ESTABLISHED IN 1999 AS A NEWSLETTER - ON THE WEB SINCE 2005

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.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

VINTAGE ARLINGTON

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

AIR FLORIDA - 1982

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

Photo: wtop.com
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."

CHINATOWN - 1925


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."

NATIONAL HOTEL - 1921

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

JUNIOR FIREFIGHTER

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

ON THE AIR!



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.