculously, no one perished", because in fact, my grandfather Horace L. Woodward Sr. died at his home, at 1611 Army Navy Drive, as a result of smoke inhalation from the fire.

He was at the Pentagon when the fire occurred and helped many people out of the building, after which he left the scene and went home where he then collapsed.

My grandmother, Olga Woodward, then called their doctor, who, after examining him gave him an injection of something (possibly digitalis?) which caused my grandfather to awaken and exclaim, "What are you doing to me?"

He then collapsed and died. Perhaps he would have survived, had he stayed at the scene and been treated by the medics there, or if he had died there he would have been rightfully counted as the lone casualty of the fire.

I was only seven years old at the time, and our family lived far away in New Jersey.

I've always considered my grandfather to be a hero for the way he helped others without concern for his own safety.


Niel C. Woodward

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Photo: ACFD Virtual Museum
Smile at the camera boys! Old Engine 7 was a GMC/American LaFrance 750 gpm. Left to right Arlington County's Frank R. Higgins, Lt. Charlie Burke and Woody Griffin in 1969.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Site of the crash

Mr. Harold Leroy (above) and Frank Higgins (below) were among the Arlington firefighters who responded to the Eastern Airlines crash

On Nov. 1, 1949, an Eastern Airlines DC-4 passenger liner plunged into the Potomac River just south of National Airport after a mid-air collision with a military aircraft.

It would be the second major disaster of the day for Washington area fire departments.

Glen Tigner, 21, an air traffic controller on duty at the National Airport Tower, sounded the crash alarm. ``Turn left! Turn left!’’ Tigner had radioed moments earlier as a Bolivian Air Force fighter on a practice run veered toward a commercial flight on approach to the airport from the south.

Eastern Airlines Flight 537, which originated in Boston and made a stopover in New York, carried 55 passengers and crew. The Bolivian aircraft, a single-seat P-38 Lockheed Lightning, had just been purchased from the U.S. government. Flight 537’s final destination was supposed to be New Orleans. It never made in beyond Alexandria. At 1156 hours, the fighter slammed into the Douglas DC-4. The tail of the commercial airliner just missed the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, near Four Mile Run.

Everyone aboard Flight 537 died. The pilot of the Bolivian aircraft, Capt. Eric Rios Bridaux, 28, was seriously injured - but survived.

At the time, it was considered the nation's deadliest civilian aircraft accident.

CLICK HERE for Flight 537 investigation report.] 

Among the dead: 
U.S. Representatives George Bates of Massachusetts, Michael Kennedy of New York and Helen Hokinson, a cartoonist for New Yorker magazine.

"The DC-4 pilot swerved the big ship from its path, but too late," according to a dispatch in the Nov. 2, 1949 edition of The St. Joseph (Michigan) Herald-Press newspaper. "The fighter ripped into it from above and from the side. The airliner split in half. Bodies and wreckage fell into the water and along the bank of the Potomac."

Retired Arlington firefighter Frank Higgins recalled the grisly recovery, with fire and ambulance crews removing victims from the river. Some were still strapped in their seats. Many were severely disfigured. ``Legs, a headless body,'' Higgins said, describing the gruesome inventory.

Others related similar stories. Firefighters also gathered personal effects from the knee-deep water and muck. ``The river was very shallow there,’’ said Harold LeRoy, a veteran Arlington volunteer firefighter.

A quarter mile away, a crash boat from Bolling Air Force Base rescued the fighter pilot. ``The Bolivian ambassador, after visiting Captain Rios in the hospital, said the pilot told him he had been occupied with engine difficulties and apparently did not hear the final warning from the control tower,’’ according to The New York Times.

Newspaper and wire service photos of the crash scene showed the shattered rear of the DC-4 resting on the Virginia shoreline, firefighters removing a victim’s body from the shallow water on a stretcher and an airline pilot carrying a child’s doll recovered from the river.

J. Donald Mayor, a sales manager for Custom Upholstering Co, was driving on the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway and witnessed the collision. The Falls Church resident stopped his car and waded into the river before firefighters arrived.

``I ripped off my coat jacket and took off my shoes,’’ Mayor told The Washington Post. ``I saw a few fellows just standing there and I shouted `What’s the matter? You cowards?’ Two ran along with me. For some reason, I don’t know why, but I rolled up my sleeves.’’

Mayor and the others spotted a woman floating face down in the oily water. They dragged her ashore. She was bleeding from the mouth and mortally wounded. By that time, firefighters arrived and blanketed the wreckage with foam.

``Then I saw them open rescue holes in the plane with special equipment they had,’’ Mayor said. ``Rescue workers got a woman’s body out of the wreckage first. She was about 70 at least, with gray hair and wrinkled skin, very heavy set. Looked like her nose had been ripped off. Then they brought out a young man, about 30 or so. He was in an Army jacket, I think. Next they got a heavy man.’’

Soaked and shivering, Mayor got in his car and headed home to his family in Falls Church. ``I saw I couldn’t do any more,’’ he said.

The Associated Press reported:

"When darkness came last night, more than a score of bodies had not been recovered. Police figured that all of those yet missing were in the river. As the night went on, a few more bodies were recovered but the progress was slow.

"It was an eerie scene. Sticking out from a clump of small trees at the river's edge was the tail and fuselage of the big airliner. Its wings were shorn off, the four engines gone.

"Big floodlights played on the inky river from atop fire department trucks. Another searchlight had been set up on the bank. Off to one side a corps of Red Cross women served coffee and sandwiches to the tired battalions hunting for the dead.
"Occasionally one of the boats would break away from the other little craft about 100 feet off shore. Quietly the word went around and men carrying a stretcher would go down to the water. Then in a few minutes an ambulance, siren wailing softly, would move off toward the city."

[Sadly, the scene was repeated a month later. On Dec. 12, 1949, Capital Airlines Flight 500 crashed in the Potomac River. Of the 23 people aboard, six perished the DC-3 "wandered off a radar path leading into fog-bound National Airport," the Associated Press reported.] 

Downtown Explosion

Earlier in the day, a
 series of explosions heralded a fire on the top floors of the New Post Office Department building at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest. Twenty people were injured, including eight firefighters. The first alarm for was transmitted at 0958. A second alarm followed at 1012, and a third alarm was sounded at 1031.

In all, twelve engines, four ladders, a water tower and tender, two squads and six ambulances answered the series of alarms. D.C. Fire Chief Joseph Mayhew and three battalion chiefs directed the operation.

Aaron Trail, the building superintendent, was trapped in a room with barred windows on the eighth floor. A truck company extended an aerial ladder as far as it would go and then – in a rare and dramatic operation – two firefighters used a scaling ladder to reach the barred window and pass breathing apparatus to Trail.

Another crew of firefighters reached Trail from the inside and escorted him to safety. He was treated at Emergency Hospital for minor injuries.

Among the most seriously injured firefighters at the postal blaze was D.C. Fire Sergeant Joseph Mattare of Engine 13. Mattare was admitted to Emergency Hospital for smoke inhalation and a shoulder injury. The Washington Post published a photograph of the fire department physician, in full running gear, resuscitating the fallen firefighter. After recovering from his injuries, Mattare went on to serve as fire chief.


Crash Dispatch Log

From the magazine Fire Engineering:

11:45 A.M., Alexandria, Va., Fire Department Rescue 1, Ambulances 1 and 2, with Chief Bernard Padgett, respond to reported scene of crash. Alarm received via Alexandria Police Radio Scout car.

11:48 A.M., Washington National Airport Fire Department responded with the following: No. 155 crash truck, 1000 gal. tank with H.P. fog and foam; No. 125 Hardie crash truck, 300 gal. tank, H.P.; 1-500 GPM American LaFrance pumper; 1 Jeep, 250 Lb. Ansul Powder: C12 Ambulance and Chief Charles F. Petellat. Alarm via National Airport Control Tower.
11:48 A.M., M.A.T.S. Army Airport Fire Department responded with the following: No. 155 Crash Truck, 1000 gal. tank, H.P.; 1-750 GPM Pumper (make not given) with Chief Raymond Peake.
11:50 A.M. Alexandria, Va., Fire Department Engine 4 [called via Alexandria Police].
11:50 A.M. Penn Daw, Va., Fire Department Ambulance 1.
11:50 A.M. Franconia, Va., Fire Department, Ambulance 1.
11:50 A.M., District of Columbia Fire Department, Chief Engineer Joseph A. Mayhew and DCFD Fireboat [called via Airport Control Tower].
11:59 A.M. Arlington, Va., Fire Department, Rescue 5, Ambulance 4, Engines 4 and 5 (two pumpers) under Chief A. C. Scheffel.
12:00 A.M., Prince Georges County, Md., sent the following:
Bladensburg, Md., Ambulance 1 and 2;
Branchville, Ambulance 1;
Glenn Dale, Ambulance 1;
District Heights, Ambulance 1;
Oxen Hill, Ambulance 1.
12:01 P.M. Montgomery County, Md. sent the following:
Silver Spring, Rescue 5;
Takoma Park, Ambulance 14;
Kensington, Ambulance 20;
Glen Echo, Ambulance 53;
Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Rescue 3, Ambulances 1 and 2;
Chevy Chase Fire Department, Engine 60.
Gaithersburg Ambulance 41 transferred to Chevy Chase F. D. Hq.
Alarms to Prince Georges Control Center, Hyattsville, Md., and Montgomery County Fire Board, Silver Spring, Md. Request of District of Columbia Fire Alarm Hq. for all available rescue squads and ambulances.
12:06 P.M., District of Columbia Fire Department Rescue land Ambulance 1. A total of 43 pieces of equipment, as follows: 5 Rescue squads, 21 ambulances, 11 pieces of fire apparatus, 1 fireboat, 5 fire chiefs’ cars


Eastern Airlines Flight 537 Passengers

Rep. GEORGE J. BATES (R-Mass.), 58, Salem, Mass.

MICHAEL J. KENNEDY, 52, New York City.
GARDNER W. TAYLOR, Bronxville, N. Y.
DR. FRANCIS E. RANDALL, 35, Lawrence, Mass.
LAWRENCE P. GLASSNER, 42, Jamaica, N. Y.
RAYMOND DEAN, 33, Yonkers, N. Y.
M. L. DANIEL,  New Boston, N. H.

LOUIS ISGUR, Brookline, Mass.
MR. AND MRS. FRED E. McCUSTY and daughter MAUREENE, 18-months-old, Brighton, Mass.
MRS. M. A. PERKINS, Cairo, Ga.
WHITNEY E. BAKER, Plainfield, N. J.
W. J. CASEY, Brooklyn, N. Y.
MRS. CHARLES (BETTY) CHASE, 26, and CARTER CARRINGTON CHASE, 9-months-old, Wiscasset, Me.
MISS G. COSTA, Rio Padres, Puerto Rico.
E. FAIR (or FAIRE), no address.
ROBERT M. FIELD, Riverdale-on-Hudson, N. Y.
NOAH GALLOP, Jamaica, N. Y.
FRED HARTMAN, Amityville, N. Y.
HOWARD C. HAUPT, Garden City, N. Y.
MRS. S. KENT, no address.
ROBERT LYNAK, Ridgewood, N. H.
MISS O. MARTINEZ, Rio Padres, Puerto Rico.
TED MAGEE, Oklahoma City.
MR. AND MRS. RALPH F. MILLER, Chevy Chase, Md.
L. B. MOSS, White Plains, N. Y.
MR. AND MRS. PAUL N. PECK, Richmond, Va.
L. SAXE, no address.
RALPH B. SHAW, Bayside, N. Y.
HAROLD V. SMITH, Saratoga Springs, N. Y.
WILLIAM SMYTHE, Roslyn Estates, N. Y.
FRANK E. SPAULING, White Plains, N. Y.
HAROLD W. ST. CLAIRE, New York City.
MISS BETSY THORUP, Wellesley Hills, Mass. Senior at Duke University.
MRS. ISABELLE VELOUTINI, Caracas, Venezuela.
JULES VOGEL, New York City.
FRANCIS M. WELD, New York City.
J. D. WICKS, Gastonia, N. C.
Pilot Capt. GEORGE RAY, Mt. Kimball Lake, N. J.
Co-pilot CHARLES R. HAZELWOOD, Roselle, N. J.
Hostess MISS HELEN GILBERT, Brooklyn.
Purser OSCAR ORIHUELA, New York City.