Honoring the Fire and Rescue Service - Arlington County, Virginia and Beyond - Established 1999
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.
Monday, September 09, 2019
The late Honey Biggs is an Arlington County Fire Department legend for his flame dance at an oil refinery fire in Rosslyn.
The following - from the Aug. 1, 1948 edition of the magazine Fire Engineering - tells the Biggs story:
Orchids to Arlington Chief
Volunteer Fire Chief William R. Biggs of the Arlington. Va., Fire Department is
credited with helping halt a spectacular oil refinery fire in Rosslyn, Va., by
dashing through a 25-foot wall of flame to shut off a gushing jet of blazing
oil at its source. According to Battalion Chief G. A. Cole, of the District of
Columbia Fire Department, three of whose companies worked with Arlington County
fire forces to control the fire, “Chief Bigg’s daring action not only shortened
the fire by four hours, but kept the surrounding tanks from burning.”
The fire broke out
May 3rd at the Worthington Refining Co., along the bluff of the Potomac River
above Key Bridge. A geyser of fire from an open valve sent a huge column of
smoke and flame high in the air, destroyed a brick refinery building, and
threatened to touch off three huge oil storage tanks, nearby.
Chief Biggs, of Arlington’s Volunteer Fire Department No. 2 who knows the
layout, sprinted through the circle of flames while firemen directed hose
streams around him. He succeeded in twisting shut a red hot valve that controlled
the flow of oil.
The blaze started
when an employe went to the 20,000 gallon tank to take a sample of refined oil.
When he opened the valve, a jet of oil, heated to 600 deg. F., spurted out and
ignited in the air. The worker was seriously burned. The fractioning tank,
where the fire started, converted used crank case oil into motor fuel oil.
Surrounding it were three storage tanks of like size, which were scorched by
the radiated heat.
desperately to prevent extension of fire to these tanks, cooling their
surfaces, while at the same time attempting to control the flames in the
burning tank. Until Chief Bigg’s desperate dash, these and four other adjacent
tanks were in danger of letting go.
Editor's Note: Engine 4 from Clarendon and Engine 3 from Cherrydale were dispatched on the first alarm. Engine 2 from Ballston ran the second alarm. These were the days before Station No. 10 was opened on Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn.