Friday, February 11, 2005
Aside from Sept 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon, one of the fiercest fires to test the Arlington County Fire Department broke out deep in the basement of Defense Department headquarters, then the world’s largest office building, on July 2, 1959.
``It was one of the hardest fires to fight and one of the largest,’’ retired Battalion Chief James Fought recalled of the previous ``big one'' at the Pentagon. ``It was so deep in the building that it took 10 minutes to reach it and another 10 minutes to get out. Our breathing apparatus was only good for 30 minutes. That means we had only about 10 minutes to fight fire.’’
The flames erupted in a computer room operated by an Air Force statistical agency and burned for more than five hours – fueled by magnetic tape. There were no sprinklers. The blaze scorched 4,000 square feet and caused $30 million damage to the massive building and the computer equipment.
A history book published in 1976 by the NFPA – the National Fire Protection Association – to commemorate the U.S. bicentennial listed the Pentagon fire among the nation’s worst, including Boston’s deadly Coconut Grove blaze. ``Water on the floor was so hot you could feel it through your boots,’’ a firefighter told The Washington Star.
The General Services Administration fire department at the Fort Myer south post, located adjacent to the Pentagon, responded to the initial alarm at 10:45 a.m., according to retired Arlington firefighter Frank Higgins. At 11:05 a.m., the GSA firefighters requested assistance from the Army fire department at Fort Myer’s north post.
Upon arrival, Chief Alfred Kennedy of the north post called Arlington County. The time was 11:16 a.m. More than 30 minutes had elapsed. The county dispatched a box alarm assignment consisting of three engine companies, two ladders and Fought, the duty battalion chief. Fought was paying a visit to the Cherrydale fire station when the military firefighters requested assistance. Within minutes of his arrival, Fought struck a second alarm – and then a third. Arlington County Fire Chief Joseph Clements requested mutual aid at 11:51 a.m., according to Higgins.
The District of Columbia Fire Department dispatched a full second-alarm assignment. The City of Alexandria and Fairfax County in Virginia sent help. Help also came from Maryland fire departments. Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Andrews Force Base sent men and equipment. In all, 300 firefighters and more than 70 pieces of apparatus responded.
Conditions were punishing. The stacks of computer tape burned violently. ``We would put out part of the fire and then find it had started all over again,’’ Ollie Willoughby, a D.C. firefighter, told The Star. The flames were extinguished only after firefighters broke through the Pentagon concourse with jackhammers, releasing pent-up heat. The delayed alarm contributed to the fire’s spread. ``If we had had the opportunity to get there we might have reduced its effect,’’ Clements told the Star.
Miraculously, no one perished, although though there were a few close calls. Four members of D.C. Rescue Squad 1 ``were stricken within half an hour by the noxious fumes they met in the darkness and confusion,’’ the Star reported. More than 30 firefighters were sent to hospitals. Dozens of others were treated at the scene.
`Smoke 'em if you got 'em'
Harold LeRoy, former chief of the Jefferson District Volunteer Fire Department, said the one image that sticks in his mind about the fire was Arlington firefighter Eddie Dodson, who emerged from the basement after taking a beating. ``He sat down on the running board of the wagon – and promptly lit a cigarette,’’ LeRoy said with a chuckle in a 1999 interview.
Damage to the computer equipment was so severe that IBM advised the Air Force: ``Take everything that belongs to us and send it to the government dump,’’ the Star said. The smoky blaze erupted in a computer room operated by an Air Force statistical agency and burned for more than five hours. It scorched 4,000 square feet and caused more than $7 million damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
The fire alarm office dispatched Engine 10, Truck 2, Rescue 4 and the duty platoon commander, Battalion Chief James Fought, to the 2000-block of North Adams Street at about 8 p.m.
Fought was at Lee Highway and North Adams Street, en route to a meeting at the county health department, when the alarm was sounded. Fought, accompanied that night in the chief's buggy by Captain Charles Theodore, arrived ahead of the engine, truck and rescue.
The chief could see a firefighter would have to be lowered into that 70- to 80-foot hole and rescue the boy. The risks were great. A cave-in could kill the boy and the firefighter.
As soon as the apparatus arrived, Fought called for Firefighter Joe Davis of Rescue 4. Davis, who was 25 at the time, had about two years on the paid department, weighed in at a slim 150 pounds and was less than six feet tall.
``Joe, it's either you or me,'' Fought said. ``We're the smallest ones here. If we sent a big man down he may never come back up alive.''
``OK chief I'll go down the hole,’’ Fought recalled Davis saying. ``You tie the knots.''
Life or death
Fought secured a double bowline so Davis could easily snag the boy from the bottom. Other firefighters stabilized the top of the hole with wood planks to equally distribute their weight and prevent the walls from crumbling on Davis and the boy.
Davis removed his shoes and rolled up his pants. The barefooted firefighter was lowered into the hole by a crew of firefighters, including longtime volunteer Joe Brooks. Fought hunched over the top of the hole and supervised the operation. A police lieutenant trained a light down the shaft for the firefighter's 15-minute decent. A separate rope was lowered for the boy.
``You could feel little clumps of dirt hitting you on the head as you were being lowered,'' ’’Davis said. ``That didn’t feel too good.’’
At the bottom, Davis found Bobby Saunders in 18 inches of water with a broken ankle. The firefighter squeezed in beside the boy, and secured the rescue rope. ``It was kind of dark down there,’’ Davis said. ``There wasn’t a whole lot of room.’’
Within 30 minutes, Bobby Saunders and Joe Davis were out of the hole. ``The good Lord was with us,’’ Davis said.
Years later, Arlington firefighters engaged in another dangerous rope rescue, but this time with a tragic ending.
On Sept. 25, 1992, firefighters recovered the bodies of three workers killed by fumes in a tank at the county’s sewage treatment plant. Arlington Firefighter Bob Gray and Alexandria Firefighter John North were lowered into the darkened tank through a hatch to stabilize the deadly and explosive atmosphere and recover the bodies.
The operation lasted 14 ½ hours and both Gray and North were cited for their heroics.
Recovery of Air Florida wreckage
By Vinny Del Giudice
Editor, Arlington Fire Journal
In 1949 and 1982, airliners crashed into the Potomac River near Washington National Airport. In both accidents, there was a great loss of life. Eerily, the Washington area’s fire fighting forces faced almost simultaneous disasters as they responded to the crashes.
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.
On Nov. 1, 1949, a Bolivian military aircraft collided with Eastern Airlines Flight 537 as the airliner approached the airport, killing 55 people. Earlier that day, firefighters fought a major blaze downtown.
Air Florida - 1982
Air Florida Flight 90, a 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 REACT -- 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.
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.
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.
Eastern Airlines - 1949
Glen Tigner, 21, an air traffic controller on duty at the National Airport Tower on Nov. 1, 1949, 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. Among those on the DC-4 were George Bates, a congressman from Massachusetts, and Helen Hokinson, a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine.
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.
Across the river, firefighters were clearing the scene of an earlier incident as the airport crash siren sounded.
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 D.C. fire chief from 1971-1973.
Today, it merits its own skyline, and the fire department has become adept at dealing with fires and emergencies in high-rise buildings.
In 1985, two high-rise fires – about a week apart – merited an article in Firehouse magazine, written by Steve Marshall, a reporter at USA Today and a member of the Fairlington Volunteer Fire Department.
On July 19, 1985, a three-alarm fire damaged Crystal Mall No. 3 at 1931 Jefferson Davis Highway. Then on July 25, firefighters contended with another three-alarm job – a ``towering inferno’’ – that lit up the top floors of Olmstead Building, which was under construction at Washington Boulevard and Highland Street.
Both operations were ``complicated by problems of poor accessibility and insufficient water supply,’’ Marshall wrote. At the Crystal Mall, ``Arlington and Alexandria firefighters had to batter their way through metal-clad doors to fight a blaze in a secured U.S. Navy office,’’ Marshall wrote. At the Olmstead Building, ``firefighters found unfinished standpipes just beneath the fire floor.’’ The fires caused total damage in excess of $1 million. Another fire broke out at the Olmstead construction site a few months later.
On a Sunday afternoon in January 1987, fire erupted on the top floor of a high-rise building under construction at 1001 North Vermont Street, Ballston. Wooden shoring fueled the flames, increasing the danger of a collapse. Exploding propane tanks also complicated matters. Master streams from Truck 74 and Fairfax County’s Tower 1, as well as a monitor set up on an exposure, helped to contain the fire, which went to three alarms.
Crystal City disaster
Arlington County and neighboring Fairfax County, both experiencing rapid growth and development in the later part of the 20th century, witnessed deadly construction collapses at two major high-rise projects.
The first collapse occurred on June 6, 1968 at the Crystal City Mall, killing three construction workers and injuring 33 others – on the same day Senator Robert Kennedy died of a gunshot wound in Los Angeles.
``The collapse came just after concrete had been poured on a 120-by-40 foot deck of plywood and steel reinforcing rods to form part of the third floor,’’ The Washington Post said. ``An estimated 100 tons of wet concrete tore through the plywood decking and crumpled temporary supporting 4-by-4 jack posts like match sticks.’’
The second floor, finished six days earlier, also gave way. ``It went down just like dominoes,’’ Fire Chief Clements said. Two firefighters were injured during the rescue: S. Wayne Hawkins, 23, of the Arlington County Fire Department, suffered heat exhaustion and David Chester, 34, of the Alexandria Fire Department suffered lime burns, according to The Post.
Account of Firefighter Al Stutz
Retired firefighter Albert Stutz was on duty at Station No. 5 when the alarm was sounded that day. Following is his account of the collapse that occurred on the same day Senator Robert Kennedy died of a gunshot wound in Los Angeles.
``The talk all morning had been of Robert Kennedy being shot the night before. The call came in the mid- to late-morning and we were dispatched to 2000 Jefferson Davis Highway for a construction accident. That had been the old Hospitality House Motel. They were adding a parking garage. The construction entrance was on Eads Street. The foreman told us nothing had happened there.
``The fire dispatcher was notified that they didn’t have a problem. The dispatcher replied, `Try the other side of the highway. We have received in excess of 20 calls.’ When we went back out onto Jeff Davis there was no mistaking there was a problem. There were about 50 people waving us to the site. We had three or four firefighters plus an ambulance. Capt. Robert `Cuz’ Carpenter and I went up a plank to the second floor. He went to the right and told me to go to the left. `See what you find,’ Cuz said.
``Almost immediately I found a worker who was up to his throat in concrete. It took us six or seven hours to get that guy released. His position fooled us. We cleared the concrete straight down. But he was bent over. Our first attempts were useless. He wasn’t seriously hurt, but he was so numb he couldn’t tell us where his feet were buried. I talked to him the whole time and never got his name. I wish I had.
``Other things I remember from that day: One worker rode the collapse all the way down to the ground and wasn’t hurt. Another worker was freed fairly quickly and refused to go to the hospital. He soon thereafter died of shock. As we would come across one of the dead, a construction foreman would identify the body and then yell to someone to pull their timecard. They weren’t going to pay the poor dead guys 15 minutes more if they didn’t have to. That was the most morbid thing I saw that day. Probably the most touching thing I saw was the construction workers who worked their butts off to save their trapped comrades.’’
The rumble could be heard for miles.
On March 2, 1973, the center section of the 24-story Skyline Center in Bailey’s Crossroads, which borders Arlington, gave way. The cascading concrete and steel killed 14 people and injured 34 others.
A Fairfax County police officer, Kirk Osgood, witnessed the collapse and radioed for help at 2:18 p.m., according to Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department archives.
Arlington County answered Fairfax County’s request for mutual aid with four ambulances – Rescues 1, 4, 5 and 10 – and Engine 9, according to retired Firefighter Frank Higgins. Truck 3 and the foam wagon were also dispatched, with the foam wagon carrying the Arlington County recruit class. A canteen wagon operated by the ladies auxiliary of the career firefighters’ union also provided assistance.
For Fairfax County, the recovery effort would continue for two weeks, when the last body was recovered.
The old Arlington County Courthouse burned on Sunday, April 20, 1990, destroying records in the county clerk’s office and causing more than $2 million damage to the seven-story structure at 1400 North Courthouse Road.
Box 7003 was transmitted at 3:59 a.m. for ``a fire on Courthouse Road, right next to the AMC Theatre,’’ according to the official dispatch log. First-due Engine 70 from the Rosslyn station arrived on the scene three minutes later and reported ``heavy smoke showing,’’ possibly from the old jail. At 4:03 a.m., Battalion 74 – Battalion Chief Floyd Walters – established command and ordered a second alarm.
For almost 15 minutes, crews searched for the source of the smoke. At that time, the old public safety center, which included the jail, police headquarters and the 911 center, was located next to the theater The courthouse was next to the public safety center. (Both buildings have since been demolished for development.)
The Washington Post reported: ``Firefighters initially had trouble pinpointing the location of the fire; at one point they responded to the fifth floor of the county jail after a smoke detector went off there. About a dozen women prisoners were evacuated to a stairwell.’’
At 4:16 a.m., Clarendon’s Engine 74 transmitted ``emergency traffic – fire on the fourth floor of the old courthouse,’’ according to the dispatch log. A third alarm was transmitted at 4:23 a.m. Crews located the fire in a secure room in the clerk’s office. A double door and combination lock sealed the chamber. Firefighters breached a wall to gain access, but were pushed back by the flames. In the meantime, Crystal City’s Tower 75 was raised and started pouring water on the blaze. By that time, though, the flames had extended through the ceiling to a fifth floor law library. The time was 4:44 a.m.
The grueling attack continued as crews contended with the fire on the fifth floor as well as hotspots and rekindles on the on the fourth floor. At 6:23 a.m. Chief 71 – Chief of Department Thomas Hawkins – declared the fire under control.
The Cherrydale volunteer’s Light Unit 73 provided electricity for the lengthy salvage and overhaul job that extended into the afternoon and was complicated by the discovery of asbestos insulation in the building.
The fire gutted Circuit Clerk Court David Bell’s private office. Dozens of records in both civil and criminal cases were destroyed. In addition to extensive fire damage on floors No. 4 and No. 5, smoke and water damaged third-floor courtrooms. Jail inmates, wearing orange jumpsuits, assisted with the cleanup. The fire marshal’s office suspected the cause of the fire was a leaky toilet on the fifth floor of the building, which caused a short circuit in an electrical outlet in the clerk’s office, fire Lt. Steve Hynson told the Post.
The driver apparently lost control of the truck on the Washington Boulevard ramp off Interstate 395, and the vehicle slammed into a guardrail and flipped over at about 4 a.m.
"You can't even recognize it anymore, it's basically a pile of steel," said Arlington County Chief Fire Marshal Carol Saulnier, quoted by The Washington Post.
The driver died. No other injuries were reported.
The HAZMAT team and crews from the county's Department of Environmental Services used berming and containment booms to prevent gasoline from polluting Four Mile Run and the Potomac River. However, the county posted warning signs along Lower Long Branch stream from Fraser Park to Troy Park.
Because of the crash's proximity to the Pentagon, some people in the neighborhood feared a repeat of the Sept. 11 attack. But traffic cameras recorded the event and officials concluded the accident was caused by excessive speed, according to the Post.
The fire burned for three hours, and at the height of the blaze "we had flames probably about 50 feet in the air," said Tom Polera, Arlington County assistant fire marshal, quoted by the Post.
Manhole covers flew into the air as well, as runoff from the tanker caused petroleum vapors to accumulate in storm drains. Some of the runoff triggered sewer fires. The intense heat charred the roadway and damaged an overpass. The petroleum truck was enroute to a delivery at a Citgo station near the Pentagon, according to the Post.
The web site Mutualbox.com provided details of the regional response - the fire departments of Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County and the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority - to Box 7532:
Operations were under the command of DC Barksdale, and there were two operational branches: Pentagon Branch under the command of BC Cornwell, and Army-Navy Branch under the command of BC Blankenship. Among the units on the alarm were E105, T105, E101, HM101, E107, HM202, T203, R109, Q109, E102. In addition, E410 was summoned to serve as the Command Post engine company, and HM434, HMSU, Fairfax BC-HazMat, and Fairfax Operations 404 were special-called for environmental monitoring purposes. Finally, Foam Units 332 and 335 from MWAA-National responded.
Additionally, Arlington FC Schwartz responded, as did FM114, and Arlington FM Capt. Tom Polera, who also served as media liaison. The Arlington County PD Command Unit served as the base of operations for unified command. The Red Cross and Canteens 408 and 422 also provided much-needed rehab services for this long-term incident. In addition, multiple EMS units were utilized as citizens began to complain of random issues as a result of fumes in the area of several residential buildings on and near Army-Navy Drive.
Due to the lack of any exposures, and out of a concern that suppression efforts might further compound the environmental runoff problem, Command decided after conferring with BC-Special Ops Liebold, Virginia State Patrol, Arlington County PD, and Pentagon Police, to allow the remaining product in the shattered tanker kettle to burn off.
Of significant concern was the impact that the incident could have on morning rush hour traffic, as I-395 and the HOV lanes were closed in both directions for a period of time due to heavy smoke in the area. Conditions improved, however, and I-395 northbound and the HOV lanes were reopened at 0530 hours. The incident was declared stable at approximately 0930 hours, and the scene was turned over to VDOT and the clean-up contractor for remediation.
County press release
According to a press release from Arlington County government:
Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) responded to the scene of the 3:45 a.m. crash, in which a tanker carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline overturned and burst into flames.
Fire and HazMat crews were able to contain any contaminants, which had entered the storm sewer system, and are continuing to monitor the situation. Because of their quick actions, no contaminants are known to have entered Four Mile Run or the Potomac River, fire officials said. County crews are checking for any possible structural damage to storm sewer and the sanitary system at scene.
Arlington County activated its Emergency Operations Center at approximately 4:20 a.m. to coordinate emergency management operations. The EOC was de-activated at approximately 9:15 a.m.
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.
Tragedy struck long ago on the banks of the Potomac River, near an amusement park called Arlington Beach. The park, which featured swimming, rides and games, was located just north of the Highway Bridge, predecessor of today’s 14th St. Bridge.
Shortly after dark on June 6, 1928, a monoplane on a test flight from Hoover Field, a predecessor to National Airport, went into a tailspin at an altitude of 800 feet over Arlington Beach – and crashed near the park on a government experimental farm. (Another field, Washington Airport, was located nearby and merged with Hoover Field in 1930.)
Details of this long forgotten incident come from a logbook kept by the members of the Arlington Volunteer Fire Department between 1927 and 1930. The logbook was uncovered recently by Robert Potter, president of Company 1.
In the late 1920s, the volunteers operated a 1924 Model T Ford chemical wagon and a 1927 Rio engine that could pump 350 gallons of water per minute. The rigs were designated Truck No. 1 and Truck No 2, presumably in the order in which they were manufactured.
Part of the logbook entry reads:
``Call to Arlington Beach airplane on fire. … Airplane fell catching on fire killing one man and one died on way to the hospital on No. 2. From hospital was carried to morgue. … Fell on the U.S. Farm near Arlington Beach.‘’
Truck No. 1 and Truck No. 2 responded to the alarm, which came in at 8 p.m., and firefighters used 42 ½ gallons of chemical from Truck No. 1, according to the logbook. The crews went back in service at 9:45 p.m.
It is not clear whether other fire companies, such as Jefferson District or East Arlington, responded to the alarm.
Company 1’s apparatus was housed in an old wooden building next to a bank at Columbia Pike and what is now called Walter Reed Drive, according to a history of the company written by the late Edward Dodson. So it was probably a fairly brief run down Columbia Pike to the crash.
A check of the newspapers from the next day – June 7, 1928 – provided more details about the victims.
The pilot of the aircraft, Keith Keeling, 30, from Kansas City, had been a licensed pilot for 10 years and ``was regarded as an exceptionally safe driver,’’ according to a United Press dispatch published in The Alexandria Gazette. The other man, Clay Goodrich, 23, was an aviation mechanic and a student pilot, the UP said.
Goodrich, the mechanic, ``was crushed under the motor of the monoplane and his body was not extricated for more than an hour,’’ according to an Associated Press dispatch published in The New York Times. Keeling, the pilot, ``was rescued from the plane by the Arlington County, Va., Fire Department but he died on the way to the hospital,’’ the AP said.
The monoplane was made in Alexandria. The name of the manufacturer wasn’t listed, though at that time a number of aviation companies sprouted up across the country, much in the same way computer and Internet outfits spring up today.
`Ducks ... raising hell'
In another incident, a twin-engine cargo airplane on approach to Runway 15 at National Airport crashed in Roaches Run waterfowl sanctuary on July 2, 1970, killing the pilot and co-pilot.
The aircraft was carrying radioactive material for medical use, according to The Washington Star. Retired Fire Capt. Al Stutz, then a private, was among the first on the scene. ``We had nothing to go on except some witnesses,’’ Stutz said. ``There wasn’t any visible sign of the plane’’ though ``the ducks, geese or whatever they were raised all kinds of hell.’’
An off-duty member responded to the scene with his personal boat.
Historic mutual aid runs to Washington, DC:
Fisher's Night - 1928
Fire companies from Northern Virginia raced into the nation's capital on what Deputy Chief Philip Nicholson of the District of Columbia Fire Department called ``the wildest night'' of his career. An arsonist set a series of greater alarm fires across Washington, D.C. on the night of Jan. 16-Jan. 17, 1928, requiring the response of the entire city fire department as well as mutual aid from as far away as Baltimore.
A man named John J. Fisher confessed to setting some of the fires, hence the name ``Fisher's Night.'' He claimed an ``irresistible impulse'' led him to start the fires, according to press reports. Fisher was committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital.
Bells and sirens pierced the night. ``Twenty-four fire alarms worked Washington up to fever heat between midnight and noon and scurried the entire city's fire fighting forces and those of other cities to a dozen blazes in different sections of the capital,'' according to an Associated Press dispatch published in The New York Times. ``Taking stock of the unprecedented situation, officials found that more than thirty firemen had been slightly injured and property damaged to the extent of several hundred thousand dollars.''
Baltimore, 40 miles to the north, sent reinforcements. ``Its fire forces helped fight two of the big blazes, manned fire houses for protective purposes, and, incidentally paid a twenty-four-year-old debt to the capital which helped Baltimore combat its big fire of 1904,'' the AP dispatch said. ``Ten companies, an ambulance and several deputies made the long run from Baltimore and furnished an unusual spectacle of blazing engines and screeching sirens.''
Among the major alarms that night:
· Box 191 was struck at 10:41 p.m. on Jan. 16, 1928, for a basement fire at the Woolworth's 5 and 10 Cent Store at 923-925 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest. The fire went to five alarms, and a number of firefighters were injured when a gas main ruptured.
· Box 152 was struck at 12:32 a.m. on Jan. 17 for the Commission Houses at 204-206 and 208 10th Street, Northwest. The fire went to two alarms.
· Box 647 was struck at 1:54 a.m. for the Pillsbury Feed Warehouse, 54-58 North Street, Northeast. The fire went to four alarms.
· Box 664 was struck at 3:37 a.m. for the vacant McDowell Feed Warehouse at 1530 Eckington Place, Northeast. The fire went to three alarms.
· Box 89 was struck at 5:11 a.m. for a mill at the rear of 1319 W Street, Northwest. The fire went to four alarms.
Police arrested Fisher after he threatened a man who attempted to pull Box 89.
Writing in his 1936 history of the D.C. Fire Department, a book on which much of this article is based, Chief Nicholson shared his recollections of Fisher's Night:
``There were five additional alarm fires, all practically burning at the same time, in other words before any of the reserve companies were sent home from the first fire, another alarm would be sounded which necessitated the sounding of additional alarms, until five additional alarms were in progress at the same time.
`` As fast as companies could be spared, they were dispatched from one fire to the other. In this case there was not a company left in any engine house, for the protection of the city.
``At this point, aid was requested from Baltimore, and ten companies, in command of Deputy Chief Reinhardt, responded and they with the volunteer companies from nearby Maryland and Virginia, responded and were assigned to different houses, responding to some of these fires and to other smaller fires that occurred … These extra companies did excellent service, for which District officials were very grateful and so expressed themselves in proper form.
``The writer was off duty that night, and was just starting to leave the Willard Hotel, where he attended a meeting of the Board of Trade. My attention was attracted by the speed and direction (of the engines and hose wagons) … So out of mere curiosity – second nature – I followed and was not long in finding out.''
Black Thursday - 1953
Arlington County firefighters were also on the scene in the nation’s capital on Jan 15, 1953 – Black Thursday – as the D.C. Fire Department contended with almost simultaneous disasters – a runaway locomotive that plowed into the concourse of Union Station, and an explosion that leveled the Standard Tire and Battery Store.
Train No. 173, the Pennsylvania Railroad's Federal Express, was carrying passengers to Washington for the inauguration of President Dwight Eisenhower. The engineer attempted to slow the train, which had been traveling at about 80 mph, two miles from the station, but the primary as well as the emergency brake failed, according to to the website steamlocomotive.com.
The engineer stayed at the controls sounded his horn as a warning. The operator at the tower at Union Station heard to horn blasts and told the stationmaster to evacuate the station. Minutes later, the ``GG1'' electric locomotive and two cars crashed through a stop block and a wall, slid across the concourse and plunged into a basement baggage room. Eighty-seven people were injured in the accident.
``With the inauguration just days away and with thousands of visitors scheduled to arrive, the station had to be repaired quickly,'' according to steamlocomotive.com ``By 7 AM the next day, the cars, which had fallen through the floor, had been removed. The GG1 was left in the baggage room, a temporary floor was built over the locomotive, and the station was opened just three days after the accident.''
At the battery store, a minor fire triggered an explosion that injured more than 40 D.C. firefighters, including Fire Chief Millard Sutton, who fell through the floor into the basement, according to a history of the D.C. Fire Department. Fortunately, there were no deaths. The battery store was located about 10 blocks from Union Station, and many of the injured firefighters had been at the train wreck earlier in the day. Fire apparatus was also damaged in the blast at the battery store.
Four days of riots in 1968 gutted entire blocks of the nation’s capital following the April 4 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis.
At the request of the D.C. Fire Department, Arlington County dispatched Wagons 2, 9 and 10, Engines 4 and 10, Truck 2 and three chief officers to help contain the conflagration. Arlington’s crews spent much of their riot tour along Georgia Avenue, Northwest.
By the end of the riots, 12 people died, 1,200 were injured and hundreds buildings were damaged citywide.
According to the official web site of the D.C. Fire Department: ``70 mutual aid companies aided the DC units; and before it had ended, over 500 initial blazes and 300 rekindles had been extinguished. This one statistic says it all: 120 rescues were recorded by firefighters during those four traumatic days.''
In Arlington County, itself, firefighters contended with scattered fires set by rioters in Green Valley, and Fire Chief Joseph Clements restricted the use of sirens near the civil unrest, according to an old logbook from Station No. 7.
Following are some of the log entries:
APRIL 5, 1968
2:30 p.m. ``Flag to be flown at half mast until further notice.’’
4:30 p.m. ``A Platoon held over with B Platoon for night duty.’’
APRIL 6, 1968
2 p.m. ``By order of Chief #1 (Clements) let all volunteers ride the equipment, even if it makes a crowd on the apparatus.’’
8:25 p.m. ``Fire Call 3024 So. Buchanan’’
8:35 p.m. ``Fire Call 2700 So. 16th St.’’
8:42 p.m. ``Fire Call 2912 So. 17th St.’’
9:10 p.m. ``All small tools to be put in compartments.’’
9:57 p.m. ``Fire Call 2411 S. Kenmore.’’
APRIL 8, 1968
12:20 p.m. ``On emergency runs to Green Valley ... DO NOT use sirens when entering.’’
"Three Sisters" - Radio Arlington
Fire department records from the 1920s and 1930s list a variety of fire alarms at Radio, Virginia – a neighborhood named for the old U.S. Navy Wireless Station in the vicinity of Columbia Pike and Courthouse Road.
A trio of radio antennas – known to locals as ``The Three Sisters’’ – towered over the neighborhood. In their day, the antenna towers were the world’s tallest. One of the towers was 45 feet taller than the Washington Monument. The Navy opened Radio Arlington, call sign NAA, in 1913, launching the U.S. military’s global communications system. A streetcar stop was even named ``Radio.’’
Old Radio Arlington marked the first time the term ``radio’’ was used in communications, according to Nan and Ross Netherton’s book ``Arlington County in Virginia: A Pictorial History,'' which was published in 1987. In the days of Marconi and other radio pioneers, the new communications mode was called ``wireless telegraphy.’’
Radio Arlington’s other firsts included a transoceanic radiotelephone circuit with a wireless station at the Eiffel Tower in 1915, and regular broadcasts of time signals, a service that helped ships at sea calibrate their navigational equipment.
Records from the Arlington Volunteer Fire Department, Company 1, list a variety of runs to Radio, including a house fire on Jan. 12, 1930 that caused $5,000 damage. Company 1 laid 900 feet of house and pumped water for 45 minutes. A total of 15 members of Company 1 answered the alarm, which was struck at 10:30 p.m. The firemen left the scene at 1:30 a.m.
Among other runs to Radio, according to logs provided by Robert Potter, president of Company 1: June 7, 1927 – House fire, 750 feet of hose used July 7, 1927 – False alarm. Nov. 20, 1927 – Two runs. A house fire in the morning and an auto fire on the grounds of the radio station in the evening. Jan. 13, 1928 – Field fire. Jan. 14, 1928 – Garage fire. July 8, 1928 – Auto fire. Feb. 3, 1929 – Grass fire on Lee Avenue. Jan. 11, 1930 – False alarm. Feb. 21, 1930 – Grass fire. Aug. 24, 1930 – Grass fire. April 24, 1932 – Grass fire on the grounds of the radio station. May 25, 1932 – Electric pole. Jan. 19, 1934 – Grass fire on the grounds of the radio station.
Murphy's Five and Dime - 1968
Following is a summary of notable alarms from the annals of the Arlington County fire and rescue service as well as a decade-by-decade list of some memorable ``runs and workers.''
SUPERMARKET FIRE – 1953
Two hours after closing on Feb. 21, 1953, fire swept the Safeway supermarket at Lee Highway and North Buchanan Street. The general alarm fire brought all of Arlington County’s fire companies to the scene, according to newspapers. Companies from Alexandria and Fairfax County filled Arlington County’s fire stations.
The first alarm was transmitted at about 11 p.m., followed almost immediately by a second and third alarm. Flames could be seen for two miles that Saturday night. Traffic was detoured to Little Falls Road.
At the height of the inferno, the roof of the one-store brick building collapsed. Firefighters had been ordered off the roof before it gave way. The store’s big plate glass window exploded, sending shards onto Lee Highway. ``Huge cracks appeared in the side wall,’’ according to The Washington Star. ``Firemen feared the wall would buckle.’’
Retired Battalion Chief James Fought, then captain of Rescue Squad 5, recalled that crews took a beating as they advanced hose lines through the loading platform at the rear of the supermarket. ``The fire had gotten into the dropped ceiling,’’ said Fought. ``It was hell to get under control.’’
Firefighters also encountered an exposure problem. They played streams on a house at 4803 Lee Highway to prevent the fire from spreading. Mrs. Virginia Turner lived in the house, the Post said. The blaze apparently started in an incinerator. No serious injuries were reported though first aid crews administered oxygen to at least one firefighter. The fire was declared under control at 1:55 a.m.
According to firehouse folklore, a few of the men had managed to ``rescue’’ a ham for Sunday dinner at their firehouse. The Star and Post both carried front-page accounts of the Safeway fire in their Feb. 22 editions, along side accounts of an arson fire that destroyed Kann’s warehouse in downtown Washington.
LIQUOR STORE FIRE - 1935
In December 1935, controversy embroiled Arlington County. Prohibition had ended and the Commonwealth of Virginia decided to open an ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) store at 3131 Wilson Boulevard in Clarendon on a trial basis.
Many people were against the state's decision, and yet the store opened on Christmas Eve - and stayed open until 11 p.m. that night. Business was brisk. County police officers and Sheriff Howard Fields were on hand as a precaution, and yet there were no reports of protest or disorderly conduct.
However, at about 3 a.m. on Dec. 26th, the day after Christmas, flames were discovered behind the store by a passerby who sounded the alarm.
Members of the Clarendon and Ballston volunteer fire departments - no doubt enthusiastic customers of the new enterprise - responded and waged a valiant battle to save the building and its contents - more than 2,000 cases of liquor.
The blaze apparently started in boxes and rubbish piled outside the rear of the ABC store.
Damage was limited to the exterior. ``The blaze was put out after a window frame had been burned and telephone and light wire felled by the flames,’’ according to The Sun newspaper, though no cause was listed.
RIVER RESCUE – 1949
Arlington County firefighters helped Fairfax County crews save a woman from a rocky islet at Great Falls on July 4, 1949. Truck 1 from Clarendon made the mutual aid run at the request of the McLean and Forestville (now Great Falls) fire departments. Thousands of picnickers witnessed the Potomac River rescue.
Martha Treml, 25, ``calmly waited more than three hours on a jagged rock as firemen worked to get ladders from the Virginia shore across the surging 100-foot stretch of water to Middle Rock,’’ The Washington Post said. ``Miss Treml was wading when the churning waters of the Great Falls spout made her lose her footing. The water’s force pushed her steadily toward the edge of a 20-foot waterfall. She saved herself from probable death by clinging to one of the crags jutting out from Middle Rock.’’
Fairfax County’s first fire chief, John Carper, directed the rescue. During World War II, Fairfax County hired Carper, a member of the McLean Volunteer Fire Department, to procure supplies from the War Rationing Board for its 11 volunteer fire companies. Fairfax County hired its first 10 career firefighters in 1949. They were paid on the same scale as school janitors and wore the same uniforms, according to the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department’s website.
FORT MYER COMMISSARY FIRE – 1950
It was a BIG barbecue. Flames destroyed a commissary building at Fort Myer on Nov. 27, 1950. The blaze broke out after midnight at the central meat cutting plant and raged until dawn. The Army estimated the damage at $126,000 – including the post meat supply, valued at $110,000.
The warehouse, which was located off Sheridan Boulevard near the Lee Boulevard boundary of the north post, was built in the early 1900s. County police officers E.R. Davis and W.H. Corsini, on patrol on Lee Boulevard, sounded the alarm. Fort Myer’s new firehouse is located on the site, according to Frank Higgins, a retired county firefighter.
Later that day, Arlington firefighters waged battle on a blaze at the Thompson residence, a two-story frame dwelling at 1715 N. Edison St. ``Only the walls and portions of the roof … remained intact,’’ the Post reported. Two more firefighters – Charles Theodore and James Fought – suffered minor injuries at that blaze.
MORE RUNS & WORKERS
January 1936 - A fast-moving fire gutted the William Bobeck residence at 11th and North Frederick Street. After members of the Ballston Volunteer Fire Department extinguished the blaze in the frame bungalow, they found six canaries asphyxiated by the smoke, according to The Sun newspaper.
1940s and 1950s
Aug. 22, 1941 - Danny Cross, 12, of Arlington, was trying out his new bicycle when he spotted a fire in a house. ``Outdistancing his companions who were on foot, Danny raced to the burning home and saved a mother and her two children,'' The Washington Post reported.
Dec. 27, 1943 - Firefighter Julian Georgie, one of the county’s first paid men, rescued a 4-year-old girl from a house fire at 907 North Highland Street. Georgie climbed through a second-floor window to reach the girl after smoke from a basement fire trapped the girl upstairs, according to The Sun newspaper. The fire started in the furnace.
1940s - Arlington County firefighters helped at a warehouse fire on the Alexandria waterfront. They were assigned to relay water from the Potomac River but their worn hose burst when the D.C. fireboat charged the line. New equipment was scarce during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the war years.
Jan. 30, 1944 - A spectacular blaze destroyed a large garage and several vehicles at Fort Myer, according to The Washington Post.
Aug. 2, 1944 - Torrential rain pounded Arlington County, causing flooding at the Jubal Early Homes. In some places, floodwater rose to a depth of six feet, according to the Sun newspaper. Firefighters, police, civil defense personnel and Army engineers evacuated 170 families from the government-sponsored, low-cost housing development located between South Fern and South Eads streets, just off South 23rd Street. The basement of old Station No. 5 flooded as well, according to retired Firefighter Clayton DeKay.
December 1944 - A house fire killed three children on or near South Four Mile Run Drive. Until a rooming house fire in 1986 that also claimed three lives, this was the greatest loss of life in a fire in the history of Arlington County.)
Jan. 30 1945 - Fire damaged the Greystone Restaurant at 650 North Glebe Rd. ``Fire Chief Al Scheffel had to call on three companies in order to get enough men to form a crew,'' The Washington Post reported.
Feb. 21, 1945 - Flames damaged four one-family units at Shirley Homes, a federal housing development on South Scott Street in Shirlington. The Arlington Chapter of the American Red Cross assisted the displaced occupants, all members of the military and their families.
Oct. 16, 1945 - Judge Hugh Raid ordered county welfare authorities to investigate why 3-year-old Sandra Jean Cheatham was left in a locked room in a radio repair shop that caught fire, according to The Washington Post.
July 18, 1946 - A 14-year-old Arlington boy saved a 3-year-old child from ``almost certain death'' at a fire, according to The Washington Post.
Summer of 1947 - Cold war hysteria? A flurry of UFO sightings were reported across the Washington region. An Air Force investigation determined the sightings mostly stemmed from ``mass hysteria and hallucination, hoax, or misinterpretation of known objects,'' according to the Central Intellignce Agency. It's not known if the Arlington County Fire Department had contingency plans for an alien landing. More sightings were reported in July 1952 when radar scopes at National Airport tracked ``mysterious blips.'' Police and fire switchboards were probably pretty busy during these scares.
Aug. 5, 1949 - Hot cakes! Firefighters battled for almost two hours to extinguish a blaze at the Hot Shoppe restaurant at Kirkwood Road and Lee Highway. The fire started in the kitchen at dawn.
Aug. 24, 1949 - Today's editions of The Washington Post report: ``The theory that chemical fumes from a burning television set gave ten Arlington firemen aching noggins in a recent fire was pooh-poohed yesterday by the United States Public Health Service and the Bureau of Standards.''
Late 1940s or early 1950s - A three-alarm blaze swept the Ives Funeral Home at 2847 Wilson Boulevard. Firefighters James Fought, of Company 2, and Frank Higgins Jr., of Company 4, suffered smoke inhalation. The fire apparently started near a first-floor stairwell and swept much of the second floor, except for a room containing an embalmed body. Fire apparatus responded from Clarendon, Cherrydale, Ballston and Jefferson District.
June 3, 1950 - In the aftermath of a service station fire, the Arlington County Board voted unanimously to outlaw self-service gasoline pumps, on the recommendation of Chief Scheffel.
Oct. 27, 1950 - Two-alarm fire destroyed electronic equipment stored on the third floor of Arlington County school system's new warehouse.
March 11, 1953 - A general alarm fire swept Worthington Oil Refiners, Inc. at 2201 N. Oak St. before dawn.
Oct. 30, 1953 - A 5-year-old girl suffered severe burns when her Halloween costume was ignited by a candle-lit jack-o'-lantern during a party at a private school, The Washington Post reported.
Oct. 15, 1954 - Hurricane Hazel slammed into Arlington County, and Washington National Airport reported sustained winds of 78 m.p.h. with gusts to 98 m.ph., according to the National Weather Service.
Aug. 17, 1957 - Firefighter Woodrow "Woody" Griffin, 40, was overcome by smoke in a fire at the Newlon Transfer & Storage Co. warehouse on Fern Street at North 15th Street (now vicinity of I-66). Griffin was treated at Arlington Hospital and released. The fire caused $100,000 damage, according to The Washington Star. Also during this period, which coincided with the opening of Fire Station No. 9, firefighters battled a major blaze at the Hollinger Box Factory at 3824 Four Mile Run Dr. The box factory was ``fully involved'' upon the arrival of the fire department.
1960s and 1970s
March 26, 1962 - ``Better make my order to go!'' Fire damaged the Tops Drive-Inn restaurant - an Arlington landmark and home of the ``Sir Loiner'' - at 40 North Glebe Road. Hamburger joints are prone to grease and ductwork fires.
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 burning to death.
1966 - Fire damaged AAMCO Transmissions on Wilson Boulevard.
March 10, 1968 - Fire damaged a medical building at 3215 Columbia Pike.
Oct. 23, 1968 - Flames gutted Murphy's Five and Dime Store in Clarendon. The blaze was discovered by the crew of Wagon 4, on their return from an alarm at Bergman's Laundry, according to Fought. The store’s contents were destroyed.
May 31, 1969 - A blaze at the Hechinger’s store in Falls Church warranted second-alarm assignments from both Arlington and Fairfax Counties, according to retired firefighter Frank Higgins. More than 100 firefighters from 12 companies used an estimated million gallons of water to extinguish the flames, prompting the declaration of a water emergency, The Washington Star said. ``You could drop it in the Potomac and it still won't go out,'' Battalion Chief James Fought told the Falls Church fire chief. On that same day in 1969, Arlington firefighters fought an apartment fire at 4418 North 19th Street, scene of a standoff between police and a man armed with a gun. The suspect was found dead, the Star said. Police used a fire department aerial.
Feb. 16, 1970 - A blaze damaged the Page Airways Terminal at National Airport.
Dec. 31, 1970 - Fire gutted a United Airlines jetliner parked at Gate 25 at National Airport. Passengers were only minutes away from boarding Flight 589 to Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The fire broke out behind an oxygen service panel near the twin-engine Boeing 737’s nose, according to The Washington Post.
May 19, 1972 - A pipe bomb destroyed a restroom at the Pengaton. The radical group ``Weather Underground'' claimed responsibility for the bomb. No one was injured in the after-hours explosion.
September 1974 - fire damaged the Modern Living Furniture Warehouse at 4160 South Four Mile Run Drive.
December 1976 - Tragedy was averted when Captain Frank Biggs and another firefighter climbed down from a roof on the verge of collapse during a two-alarm house fire at 3811 South 18th Street, according to The Washington Star.
January 1977 - A three-alarm fire destroyed Robinson's Upholstery shop and three apartments at 1229 North Irving Street. A heater ignited some paint thinner, according to The Journal newspapers.
April 28, 1977 - A corporate jet crashed in McLean in Fairfax County after taking off from National Airport, damaging homes along Old Stable Road and Foxhound Road. The crash killed the four people on the aircraft. There were no injuries on the ground. A day later, a three-alarm fire damaged the Woodlake Towers Building No. 2 at 3100 South Manchester Street in Arlington.
1970s - Arlington County firefighters battled major fires at the old Brown Derby Restaurant at Shirlington Circle as well as a dining hall at the Pentagon. Flames also gutted a drug store in Rosslyn.
1980s and 1990s
April 4, 1982 - Arlington County firefighters responded to a "mutual box" at the Filene Center at the Wolf Trap National Park for the performing arts in Fairfax County. The nightime blaze leveled the famous outdoor theater. Retired Battalion Chief Ralph Darne, then an engine company officer at Station No. 6 in Falls Church, recalled seeing the glow in the sky as Engine 76 approached from several miles away.
June 6, 1982 - A bomb damaged the Arlington-Fairfax Medical Center, a women's clinic. Anti-abortion protesters bombed a number of clinics in the Washington area during the 1980s.
Autumn 1985 - An Eastern Airlines Boeing 727 shuttle to New York skidded off the north end of the main runway at National Airport - and onto the grass - after a close call with a helicopter. National Airport and Arlington County firefighters responded to the call with the airport's Medic 62 coming up on the county fire dispatch channel to alert county dispatchers that an aircraft had gone off the runway. There were no serious injuries among the passengers, which included David Hartman, host of ABC-TV's ``Good Morning America.'' The runway, which borders the Potomac River, had been extended after the 1982 Air Florida disaster.
Oct. 16, 1985 - Captain William Moose and firefighters George Hollingsworth and Elroy Rowe rescued 95-year-old Cosa Thomas and her neighbor from an apartment fire at Colonial Village at 1724 Queens Lane. The neighbor, Jean McRae, commended county firefighters in a letter to the county board. ``Each time I hear the sirens now, I am reminded of the risks they take in the performance of their duties,’’ McRae wrote. The incident commander at that blaze was Battalion Chief Claude ``Bucky’’ Jenkins.
July 15, 1986 - Latest edition of the fire department newsletter Fire Lines included the following item about Fire Station No. 4 Commander Floyd Walters: ``Is it true that Commander Walters really gave `mouth-to-mouth’ to the dog he saved on Granada Street? Nice job, Cap’n! Yuk, Phooey, Hack, Hack, and you can’t kiss me anymore, either!’’
Nov. 14, 1986 - A fire in a rooming house in Ballston killed three people and investigators blamed the blaze on discarded smoking materials in the kitchen.
Late 1980s - The Arlington County Fire Department battled a late night house fire on Washington Boulevard, close to the Glebe Road and Interstate 66. Sadly, the fire claimed the life of the occupant, who had stacked his home -- floor to ceiling -- with old newspapers and a variety of other items. His chared body was found at the bottom of the stairs, surrounded by the clutter - including a space heater propped up by a tire. Such tragedies aren't uncommon in the fire and rescue service, and the New York City Fire Department even has a name for it - "Collyer's Mansion Conditions," dating back to a bizarre incident in the 1930s in which the bodies of two eccentric brothers were found buried in trash in their once fashionable mansion.
Late 1980s - Fire damaged a building at the U.S. Army's old Arlington Hall Station on Route 50. Firefighters from Engine 66 - the old Arlington Hall Fire Department - were the first on the scene at Box 6672. Engine 66 rarely turned a wheel.
Late 1980s - Fire crews responded for a fire in an underground electrical vault at the Holiday Inn in Rosslyn, and after the incident firefighters expressed concern about exposure to the toxic chemical PCB, used in electric transformers. (In Washington, a PCB fire forced the closure and a prolonged cleanup at the Washington Hilton Hotel.)
July 31, 1994 - An arson fire damaged the Commonwealth Women's Clinic in Falls Church. Women's clinics have been the target of anti-abortion groups.
Nov. 15, 1996 - Smoke and fumes from a smoldering kitchen fire killed a family of four – including a 4-month old baby – at the Park Warren Apartments in the 800-block of South Dickerson Street early. A faulty smoke alarm may have cost the family their lives, according to The Washington Post. The fire, itself, was confined to the kitchen.
April 12, 1998 - Nineteen cars of a CSX freight train derailed near Crystal City, shutting down freight and passenger service between Washington and Richmond. There were no injuries.
Jan. 31, 1999 - Three firefighters were injured in a fire that destroyed a 2 ½-story single-family home at the corner of 13th Street and North Stafford Street, just across from Washington & Lee High School. Balloon construction ``was primarily responsible for the rapid development of this fire,’’ according to Pat Evinger, deputy chief of the Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department.
Nov. 21, 1999 - Fire caused extensive damage to the City Sunoco service station at 930 West Broad Street in Falls Church.
Nov. 29, 1999 - Fire caused more than $300,000 in damage to the Crystal Towers South apartments in Crystal City. Two firefighters were injured.
Dec. 31, 1999 - The fire department was placed on a high state of alert for Y2K. Nothing happened.
A new century, more calls:
A three-alarm fire on July 1, 2001 destroyed a warehouse at 205 West Jefferson Street in Falls Church. Six firefighters were injured. The Pentagon was the scene of a two-alarm electrical fire on Aug. 2, 2001.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks (see separate article), firefighters dealt with the fallout from the anthrax attacks across the U.S., responding to calls reporting suspicious letters, suspicious white powder, etc., etc.
On Feb. 12, 2002, crews from Arlington County and Fairfax County helped Alexandria firefighters battle a four-alarm structure fire in Old Town.
March 2002 roared in like a lion for the Arlington County Fire Department. A two-alarm fire and explosion damaged a construction site in the 1800-block of North Oak Street in Rosslyn on March 7 followed by a three-alarm blaze March 9 at the Buchanan House at 2301 Jefferson Davis Highway in Crystal City.
A pair of snipers terrorized the Washington area in October 2002 and struck at the Home Depot at the Seven Corners Center on Oct. 14, 2002, killing Arlington resident Linda Franklin.
On Jan. 11, 2003, firefighters and paramedics attempted to save Arlington County Board Chairman Charles Monroe, who suffered a fatal stroke while presiding over his first board meeting as chairman. Two members of the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department were seated in the audience and performed CPR until the paramedics arrived, The Journal newspaper said.
On Jan. 20, 2003, a Metrorail blue line train derailed near Reagan National Airport, prompting a fire department response. There were no injuries. The transit authority attributed the accident to ``improper work on the track.''
On Jan. 30, 2003, National Airport firefighters extinguished a fire in a de-icing truck next to an aircraft and rescued a worker trapped in the truck's bucket, which was extended about 12 feet. Foam 331 knocked down the flames and Rescue Engine 335's crew rescued the d worker, according to Mutualbox.com. Foam 345, Medic 325, Battalion 301 and FM 313 also responded and Arlington Engine 105 provided coverage at the airport station.
Arlington County police pulled an elderly woman from a house fire on Robert Walker Place on April 18, 2003 after a ``hang-up'' call to the 911 center. According to The Washington Post: ``Officers got to the home nearly 30 minutes after the emergency call, police said. Operators had been trying to call the number back but couldn't get an answer, and the first available officer arrived at the scene at 10:13 a.m.'' The initial ``hang-up'' call came in at 9:45 a.m., the Post said.
Firefighters from Arlington County and Fairfax County battled a fire that caused $1 million damage to the Craftsman Auto Body Shop on Gordon Road in Falls Church on May 22, 2003.
On Sept. 18-19, 2003, Hurricane Isabel downed trees and power lines across Arlington County and the rest of the Washington metropolitan area. Firefighters rescued a man trapped in his bed by a falling tree on Military Road. Thousands of homes and businsses went without electrical service for days. The county issued a press release on Sept. 19 that said: ``Initial assessments include two homes destroyed; 36 homes with major storm damage, 141 with minor storm damage; and 43 cars flattened.'' The Civil Air Patrol provided an aerial assessment of the damage. Arlington Fire Station No. 7 in Fairlington provided drinking water to residents of the Alexandria, where water supplies had been contaminated by the storm. Arlington's water supply wasn't affected, though Fairfax County also had contaminated water.
On Nov. 27, 2003, a two-alarm fire gutted the Restaurant Mediterranee, just down Lee Highway from Fire Station No. 3. Firefighters were hampered by heavy smoke and security bars on the restaurant's windows. The stairs were also burned out.
Before dawn on Valentine's Day 2004, firefighters were advancing a hose line into a two-alarm house fire in the 2100-block of South Nelson Street when the floor and stairs collapsed. Fortunately, no one was injured.
On April 14, 2004, National Airport firefighters extinguished a fire in the No. 2 engine of an MD-80 jetliner along Runway 1. Foam 331 attacked the flames with its roof and bumper turrets. The aircraft's 127 passengers and crew remained on the aircraft. There were no injuries.
A fire that started near a gas meter damaged a home on South Queen Street before dawn on Nov. 30, 2004. A passing motorist sounded the alarm and awoke the occupant.
On Dec. 5, 2004, firefighters from Rescue 109 rescued a bed-ridden woman from a house fire at 2137 South Oxford Street.
On Jan. 11, 2005, firefighters and paramedics went to the aid of a Pentagon police officer critically injured by a man driving a stolen Cadillac. The officer, James M. Feltis III, died Feb. 14, the Defense Department announced. He was 41.
``It's a boy! It's a boy!'' During a rather sudden snow storm on Jan. 19, 2005, Arlington firefighters and paramedics assisted a woman who gave birth in a car - a 1994 Honda Civic - stuck in traffic at Military Road and North 36th.
On Feb. 2, 2005, firefighters rescued an unconscious woman from an apartment fire at the Woodland Hills Retirement Home on South Carlin Springs Road.
A three-alarm fire gutted an auto repair business - Gene Moore Auto Repair in the 2400-block of South Shirlington Road - on Feb. 4, 2005. Gasoline fumes ignited, according to The Washington Examiner (formerly The Journal.)
The Falls Church News-Press reported the following arrest in its Oct. 19, 2006 edition: ``Arson, Ideal Tile, 929 W. Broad St., October 14, between 7:00 a.m. and 7:41 a.m., police arrested a male, 44, of Falls Church, for setting fire in the dumpster at the establishment. Incident to the arrest, the suspect admitted to several arsons within the City of Falls Church. He was turned over to the Fire Marshal for further investigations.''
The Arlington County Fire Department, as well as the volunteer companies that preceded it, fielded a variety of vehicles over the years, and old timers are particularly sentimental about one old workhorse.
On May 29, 1931, the American-LaFrance and Foamite Corp. shipped a new ``Rescue Squad Car'' to Arlington County from its factory in Elmira, New York. Throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, that vehicle – Squad 5 – responded to almost all of the county's major fire and emergencies, as well as incidents in downtown Washington and across Northern Virginia.
The squad was acquired by the Jefferson District Volunteer Fire Department and ran out of Old Station No. 5 at 206 Frazier Avenue in Aurora Hills, a section of Arlington County now commonly known as Crystal City.
``Motive power is furnished by a 114 horsepower engine,'' proclaimed a press release by the manufacturer. ``On it are hollow steel spoke wheels, much stronger than wood, and left hand instead of right hand drive, which gives greater visibility and ease of control in traffic. The entire machine is stream-lined and specially painted in white with gold trimming and blue shadings.''
It resembled a squad car delivered to the Jersey City Fire Department, and featured a ``Big Chief Sterling electric siren'' and a rotary signal.
Squad 5 was built with a 2,000 watt Kohler electric plant mounted behind the driver's seat and operated by its own motor. Two huge floodlights, each with 500-watt bulbs, were mounted on pedestals behind the driver and the officer. A dash mounted ``switchboard'' controlled the generator. The electrical generating set also 200-feet of insulated cable.
``The lights may be raised or lowered and are equipped with swivels,'' the American-LaFrance press release said. ``When necessary, one of them may be quickly removed an attached to the 200 foot cable for portable use.''
These powerful beacons were in great demand at nighttime operations. On Feb. 16, 1942, Squad 5 illuminated the scene at a general alarm fire at the Statler Hilton Hotel construction site at 16th and K Streets, Northwest, one of the most spectacular fires in downtown Washington during World War II. The wind-shipped blaze skipped across an alley and spread to the adjacent Investment Building.
Mobile tool shop
The generator could also power drills, electric saws and other rescue equipment.
There was ample room for staffing and equipment. The squad could seat 10 firefighters on benches running lengthwise behind the driver and officer. Salvage covers, rope, medical supplies and other gear could be stored in compartments beneath the benches. The compartments were also accessible through doors in the rear of the chassis.
Squad 5 played an important role in the development of the county's emergency medical service. The benches could be used to carry the injured to hospital.
For fire fighting, the machine was ``equipped with a fire department Foamite foam generator mounted on the running board, two carbon tetrachloride type Fire-Guns, and two Foamite hand extinguishers,'' the manufacturer said. ``The Foamite generator is for use in fighting fires in highly inflammable liquids where large quantities of Foamite is required. There are 200 feet of chemical hose in addition.''
Squad 5 was also equipped with:
· Miscellaneous ladder equipment
· Two spot lights, one mounted on each rear standard
· A special fold stretcher
· A variety of ``jail breaking'' equipment, including a crow bar, shovels, roof cutter, wire cutter, plastic hooks, rope, an axe hatchet and sledge.
The squad and its so-called jail breaking equipment saw plenty of action in auto accidents on U.S. Route 1 – Jefferson Davis Highway – a busy north-south highway in the days before the Interstate system. Accident victims were typically transported across the Long Bridge to the old Emergency Hospital in the 1700-block on New York Avenue, Northwest, or the Freedman's Hospital near Howard University. Segregation was common in those days.
When the county's first paid firefighters were hired in 1940, the squad was staffed by both career and volunteer firefighters. Over the years, the rig was modified. It was painted red and lettered in gold. A protective canopy was installed behind the driver and officer to shield the injured on stretchers from the elements. That innovation, ordered by Fire Chief Albert Scheffel, proved unpopular as the canopy often trapped fumes from the squad's exhaust pipes.
The following incident, as reported in the March 5, 1943 edition of the Northern Virginia Sun, illustrated the importance of Squad 5 to the citizenry of Arlington County:
RESCUE SQUAD SAVES FOUR FROM FUMES
Four persons in Ballston today owe their lives to the prompt efforts of the Jefferson District rescue squad in administering oxygen to them yesterday morning when they were overcome by gas heater fumes at 1122 North Stafford Street.
Mrs. Granville Thomas, 35, her two children, Howard, 15, and Gordon, 15 months, and a neighbor, Mrs. B.B. McNulty, 69, of 1135 North Stafford Street, who had been called to help with the baby, who was ill, were overcome and found by Mr. Thomas after Mrs. McNulty phoned to tell him she had found the three members of the family ill on her arrival.
Mr. Thomas rushed to the house to find Mrs. McNulty also overcome, and he called a cousin, Mrs. Harry Dunn, in Cherrydale, who, in turn, called the rescue squad.
Squad 5 almost met its end at the Murphy & Ames lumberyard fire in Rosslyn on Dec. 28, 1951. Burning embers drifted from the spectacular blaze landed on the rig. ``I remember pulling the seat out because it was on fire,'' said Harold LeRoy, former chief of the Jefferson District Volunteer Fire Department. The radiant heat from that fire also melted the glass panes at the Geophysical Instrument Co.
The squad also attended the following major incidents: The Nov. 1, 1949 crash of Eastern Air Lines into the Potomac River that killed 55 people. ``Black Thursday'' Jan. 15, 1953, when the District of Columbia Fire Department requested mutual aid for almost simultaneous disasters – a runaway passenger train, the Pennsylvania Railroad's Federal Express, that plowed into Union Station, and an explosion that leveled the Standard Tire and Battery Store at 10th and H Streets, Northeast, and injured scores of D.C. firemen.
Retired Battalion Chief James Fought, who was the captain on Squad 5 on Black Thursday, said his crew had just returned from Union Station and was sitting down to lunch when they were sent to the explosion at the battery store.
When Squad 5 was retired after three decades of service, the generator and lights were salvaged and mounted on a trailer that was stored at the property yard.
Plaugher was a member of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department before his appointment to Arlington's top job in 1993. Plaugher's predecessor, Thomas Hawkins, was a member of the fire science faculty at Northern Virginia Community College. Hawkins replaced Robert Groshon, the last fire chief to advance through the ranks of the Arlington County Fire Department. Groshon retired in 1978.
Arlington County's first two paid fire chiefs - Albert Scheffel and Joseph Clements - started as volunteer firefighters and worked their way up the ranks.
Arlington County government released the following press release on May 14:
It’s a role for which Jim Schwartz has been preparing for nearly 25 years. He majored in Fire Science Administration in college. He started his career as a fire fighter/EMT, crawling down smoky hallways, helping the sick and injured. As an instructor, he has taught and mentored dozens of new recruits. As Incident Commander at the Pentagon on 9/11, he brought distinction to Arlington’s response.
Today, Arlington County Manager Ron Carlee announced that he has appointed Assistant Chief James Schwartz to be the County’s next Fire Chief, effective June 28.
“Jim Schwartz was a clear choice after an extensive review, which included input from the rank-and-file and the community,” said County Manager Ron Carlee. “It is a testament to the bench strength in our public safety leadership in Arlington that we had several qualified candidates. With his experience, energy and leadership, Jim is a great choice to lead this department forward.”
Schwartz, 46, will succeed Edward P. Plaugher, who will retire on June 25, following a 38-year fire service career. He was chosen following an extensive review and interview process with fire department leadership, line fire fighters and community leaders.
Schwartz joined the Arlington Fire Department in 1984 as a fire fighter. He was the first line fire fighter [non officer] to serve as an instructor at the Arlington Fire Academy, a position he held for two years. He rose through the ranks to Lieutenant, Captain, Battalion Chief and Assistant Fire Chief.
In 1998 Schwartz was named Assistant Chief of Operations, overseeing all response-related activities, including fire, EMS, hazardous materials and technical rescue response, incident management and operational training.
“I’m honored to follow in Ed Plaugher’s footsteps and am committed to building on the strong foundation he laid for us,” said Schwartz. “The Department is a remarkable group of men and women who are dedicated to serving a great community. Our primary focus will continue to be providing extraordinary service in our prevention and public education programs, as well as emergency response. In addition, our focus on terrorism and disaster preparedness response will not waiver, nor will the Department’s commitment to the professional development of its members.”
Currently, Schwartz serves as Acting Director of Arlington’s new Office of Emergency Management (OEM), which was created to focus on the County’s strategic priorities, specifically, planning and coordination of emergency services.
In addition Schwartz is responsible for the development of Arlington County’s Metropolitan Medical Response System, a federally funded program that focuses on the integration of a community’s response capabilities for a terrorism event. While Assistant Chief of Operations, he was also the Program Manager for the Washington Area National Medical Response Team, which consists of area Hazmat, EMS and law enforcement personnel trained to respond to acts of terrorism.
Schwartz is also a member of the Interagency Board on Equipment Standardization, which is developing national standards for terrorism response equipment for the nation’s first responders.
The Arlington Fire Department was the lead agency for the response to the September 11th attack at the Pentagon, where Schwartz served as Incident Commander. He has spoken to numerous local, regional, national and international audiences and media on emergency management and emergency preparedness.
Schwartz graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.S. in Fire Science Administration.
He is married to Susan MacKay and has two children, Elizabeth, 10, and seven-year-old Holden.