READY TO ROLL

READY TO ROLL

Thursday, January 20, 2011

SCHOOL FIRE - 1960





Photos: www.acfd3.com

The old Congressional School went up in flames on Feb. 17, 1960.


The two-story, fieldstone structure - at North 12th and Nash Streets - was originally built as the residence of General George Patton, the World War II hero.

The fire was discovered at about 5 p.m. after most of the students and faculty had left for the day. Principal Lillie Long smelled smoke. Fred Nibblins, a custodian, opened a closet door and was driven back ``by dense black smoke and jets of flame which seemed to be licking down from the attic,'' The Washington Post said.

Switchboard operator Natalie Manning telephoned the fire department as custodian Nibblins tried to fight the blaze with fire extinguishers. A passing motorist, Army Sergeant John Comeaux, stopped to help Nibblins fight the fire. It was to no avail.

Conditions deteriorated rapidly. ``You couldn't see anything in there,'' retired Battalion Chief James Fought recalled.

Amid the chaos, Lieutenant Fred Bryan of Company 2 almost lost his life in the fire. Bryan fell unconscious inside the school after his breathing apparatus became disabled. ``Trapped for 10 minutes, Lt. Bryan was pulled out of the attic by fellow firemen and carried down the extension ladder,'' The Washington Star said.

Bryan was revived and taken to Arlington Hospital where he recovered from his injuries.

Three other members of the fire department - Captain Arthur Willett, Inspector Robert Buckrop and Firefighter David Dant - were treated at the scene for minor injuries, the Post said.

A volunteer from Company 2, Bob Gill, was also trapped for a time but got out safely with the help of other firefighters.

The fire was declared under control at about 6:05 p.m. by Fire Chief Joseph Clements. Damage estimated at $100,000 to $200,000. In all, 15 pieces of apparatus answered the alarm.

Fire Marshal Leslie Shelton told the Star the fire started in the attic ``and burned for quite a while unnoticed.'' Malcolm Devers, president of the Congressional Schools of Virginia, said defective wiring probably caused the blaze.

According to school folklore, snacking squirrels damaged the wires.

At the time, the building housed the kindergarten through third grades. Classes for the upper grades were held at the school's Fairfax County campus. After the fire, all grades were moved to Fairfax County.