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.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Images: BBC, CNN
On Jan. 25, 1993, a gunman named Mir Amal Kansi killed two people and injured three others outside CIA Headquarters at Langley in Fairfax County, Virginia.
The Arlington County Fire Department responded on the ``mutual box'' and helped Fairfax County paramedics and firefighters treat the casualties.
Fire/EMS Captain Miguel Serra recently shared the following with the Arlington Fire Journal:
''I looked through the 'blog' ... and there is one incident of national significance, to which some of the ACFD units responded which is not mentioned. I don't remember the exact date, but in the winter of 1992/3 (I think) Medic 106 ("A" Platoon, Mark Girard and Clayton Deskins) and EMS 72 (Miguel Serra) responded to the CIA building in Langley, Virginia to assist Fairfax County units with multiple shooting victims. (This may very well have been the first ``Islamic terrorist'' attack on U.S. soil ... It was before the 1993 Trade Center bombing.) Medic 106 treated and transported one of the survivors to Fairfax Hospital. EMS 72 assisted Medic 106 and other units on the scene.''
Kamil fled the county and was arrested four years later in Pakistan.
A statement issued by the CIA and FBI on June 17, 1997 said:
``FBI Deputy Director William J. Esposito and Acting Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet today announced the apprehension of Mir Amal Kansi, an FBI Top Ten Fugitive and the suspected gunman in the January 25, 1993, attack outside Central Intelligence Agency headquarters which killed two CIA employees and wounded three others. Kansi has been delivered abroad by Afghan individuals to the custody of United States authorities. He has been transported to the United States where he will face trial in Fairfax, Virginia. ''
Kansi was convicted and executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Retired Battalion Chief James ``Jimmie'' Fought of the Arlington County Fire Department, a founder of the Arlington County Fire Department Historical Society, died at his home in Arlington, Virginia, on Dec. 16, 2005. He was 91.
The chief was a member of a firefighting family. His father served as a sergeant with the District of Columbia Fire Department, and his late son served as a captain in the Arlington County Fire Department.
Fought's career as a firefighter started as a volunteer in the 1930s with the Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department and later the Clarendon Volunteer Fire Department.
The county hired Fought as a full-time paid firefighter in 1943 and he advanced through the ranks to become one of the county's first battalion chiefs in 1956.
He spent his career ``on the road'' as he liked to say, supervising fire and rescue operations.
``The fire won't wait for you!'' the quintessential chief would tell his firefighters.
Fought helped supervise firefighting operations at a general-alarm fire in the basement of the Pentagon on July 2, 1959. That fire was listed as among the nation's worst in a book published by the National Fire Protection Association in 1976 to commemorate the bicentennial. A number of firefighters were injured at the 1959 Pentagon fire.
He also supervised the daring rope rescue of a 12-year-old boy who fell into a deep well at a construction site in Rosslyn on June 11, 1959.
Earlier as a fire captain, Fought was in charge of the county's old ``Squad 5’’ that responded to a pair of disasters in Washington on Jan. 15, 1953 - ``Black Thursday'' - the day a runaway Pennsylvania Railroad train plowed into the concourse at Union Station, and a later unrelated explosion at the Standard Tire and Battery Store in Northeast Washington that injured a number of D.C. firemen.
He was also among Arlington firefighters sent to the district for the riots in April 1968.
Fought, a member of the International Association of Firefighters Local 2800 in Arlington, retired in 1972.
He remained active in firefighting circles until his death and co-founded the Arlington County Fire Department Historical Society with the late Robert ``Cuz'' Carpenter, also a retired battalion chief, in the 1990s.
The chief helped with the compilation of the historical society's ``Red Book,'' a history of the fire and rescue service in Arlington County. He also contributed to the ``Arlington Fire Journal’’ newsletter.
Fought was also an active member of ``The Chowder Club'' and ``The Lunch Bunch'' - social clubs for retired members of the fire department.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
COMMAND UNIT PLACED IN SERVICE
On Dec. 21, 2005, the Arlington County Fire Department placed its new Mobile Command Unit in service at Fire Station No. 2 in Ballston. The a 40-foot vehicle is outfitted with state-of-the-art communications equipment, a satellite dish and many other features.
The MCU - purchased with funds provided through the U.S. Justice Department, ``is a critical tool for the fire department during major incidents like 9-11.'' Arlington County Fire Department Chief Jim Schwartz said.
Among the MCU's features are seven workstations, a high resolution mast-top camera, a 1.2-meter satellite antenna, an integrated telephone system with fax capability, a radio system covering the entire Washington area, two slide-out rooms with a 350-horsepower turbocharged diesel engine, a conference room and galley, a 35-kilowatt Power Take-Off generator and a 20-kilowatt diesel generator.
QUINT/ENGINE 104 DISBANDED
According to Station No. 3's web site:
Effective July 12, 2005 at 0700 hours Quint 104 was officially disbanded. In place of Quint 104 (which ran as one of ten engine companies in the ACFD) Tower 104 was placed in service using the former 2001 E-One 95' platform from Tower 105 (Tower 105 received one of the new 2005 E-One CR-100 aerials) Arlington County now runs 9 Engine Companies, 2 Ladders, 1 Tower and 2 Heavy Rescues.
The closing of Quint 104 will increase the call volume for Engine 103 by several hundred runs a year. We will now be second due into all of the Rosslyn area along with picking up first due in some of Quint 104's area. In Station 4's first due area all medical locals, public service calls, etc. will be handled by Rescue 104. All Northside Engine Companies can look forward to a significant increase in call volume to cover the huge void left by Quint 104 on all fire related incidents. Sleeping all night at Station 3 may be a thing of the past!
Station 4 will now be a "Specialty House" running Tower 104, Rescue 104, Medic 104 the North Battalion and Logistics Coordinator. Station 4 is also part of the Technical Rescue Team along with Station 10.
4TH ALARM IN FAIRFAX COUNTY
On July 3, 2005, Arlington County firefighters - from Stations 106, 102, 108 and 103 as well as the Northside battlion chief - provided mutual aid to Fairfax County for a rare four-alarm fire.
Following is a report from www.ffxfire.com
0326hrs 4th Alarm Box 1811 7316 & 7318 Lee Hy--E418 arrived to find a 3 story garden apt with fire on the 3rd floor and thru the roof. A second was quickly called with an EMS task force, the Helo and a 3rd alarm. A 4th alarm was called a few minutes later. One burn PT was located and flown to Medstar. Companies were pulled out of the building and several tower ladders were put to work to knock the fire down. A shelter was opened at the nearby Timber Lane ES as 80 people were displaced. Chief Coffman had the command. A-Shift
0326 1st-E418 430 428 106 TL430 T106 R418 A430 EMS404 EMS402 BC404 DFCO (Coffman)
0332 2nd-E413 408 102 TL408 M106 CAN413 LA207 E207 EMS405 BC402 SAFO
0339 EMS Task Force A428 A413 M408 M102 EMS403 E423
0341 3rd-RE433 410 402 T410 EMS401 BC112
0355 4th-E108 103 401 TL401 BC443
Also-PIO402 HFX1 LAB401 FM18 CHP401 COM410 AFCO CAN408 DFCOC IV02 IV11 IV08 LA437
In another mutal box run to Fairfax County, Arlington County firefighters helped battle a two-alarm fire that leveled a mansion on Crest Lane in McLean on Aug. 17, 2005. NBC4 reported ``someone who lives inside the home has a connection to the United Arab Emirates.'' The Secret Service - charged with protecting diplomatic compounds - was called to the scene.
WORKER KILLED AT NATIONAL AIRPORT
A baggage handler died in an accident at Reagan National Airport on June 7, 2005, according to news reports. National Airport and Arlington County firefighters responded to the alarm and found a worker pinned between a belt-loader and a US Airways aircraft parked at Gate 23 as the aircraft was being prepared for a flight to Chicago, according to the reports.
SERIAL ARSONIST PLEADS GUILTY
Evidence discovered by the Arlington County Fire Department led to the arrest of the man responsible for a two-year arson spree across the Washington area, including fires that killed two elderly women in the District of Columbia.
Thomas A. Sweat, 50, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, second-degree murder and other charges June 6, 2005 in federal court in Greenbelt, Maryland, The Washington Post reported. He was arrested in April.
At the time of the arrest, the Post provided the following account of the investigation:
The biggest break came Dec. 5, when Arlington County firefighters recovered Marine Corps dress pants and a Marine hat near a small deck fire in the 300 block of North Bryant Street.
Capt. Tom Polera of the Arlington Fire Department said the items were found near the scene. The blaze was never reported to the news media, Polera said, because of the little damage it caused and because of the evidence left behind.
ATF officials said they learned about the Arlington fire two days after it occurred. They said they were not convinced it was connected to the serial arsonist but decided to submit the pants to the agency's crime lab for tests.
It wasn't until April 1 that they got the results: DNA from the pants matched DNA recovered from the two earlier fires and attempted arson in Maryland and the District, authorities said.
In a message to the department on April 27, Arlington County Fire Chief James Schwartz said: ``The lead investigator from ATF (the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) commented to me today that the case progressed in no small part due to the dogged determination of our fire marshals. Congratulations to OFM on a great job.''
FIRE GUTS ABANDONED `DUCKPIN' ALLEY
On June 1, 2005, a suspicious two-alarm fire gutted the abandoned Duckpin Bowling Center at 400 South Maple Avenue in Falls Church - the same day demolition was scheduled to start to make way for a residential and commercial project.
The fire was reported at about 1 a.m. and the building was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived, NBC News4 reported. Crews engaged in an ``exterior attack'' and video posted on NBC4.com showed Truck 106's aerial in action. No injuries were reported.
Captain Tom Polera, assistant fire marshal for Arlington County, told News4 that the old bowling alley's interior had been stripped for demolition. Electricity to the building had also been cut, Polera said.
The following equipment was dispatched, according to Fire Station No. 3's web site, www.acfd3.com :
Engines 106, 428, 418, 108, Trucks 106 and 410, Rescue 418, Medic 106, Battalion 112 and 111, EMS 404 and FM 114
Engines 102, 103, 410, 104, Towers 430 and 408, Light and Air 103
Engine 413, Tower 105
Friday, July 22, 2005
Horror and heartbreak on Columbia Pike.
An Arlington County school bus bound for Hoffman-Boston Elementary School collided head-on with a trash truck April 18, 2005. Firefighters and bystanders worked to free the 15 children on the bus in the midst of the morning rush hour.
A 9-year-old girl died at the scene and a 7-year-old boy succumbed to his injuries two days later.The bus driver, the driver of the AAA & Rainbow Recycling and Trash Removal Service truck and an 11-year-old child girl were admitted to hospital with serious injuries. Other children suffered less severe injuries.
The victims were transported to Children's Hospital in Washington, Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington and Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church. The children ranged in age from kindergarten to Grade 5.
The school bus was traveling west in the far left lane of Columbia Pike and attempting to make a left turn onto South Courthouse Road when it was hit by the eastbound blue trash truck equipped with a front-end loader, according to The Washington Post.
The impact crushed the front of the yellow bus. The trash truck careened into a tree, pinning the driver.
Friends and relatives left flowers and stuffed animals at the site of the tragedy.
Lilibeth Gomez, a third grade student, was prononced dead at the scene. A red tarpaulin covered the section of the bus where the child died. Her body was removed about two hours later. The following day, the Post published a front-page photo of Lilibeth, smiling and clutching a puppy. Witnesses said she was seated two rows behind the bus driver.
Second grader Harrison Orosco died April 20 at Children's Hospital.
Ryan Jakovich, 8, sat across from Lilibeth, according to The Washington Times. The boy ``saw everything," said his mother, Ellen Jakovich, quoted in the April 19 edition of the Times. "It's slowly sinking in for him. He saw a couple of kids not moving. He said to me, "Mom, they were just lying there.'"
The accident renewed the debate over mandatory use of seatbelts on school buses. The bus wasn't equipped with the safety devices. Two days later, police in neighboring Alexandria investigated another school bus wreck. There were no injuries in that accident.
The following weekend, county police and National Transportation Safety Board investigators closed the intersection of Columbia Pike and Courthouse Road and re-enacted the chain of events leading up to the tragedy, using a similar school bus and a similar trash
Firefighters, bystanders respond
The response to the accident was equivalent to that of a two- or three- alarm fire.
According to the web site mutualbox.com:
The incident brought numerous engine companies from Arlington, both truck companies and rescue squads along with Rescue 206 from Alexandria. (Operations Chief Ben) Barksdale was the incident commander with divisions and groups handled by battalion chiefs and captains. There were two helicopters also called to the scene.
Another report on the accident from Fire Station No. 3's web site said:
Engine 101, Tower 105 (the first-due units) and Battalion 111 (Chief Randy Gray) arrived almost simultaneously. Chief Gray declared a "major emergency" ... The driver of the trash truck was pinned in the mangled wreckage of his cab for over an hour. The crews from Rescue 104, 109, Rescue Engine 161, Tower 105 and Rescue 206 worked feverishly to free him. Every tool in their extrication arsenal was used on this job.
Arlington County Fire Chief James Schwartz said ``a number of citizens'' helped rescue children from the wreckage, according to the Associated Press. Many were lifted from the rear emergency exit. Firefighters, meantime, spent 30 minutes freeing the truck driver from his twisted cab. He was evacuated by helicopter to Fairfax Hospital.
The AP also reported:
Willena Roney, 43, from Arlington, Va., was riding a Metrobus that came upon the gruesome accident scene. She and three others got off the Metrobus and started pulling children out of the school bus.
"A lot of them were bleeding," Roney said. "They were scared and upset."The Post offered this account:
The driver of the mangled school bus sat on a curb, bloodied and screaming, as emergency workers and others tended her injuries and tried to calm her. Suddenly, she sprang to her feet and darted back to the bus to try to help the injured children.
Dozens of others -- office workers, a Metrobus driver, nearby residents, firefighters, paramedics -- also rushed to the school bus, knowing that children were trapped inside.
Jenae Johnson, 28, said she heard the piercing squeal of brakes and whirled around to look out the third-story window of her apartment in the Dorchester Towers on Columbia Pike. Johnson dialed 911. As she waited for an operator, she watched as commuters jumped from their vehicles and flooded from their apartments to help the injured. Johnson recalled the heroism of one woman in particular, who ran from her car to help. "She kicked off her shoes, opened the back of the bus and started helping children out," Johnson said. "She was amazing.
"Bus No. 113, Route 271
Parents rushed to the school as news of the accident spread through the community. Others telephoned the school.
Arlington County Public Schools released a statement shortly after the accident:
An accident this morning involving an Arlington Public School bus and a trash truck resulted in one fatality. Parents of children have been contacted.
At approximately 8:40 a.m., Arlington Public School Bus #113/route #271 to Hoffman-Boston Elementary School was traveling westbound on Columbia Pike. The trash truck was traveling eastbound on Columbia Pike and the two vehicles collided near the intersection of South Courthouse Road.
A total of 17 people were involved in the vehicles; two adults, who were driving the vehicles, and 15 children. One child was fatally injured. Four patients including the two adults and two children were critically injured. The truck driver was evacuated by helicopter.
All passengers have been transported to local area hospitals. Arlington Public Schools counseling teams are assisting parents at the hospital and children and staff at the school.
Arlington County Police Department’s Critical Accident Team is handling the investigation, assisted by the Virginia State Police.
`Very sad day for all of us'
Later in the day, the school system issued another statement:
Nine-year-old Lilibeth Gomez was killed in a collision this morning just before 9 a.m. between an Arlington Public Schools bus and a commercial trash truck. She was a third-grade student at Hoffman-Boston Elementary School.
Two children, ages seven and 11, were also seriously injured during the accident. The bus was transporting students to Hoffman-Boston and was traveling westbound on Columbia Pike. The commercial trash truck was traveling eastbound on Columbia Pike and the two vehicles collided near the intersection of South Courthouse Road.
“Today is a very sad day for all of us in Arlington,” said Arlington School Superintendent Dr. Rob Smith. “My deepest personal sympathies go to the Gomez family; I cannot imagine the heartbreak that this family is going through. I know everyone in the community will keep all the students and families in their hearts and in their thoughts.”
A total of 17 people were involved in this morning’s accident – 15 children and two drivers. Twelve children were treated and released at a local area hospital. Two children remain hospitalized; one remains in critical condition and one is in serious condition. The drivers remain hospitalized and in critical condition.
Arlington Public Schools will continue to provide counseling and support to Hoffman-Boston parents, students and staff. Arlington’s Department of Human Services will have outreach staff available for anyone in the community who needs additional assistance.
In July, the drivers of both the bus and the truck were charged with reckless driving, according to press reports. Investigators had ruled out major mechanical problems.
The bus and the trash truck were hauled to the Arlington County equipment yard for examination by the National Transportation Safety Board after the accident, The Washington Post reported April 20.
The Post also said:
The turn signal on the mangled bus continued to tick, stuck at the moment of impact. Authorities said their investigation will be conducted in painstaking detail. They will take days, if not weeks, to inspect both vehicles, sift through the debris and interview witnesses.
"They're doing a very, very methodical and thorough investigation on this," said Arlington police spokesman Matt Martin. "It's going to take time."
The Washington Examiner, in its April 20 editions, reported:
A preliminary investigation by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board revealed that the school bus was in its proper lane when the accident occurred.
The bus was preparing to make a left turn at the intersection, but had not yet begun to turn, when it was struck head-on by a garbage truck.
Tire marks "indicate that the bus was in its proper lane," said Debbie Hersman, an NTSB spokeswoman.
Fire Station No. 3's web site said the following units responded to the alarm:
Engines 101, 105, 109, 107, 110; Quint 104; Rescues 109, 104, 206 (Alexandria); Rescue Engine 161 (Fort Myer); Tower 105; Truck 106; Medics 101, 102, 104, 105, 106, 109, 110, 206, 207, 410 (Fairfax County); EMS 111, 112; Battalions 111, 112; Fire Chief (Jim Schwartz); Operations Chief (Ben Barksdale); EMS Chief (Jim Bonzano); Services Chief (John White).
Friday, March 18, 2005
By Vinny Del Giudice
Editor, Arlington Fire Journal
The firehouse at the Pentagon heliport is the quietest in Arlington County, Virginia. The little station, located just off the landing pad on the west side of Defense Department headquarters, is typically staffed by a small crew of civilian firefighters from the U.S. Army's Fort Myer Fire Department.
At 9:39 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, the crew of Foam Tender 161 was at ``Ground Zero,’’ on the banks of the Potomac River, across from Washington, D.C.
Piloting four hijacked airliners, terrorists took aim at the heart and soul of America, toppling the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and setting the Pentagon ablaze. Nineteen fanatics – led by an Egyptian named Mohammed Atta and backed by Osama bin Laden’s ruthless Al Qaeda network – committed mass murder in the financial and governmental centers of the nation. Atta piloted the first of two aircraft to hit the trade center.
At the Pentagon, 189 people died, including a woman who succumbed at the Washington Hospital Center burn unit days later. Everyone on the airplane - 64 passengers and crew - perished. The others, including soldiers and sailors and members of the Defense Intelligence Agency, died inside the Pentagon.
The greatest loss of life, of course, was in lower Manhattan. More than 2,000 people died in New York, including 343 members of the New York Fire Department - a roll call larger than the fire department in Arlington County. Other first responders in New York, including city and port authority police officers and a member of the New York Fire Patrol, perished as well.
A fourth aircraft went down in a field in rural Pennsylvania as passengers heroically struggled with hijackers. Forty-five died there, and there was little members of the township's volunteer fire department could do when they reached the scene - a giant smoking hole. That jetliner was likely headed to Washington too, and the White House, Capitol, Treasury and other government buildings were evacuated after the Pentagon crash.
In all, the death toll in New York, Arlington and Pennsylvania topped Pearl Harbor.
Loss of Foam Tender 161
Fort Myer firefighter Alan Wallace, a veteran federal firefighter, was tending to the foam rig on the Pentagon fire station ramp, when he heard the Boeing 757’s screaming engines – and looked to the sky. American Airlines Fight 77 to Los Angeles, with 64 souls aboard, had been hijacked from Washington-Dulles International Airport. ``Runnnnn!’’ Wallace yelled to a buddy, firefighter Mark Skipper.
The plane was 200 yards away - and 25 feet off the ground.
``There was no time to look back, barely time to scramble’’ for Wallace and the others, The Washington Post said. ``He made it about 30 feet, heard a terrible roar, felt the heat, and dove underneath a van, skinning his stomach as he slid across the blacktop, sailing across it as though he were riding a luge.
``A few seconds later he was sliding back out to check on his friend and then race back to the fire truck,’’ the Post said. ``He jumped in threw it into gear, but the accelerator was dead. The entire back of the truck was destroyed, the cab on fire. He grabbed the radio handset and called the main station at Fort Myer to report the unimaginable.’’
It was a firestorm – a war zone. Our Pearl Harbor – ``The Big One.’’
'I wanted to help'
Volunteer association president Harold LeRoy, one of the grand old men of the Arlington County Fire Department, was at his home in Virginia Highlands, not far from the Pentagon, when he heard the rumble. ``Sounds like one of those construction sites collapsed at Pentagon City,’’ LeRoy told his wife. The telephone rang. It was his daughter. Put on the television, she told him.
Ailing and in his 80s, all LeRoy could do was watch from a distance. ``I remember the Pentagon when it was just a hole in the ground,’’ said LeRoy, who joined the Jefferson District Volunteer Fire Department in 1939. ``I grew up with that building. I wanted to help. That really hurt.’’
LeRoy had been among those to fight a general alarm fire in the Pentagon’s basement on July 2, 1959, the previous ``Big One.’’
This was worse – much, much worse.
Flight 77 touched off from Runway ``Three-zero'' at Dulles at about 8:20 a.m. Investigators estimate it was commandeered about 30 minutes later over southern Ohio by five hijackers. What's more, the jetliner ``disappeared from controllers' radar screens for at least 30 minutes -- in part because it was hijacked in an area of limited radar coverage,'' The Washington Post said, adding: ``That gap cost military and aviation officials valuable warning time.'' It wasn't until 12 minutes before impact that ``controllers at Dulles sounded an alert that an unidentified aircraft was headed toward Washington at high speed,'' the newspaper said.
On the outskirts of the city, Flight 77, which approached from the southwest, made a 270 degree turn toward on the Pentagon.
The hijackers apparently disabled the aircraft's radar transponder, complicating the hunt. Transcripts from the Indianapolis air traffic center heralded the worst: ``American 77 departed off of Dulles is going to L.A. Dispatch doesn't know where he's at and confirmed that two airplanes have been - uh - they crashed into - uh - the World Trade Center in New York. So as far as American 77, we don't know where he is.''
Hijackers named by FBI
The FBI identified the hijackers of Flight 77 as Khalid Al-Midhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaq Alhamzi, Salem Alhamzi and Hani Hanjour. FBI agents suspected Hanjour was the pilot; the others apparently provided the muscle. With the help of a local man, some of the hijackers fraudulently acquired identification cards through the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles office in Arlington, The Washington Post said.
``Investigators believe the passengers were herded into the rear of the plane,'' according to the BBC. ``Among the passengers was TV commentator Barbara Olson, wife of US Solicitor General Theodore Olson. She called her husband twice. She said the hijackers were armed with knives and boxcutters and she asked him, "What should I tell the pilot to do?" During the second call he told her a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. ''
The Washington Post said: ``Three District (of Columbia) schoolchildren and three teachers were on Flight 77, headed to Santa Barbara, Calif., for an ecology conference sponsored by National Geographic.''
The Post also said Sept. 12 of the souls aboard Flight 77: ``There was not even the grace of instant death. Instead, there was time to call from the sky over Virginia, fingers pumping cell phones, terrified passengers talking to loved ones for one final time.''
On its final descent, Flight 77 passed over Arlington National Cemetery.
Roaring at 530 miles per hour, the jetliner penetrated 310 feet into the Pentagon's reinforced steel infrastructure within a second or two of the fiery impact, according to an analysis by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The engineering report was issued in January 2003.
Bill Wright, a civilian employee of the Army, was at his desk on the first floor of the Pentagon and discussing the attack on the World Trade Center when "something fell out of the ceiling and hit me on the head," he told the Baltimore Sun. Wright was thrown 20 feet from his desk and lost his glasses. An Air Force officer helped him escape. ``I'm just lucky as hell,'' said Wright, whose head was wrapped in a bandage.
Worse than Oklahoma City
The death toll at the Pentagon alone on Sept. 11 was higher than the 168 killed in the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building on April 19, 1995. It also exceeded the death toll of another Potomac River tragedy, the crash of an Air Florida jetliner into the nearby 14th Street Bridge during a snowstorm on Jan. 13, 1982. That tragedy occurred very close to the Pentagon.
The scene - if such comparisons can be made - was more shocking considering the psychological effect of striking at the core of the nation's military might as well as New York's ``Twin Towers.''
In a video that surfaced in December, bin Laden spoke of how he and his deputies learned of the initial attack in New York from news reports. "They were overjoyed when the first plane hit the building," bin Laden said. "So I said to them: 'Be patient.'"
Flames raged at the Pentagon.
Concrete floors caved in. Columns collapsed. Steel melted.
Black smoke turned the morning light to darkness.
The ghastly plume was visible from the White House, Capitol and other points across the Potomac River.
The hijacked 757 had pierced the unique internal structure consisting of five rings of parallel corridors. A remote security camera recorded images of the jetliner – really just a blur – hurtling across the Pentagon grounds and then the angry orange fireball, with the Pentagon firehouse visible.
Burned and bruised, Wallace and the other Fort Myer firefighters turned to help the people streaming, stumbling and jumping from the Pentagon. Even in combat, in Vietnam, Wallace had never seen anything like it, the Post said.
``A structural collapse, a building fire and a plane crash all rolled up into one’’ – that’s what firefighters faced, John Huff told the Associated Press. Huff, a deputy fire chief from Lincoln, Nebraska, led a Federal Emergency Management Agency urban search and rescue task force at the Pentagon.
Generals and admirals were shaken as well. "We have a variety of plans for a variety of things," said Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, quoted by the Scripps Howard News Service. "But what you're seeing here is a full assault on the United States of America."
Less than a year earlier, military and civilian agencies, including the Arlington County Fire Department held a table top exercise that included a mock crash of a passenger jet at the Pentagon courtyard, according to a November 2000 press release from the Military District of Washington. ``Our role is fire and rescue,'' Arlington Battalion Chief Robert Cornwell said at that Oct. 24-26 exercise. Eleven months later, Cornwell, a Vietnam veteran and more recently a cancer survivor, was a senior fire officer supervising the Sept. 11 response.
Fire and rescue forces
The Arlington County Fire Department was the lead agency in the response to the Pentagon attack. The county fire department operates 10 stations, and is a signatory to an automatic regional response plan with neighboring Fairfax County as well as the city of Alexandria, and participates in a regional mutual aid pact with the District of Columbia and the Maryland counties of Montgomery and Prince George’s.
The Fort Myer Fire Department, which operates the Pentagon station in addition to a firehouse at its main post, protects the Army base, Arlington National Cemetery, the Marine Corps’ Henderson Hall, the Navy Annex and the Pentagon, operates as a part of the county system. Reagan Washington National Airport, also in Arlington County, fields a fire department and works closely with the county's fire service.
On Sept. 11, 2001, the Arlington County Fire Department employed 279 men and women, supplemented by the volunteer firefighters and EMTs of the Arlington County Fire & Rescue Association. (More career firefighters were hired after the attack, bringing the total to 305 by 2005. Minimum staffing on the county's engine companies was also increased to four firefighters from three in the months after the attack. A number of new volunteers also signed after the Sept. 11 attack, and the county trained CERT Teams - Citizens Emergency Response Teams - in cooperation with the federal Department of Homeland Security as a part of its stepped up disaster preparedness program.)
Long before the attack, Arlington County Fire Chief Edward Plaugher had -- as Fire Chief magazine described it -- ``connected the dots'' and warned the Washington area was vulnerable to terrorist attack.
After a sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway killed 12 people in 1995, Plaugher and other fire chiefs in the region mapped out contingencies, with Plaugher speculating - according to Fire Chief magazine - that a truck bomb would be the most likely incident. That planning, according to the Congressional Commission investigating the attacks, contributed to a mostly successful response to the crash of Flight 77.
``What I actually said to an audience of 2,000 people years earlier was that on that day, when I stand on that hill looking down at a smoking Pentagon - as fire chief responsible for responding to incidents at the Pentagon - I want the very best experts there to advise me and help me through this incident," said Plaugher, who was named Fire Chief magazine's Career Chief of the Year in 2004.
Airport firefighters assault flames
Captain Michael Defina, a member of the airport fire department, was attending to an auto accident near the Pentagon when he heard ``a dull roar,’’ according to The Virginia Fire News. ``I turned and saw a smoke plume arise … I knew it wasn’t an accident.’’
Crews from Arlington County, Fort Myer and the airport were fully aware of the twin attacks on the twin towers in New York as they answered the alarm at Box 7560. As the Post reported: ``Arlington firefighter Andrea Kaiser freely admits that she was terrified Tuesday as she steered Engine 101 toward the Pentagon – terrified that terrorists would strike again, terrified of a structural collapse, terrified that there would be no survivors.’’
Defina ordered the airport’s big green Foam 331 to the heliport. The rig ``hit the fire with foam from its roof and bumper turrets,’’ according to Virginia Fire News. Firefighters from another airport unit, Rescue Engine 335, assisted the injured and tended to fires in diesel fuel and propane tanks at the crash site, the Fire News said.
Fort Myer's Wallace and Skipper, and the third man on their crew, Dennis Young, helped pull 10 to 15 people from a window, according to the Pentagram newspaper. ``Everywhere people were yelling trying to give directions for people to get out,'' Wallace said. (Coincidentally, Fort Myer was the site of the world's first fatal aircraft accident in September 1908. Army Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge was fatally injured during a demonstration flight piloted by inventor Orville Wright.)
On Sept. 11, Arlington Hospital received most of the casualties, including Wallace, who suffered burn injuries. More severe burn cases went to the Washington Hospital Center, which operates the region's burn unit. Northern Virginia Community Hospital in Arlington also received the injured. The Washington region's other hospitals were placed on alert. The American Red Cross made an emergency appeal for blood supplies, which it described as ``critically short.''
Communications, meantime, were problematic.
The Sept. 11 Commission report said:
Almost all aspects of communications continue to be problematic, from initial notification to tactical operations. Cellular telephones were of little value . . . Radio channels were initially oversaturated . . . Pagers seemed to be the most reliable means of notification when available and used, but most firefighters are not issued pagers.
Collapse! - Captain Gibbs' evacuation order
Reaching the seat of the fire proved difficult. The heat was intense and the flames violent. Jet fuel is a blend of kerosene and gasoline, and Flight 77 was fully laden for the coast-to-coast flight.
Firefighters launched an exterior attack, using ladder pipes, airport crash tenders – all their big guns. They also attempted an interior attack. ``It was back breaking work carrying hose across that debris,’’ said Captain Scott McKay, who supervised interior fire fighting efforts. ``We were passing by some pretty good fires that on any other day would have been a major job to get to the big fire.’’
About 30 minutes after the crash, five floors gave way - COLLAPSE! ``It pancaked,’’ said Arlington Battalion Chief Jim Bonzano.
And yet, none of the firefighters were injured in the collapse.
Arlington Fire Captain Charles Gibbs ordered firefighters attempting to battle the flames from the inside to evacuate after hearing radio traffic about a fissure - stretching from the ground to the roof - adjacent to the crash site. The airport's Defina, in an interview in 2002, said he reported the crack over the radio. Others apparently radioed similar warnings.
Gibbs, who was assigned to the county fire academy, recounted the events of that day in an article in the Journal newspapers marking the first anniversary of the attack. He saw the jetliner fly over the fire academy, heard a muffled explosion, hopped into a Ford explorer with another fire officer and headed to the Pentagon.``I said to myself, `That is not a normal flight path,''' he said. ``It was so close it looked like it was going to hit Glebe Road.''
Once at the scene, incident commander James Schwartz, Arlington's assistant fire chief for operations, ``asked me if I had my gear with me, and I said I did. Then he pointed to the impact sight and said, `Go up there and tell me what is going on.'''
Gibbs led a crew of Fort Myer and Arlington County firefighters inside with a hose line. Considering the crack in the building, and seeing the firefighters were making little progress against the flames, Gibbs decided there was no need to place the firefighters' lives in jeopardy - and ordered them out. Within five minutes, ``there was a snap. Then you could hear it cascading down,'' Gibbs said. ``It hit the ground in a big thunder and shook and then it was all over. I guess timing is everything.''
After the collapse, firefighters went back with six hose lines – five lines from Arlington apparatus and another from Fort Myers’ rescue engine – in their struggle to contain the inferno, McKay said. The mighty exterior streams ``couldn’t get to the seat of the fire,’’ said McKay, who coincidentally, was attending counter-terrorism training in Washington when the terrorists struck.
The members of Arlington’s Rescue Squad 109 got within 10 feet of the jetliner’s remains while searching offices and conference rooms for survivors. They couldn’t get any further because of the fire. ``It was fed by jet fuel,’’ Bonzano said. ``It was rolling.’’
Chief Plaugher takes to the sky
With the initial response to the Pentagon in the capable hands of Arlington County Assistant Fire Chief James Schwartz, Arlington County Fire Chief Edward Plaugher took to the sky to get a bird’s eye view. According to the Post, Plaugher ``hurried to a U.S. Park Police helicopter.
Looking up at the pilot, Plaugher pointed to the words `FIRE CHIEF’ on his white hat and jabbed his finger toward the blackened sky. `I need to go up,’ he said.
``Hovering over the nation’s largest office building, the 54-year-old chief could see whatever had caused the destruction – he didn’t know then that it was an airliner – had penetrated three of the Pentagon’s rings,’’ the Post said. ``He also quickly got a handle on the extent of the fire’s reach. Plaugher relayed his concern to Schwartz that there could be further collapses. He also told his assistant to stick with what he was doing; deploying hundreds of firefighters and paramedics medics responding from all over the Washington region.’’
Plaugher wanted to see the big picture. So huge is the Pentagon that its corridors encompass more than 15 miles. ``What he recognized was that there was the need for somebody to be looking at all the pieces,’’ Schwartz said. ``What you got from where I was standing, while it was awesome in its scope, you couldn’t see the whole thing.’’
But it wasn't until that Friday, Sept. 14, that firefighters reached what Plaugher described as ``the heart of the crash site.''
''Anything like this I would not probably be describing it adequately to you,'' said Plaugher, quoted by the AP. ''It's just not capable of putting in words that type of destruction, that type of death that you're seeing.''
Secretary Rumsfeld pitches in
In the minutes and hours following the crash, countless civilians and military pitched in.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld helped the injured onto stretchers for about 15 minutes, according to The New York Times and other press reports.
A priest administered last rites to the dead.
Metro sent buses for the walking wounded.
Heavy-duty cranes arrived to aid in the rescue and recovery effort, and trucks from Home Depot shuttled lumber for shoring.
Soldiers raced shopping carts bottled water, soft drinks and other refreshments to the triage area from the Pentagon's QuikMart service station.
Private ambulances, normally used for routine transport between nursing homes, hospitals and clinics, were pressed into emergency service.
Retired firefighters – at least one who retired on medical disability 10 years earlier – reported for duty.
Captain Blunt's account
Captain Ed Blunt, an Arlington County Fire Department EMS supervisor, recounted Sept. 11 on JEMS.com, web site of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services:
I had already seen the first tower get hit on the news that morning. I was actually en route to a fire in Rosslyn (Va.) when the Pentagon was attacked. On my way out the door of the fire station, I warned my crew to stay alert. One of them just looked at me and said, “This is Arlington. Nothing like that will ever happened here.” When I saw him later that day at the incident, he told me he’d never say anything like that again.
Engine 101 actually saw the jetliner plow into the northwest side of the Pentagon. The radio crackled, “Engine 101—emergency traffic, a plane has gone down into the Pentagon. I made a quick U-turn and was on scene within a minute to a minute and a half of the initial impact. En route, I remembered my wife was scheduled to be on a flight to Dulles at 10 a.m.
People were just leaving their vehicles on Highway 110 and staring in disbelief. I wanted to put myself in a position where we wouldn’t be threatened by a secondary explosion. I set up triage, treatment and transport sectors in a grassy area on a hill with a good vantage point of the incident. I special ordered 20 paramedic units and a bus for the walking wounded, along with a couple of helicopters.
We weren’t alone on scene. There was an outpouring of help from military personnel—doctors, nurses, paramedics, EMTs, stretcher bearers. I also requested the response of our north EMS supervisor, Capt. Alan Dorn. He arrived quickly and did a fantastic job of managing these areas and coordinating with the military’s medical personnel. Chief James Bonzano arrived on scene and established an official EMS division.
Five or six minutes after my arrival, I traveled alongside the structure and came upon 13 serious burn victims. Many of them also had shrapnel wounds. There was one guy—I couldn’t tell if he was Army or Marine Corps because his uniform was so badly burned—who had used his hands to shield his face from the shrapnel, and his fingers had been cut clean off. But he wouldn’t let us treat him until we helped the others.
As we tended to those 13 wounded, we received an order to evacuate the area because of reports that another jet was coming up the Potomac.
We all agreed we weren’t going to leave those patients, so we switched to a rapid transport mode. We put multiple patients in Medics 102 and 105 and a park service helicopter and told them to just go to the hospital—with limited on-scene care.
We were fortunate in many ways. All our off-duty officers were at a mandatory seminar in Arlington, so they were within two minutes of the Pentagon. We also had other staff attending a nearby International Monetary Fund planning meeting. The military personnel on scene were extremely helpful in keeping the scene organized.
To aid in transport efforts, we had the police clear Highway 110 in both directions so we would have free highway access for rapid patient transport.
One problem we had was keeping military personnel away from the crash site. They felt compelled to try to run in and save their buddies, but the building was heavily involved in the fire. We had to use firefighters to help restrain them.
Once we did get inside, we were able to see the destruction for ourselves. It was extensive on the interior because of the inertia of the fire and fuel once the jet entered beyond the outer ring. The skin of the building doesn’t tell you squat about the damage. There were some areas where people hadn’t even been burned, but were killed by the forced inhalation of fumes.
We had 10 different fire and EMS agencies officially involved in the incident, and it went as well as it possibly could have. Like at any large incident, units self-dispatched themselves to the incident. Although only 20 units were officially requested, we ended up with 75 units on a scene that generated 92 patients.
Chief Bonzano's account
In an article in the Washingtonian magazine on the first anniversary of the attack, Battalion Chief Jim Bonzano reflected on Sept. 11:
The first hours - we call them the golden hours - that's when you have the best chance of finding people alive.
I'm so proud of our guys. A firefighter carries a 45-minute bottle of oxygen on his back. Guys would go in, use that whole bottle, come out and want to strap on another bottle and go back. Those are the kind of guys you want, guys who won't give up. But you had to jerk the reins, make sure we were sending in fresh personnel. Because they stop thinking about their own safety.
I have this friend, Captain Ed Blunt, who was there from the beginning. The day of the crash he said to me, ``Jimmy, Kay is flying back from Chicago.'' Kay is his wife. He didn't know if she was on that flight. Nobody knew where that plane was from. And I said, ``Eddie, we need to get you out. And he said, ``No I need to be here.'' And what he was telling me was that the task at hand was something he could handle, something he knew how to do. Think about his wife at that point was something he couldn't do.
`Full power, no flaps'
The Baltimore Sun newspaper, in its account of the attack, said:
The Pentagon, for half a century the nerve center of America's armed forces, became a casualty ... An Alexandria police officer said the jet was going "full power, no flaps," when it struck the Pentagon. ... Some compared the scene to a battlefield ... A grim Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters it was too early to have casualty figures."It will not be a few," he said. ... Local hospitals reported caring for 56 Pentagon workers, at least eight of them in intensive care.
Attempting a return to normality, Rumsfeld held his news conference in the Pentagon's briefing room. "The Pentagon's functioning. It will be in business tomorrow," he said. ... The Pentagon has no defense systems, such as anti-aircraft guns or missiles, that could counter air attacks ...
Rumsfeld said he was in his third-floor office was on the opposite side of the building when he felt the shock of the explosion. He immediately ran down to the damaged area and helped place the injured on stretchers. "They were bringing bodies out that had been injured, seriously injured," Rumsfeld said.
Then Rumsfeld went into the National Military Command Center, the Pentagon's nerve center, a warren of conference rooms and offices, some equipped with huge display screens for teleconferences among the top military brass. But even in those offices, there was smoke, Quigley said. The damaged Pentagon was placed on "threat condition delta," the highest security condition, he said.
Emergency personnel recalled
Off-duty Arlington County police, fire and 911 personnel were recalled, and the equivalent of 10 or more alarms summoned fire and rescue equipment from across metropolitan Washington to the Pentagon and to cover Arlington County’s fire stations. ``It was crazy,’’ recalled volunteer firefighter Reade Bush. ``Who would’ve thought Kensington, Maryland would be filling the Ballston station? Or Lake Jackson, Virginia filling Station 1?’’
Arlington County Managers Ron Carlee declared a state of emergency for the county, primarily to facilitate the arrival from urban search and rescue teams from Fairfax County, Virginia, Montgomery County, Maryland and the City of Virginia Beach.
Workers from other county agencies, from public works to public schools, were pressed into service. Lauren Callan, power plant supervisor for the school system, dispatched portable generators and trucks to the Pentagon, the Journal newspapers reported. Callan compared the experience to his service in the Vietnam War. ``The only difference was, in Vietnam, you'd occasionally get shot at,'' the former member of the Army Corps of Engineers said.
On Sept. 11, security was also stepped up across the Washington region.
Streets surrounding the White House were sealed off.
Federal workers were sent home.
National Guard units were activated to patrol streets.
National Airport closed, and flights were diverted to other fields. There was speculation whether the airport would ever reopen because of its proximity to Washington. (Fearing more hijackings, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered commercial flights nationwide to land. The FAA also instructed international flights to divert to Canada and other countries.)
Children in modular classrooms at the county's public schools were moved to safer quarters inside the main school buildings, though the county decided to keep schools open for the duration. School buses, most certainly, would have added to the congestion on roadways and slowed the response of mutual aid fire and rescue apparatus.
D.C. Fire Department
The District of Columbia Fire Department dispatched a second-alarm assignment moments after the crash, and D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Fews placed the department’s ``Plan E’’ in effect, recalling off-duty firefighters, according to the DCFD.com. A third-alarm assignment from D.C. followed. The district’s fire companies also staged at Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street, Northwest, near the White House, as a precaution.
Staging areas were also established about a mile away from the Pentagon at Arlington County Fire Station No. 1 and down the street from the firehouse at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center and further to the north at Station No. 6 in Falls Church. Relief crews were assured, ``There'll be enough fire for everybody.''
The massive response recalled Dec. 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor, based on the following account of that attack from Honolulu Fire Chief William Blaisdell, and published in the book ``Fire in America!" by Paul R. Lyons of the National Fire Protection Association:
Within half an hour after the first attack, all off-duty firemen were called by radio broadcasts from three stations, and all but a few who live in rural Oahu had reported within two hours. Scores of volunteers thronged the stations, and workmen from other city departments were assigned as emergency firemen.
`It was pitch black'
As the flames darkened, firefighters advanced back inside the Pentagon. ``It was pitch black, and the walls seemed ready to buckle,’’ the Post said, recounting the experiences of Engine 101’s crew. ``Everything was scorched, and Kaiser faced heaps of debris everywhere she turned. In one spot, she saw a shirt ticked into a pair of dress slacks. But no body. On the second and third floors, charred people sat at their desks.’’
Reagan National Airport fire department’s mass casualty unit - designed for airplane crashes - supplied body bags.
On Sept. 11 and in the days following, Pentagon police ordered firefighters - fearful of another attack - to evacuate when aircraft neared the crash site. ``We didn’t know if there was another plane coming, bombs or what,’’ said Arlington volunteer firefighter Jane Beck, who was tending to the generator on Light and Air 103. ``I don’t ever remember feeling that much fear.’’ And yet she made the best of it. ``There were bomb dogs all over the place so I kept dog treats in my pocket for them,’’ Beck said.
There was little hope for finding survivors, and no one was quite sure how many people had died. At one point on the evening of Sept. 11, NBC News reported as many as 800 people may have died in the Pentagon. The final toll was much lower, but still daunting - one of the largest mass murders in U.S. history .
The fire, itself, wouldn’t die.
After the initial inferno was knocked down on Sept. 11, firefighters contended with flames and hot spots at the Pentagon, fed by jet fuel and mountains of rubble. ``It’s just stubborn, very difficult to get to and very difficult to extinguish,’’ said Plaugher, quoted by New York Newsday.
A statement issued by the county government on Sept. 12 said:
``The Arlington County Fire Department reports that the fires at the Pentagon are controlled. The fire is not yet considered extinguished, however. Crews will remain on a fire watch for the next three days in the event that other fires do spring up. Arlington County continues to support fire fighting and rescue operations at the Pentagon. There have been no serious injuries to Arlington County emergency workers.''
The blaze – in the five-story behemoth, made up of five concentric rings of offices – was declared out at 3 p.m. on Sept. 13.
Surveying the damage, a member of Congress from Kentucky, Representative Ken Lucas, said: "It hits you right in the pit of your stomach," according to the Associated Press.
Flames wouldn't die
The Pentagon’s concrete, masonry and slate roof made it a ``very, very difficult system to get through to extinguish,’’ Plaugher said. ``It takes a lot of cutting with special tools and equipment and then a lot of hand work by the firefighters to get up in there.’’
At the same time, other firefighters shored up the building and continued to search for survivors, even as hoped faded for bringing out anyone alive. ``The mood is very somber,’’ said Bernie Drake of the Salvation Army, quoted by Newsday. ``They’re kicking butt and working very hard and should be looked at as heroes. It’s a daunting task.’’
Many parts of the building were unstable. On the ground floor, ``there literally were no columns,’’ said Arlington Battalion Chief George Lyon, quoted by the AP. ``The whole structure was unsupported.’’
Captain Scott McKay said he found the absence of the columns ``most intimidating’’ – it meant his crews were in grave danger. And yet, only a few firefighters were injured during the operation, unlike the staggering loses in New York City. What’s more, after the twin towers fell, the Pentagon could reclaim the title ``The World’s Largest Office Building.’’
On Sept. 13, Shawn Kelley, chief fire marshal of Arlington County, reported that rescuers ``received a signal from the flight recorder of the commercial jetliner'' - the so-called ``black box.'' Kelley, quoted by the AP, said searchers know "the general area within the building where they can find the black box," but couldn't reach the site because of the fire and collapse.
The AP also reported that human remains from the Pentagon were flown to the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for identification.
President Bush visits crash site
President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Governor Gilmore and a number of other dignitaries visited the site, and met with fire and rescue personnel, police officers, soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen. During the president’s visit, firefighters unfurled a giant American flag - the garrison flag from the U.S. Army Band and Fort Myer - from the roof of the Pentagon near the crash site. The flag was lowered a month later, on Oct. 11, with full military honors.
According to a Pentagon press release:
President Bush visited the the Pentagon this afternoon and met with civilian and military workers involved in fire and rescue operations where a Boeing jetliner crashed into the west wall of the building.
Bush toured the site with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The two men spoke with rescuers, firefighters and law enforcement personnel.
Firefighters had hung a large American flag from the roof over the side of the Pentagon near the site of the jetliner timpact.
Bush said he was overwhelmed by the devastation. He said he was visiting the site to see the damage for himself and to say thanks to those involved with the effort, "not only here but around the nation."
He wanted to thank the workers in New York City doing the same jobs. "I want to say thanks to the folks who have given blood through the Red Cross, I want to say thanks for the Americans who keep the victims in their prayers," Bush said.
The president inspected the destruction and told reporters that he spoke to Rumsfeld after the attack and the secretary said he had felt the blast move the Pentagon.
"Even though he was on the other side of the building, the building rocked," Bush said. "Now I know why."
That Friday, Chief Plaugher was among those in attendance with the president and first lady, the Rev. Billy Graham and other dignitaries at an interdenominational prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington. Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergy participated in the service.
Volunteers, Red Cross, Salvation Army assist
At the Pentagon's ``Ground Zero,’’ Arlington County Fire Department volunteers assisted with medical triage, ventilation, debris removal, search and recovery, as well as staffing of rapid intervention teams for rescuing trapped firefighters. Other fire department volunteers assisted the FBI, photocopied maps for mutual aid companies covering Arlington fire stations, and served as navigators.
The volunteers’ Light and Air 103 was pressed into service for the duration, and illuminated the fire ground. Its generators were kept running around the clock. Its inventory of lights, tripods, electrical cables, and junction boxes was picked clean. Another volunteer unit, Utility 103 – driven by Marvin Binns, president of the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department – shuttled personnel to and from the scene for 16 hours on Sept. 11. The ladies auxiliary from Falls Church responded with Canteen 106.
Every little bit helped. ``Even those who performed support tasks behind the scenes are greatly appreciated,’’ said James Fortner, chief of the Arlington Volunteer Fire Department. ``Firefighting and EMS isn’t about glory and being in the spotlight.’’
Fire department volunteers visited hospitalized firefighters, transported food, water and supplies, maintained accountability rosters and staffed the staging areas. The volunteers’ Arlington Fire Journal published a ``Pentagon Extra.’’ All told, 52 volunteer members of the Arlington County Fire Department contributed 1,500 hours on Sept. 11 and in the aftermath of the disaster, with some taking annual leave from their jobs.
In addition to uncountable acts of bravery and duty at the Pentagon, there were many of love and kindness. A tent city sprouted up. The Salvation Army and Red Cross set up mobile kitchens, as did McDonalds and Burger King. A church group from North Carolina served hot meals. A search dog cut its paw, was treated by Army doctors and given a police escort to a veterinary hospital. A woman doled out dry socks to firefighters. ``I never thought much about socks before,’’ a firefighter said.
Accolades poured in. Children from across the U.S. sent handmade cards to the firefighters, crafted of crayons and construction paper. One boy’s card said: ``I know that of the reasons that you keep working is because you know somewhere in American a little boy or little girl is counting on you to rescue their parents and I know you will,’’ according to The Washington Times.
Grim search for bodies
Gradually, as the flames died down, the recovery effort intensified. Search and rescue teams from across the country came in to help. It was grueling and draining and depressing – and went on for more than a week. ``Most of the work is being done by hand and by shovels,’’ said firefighter Homer McElroy, quoted by the AP. Even after long days of 12-hour shifts, ``it’s tough to walk away,’’ said assistant chief Tom Carr of the Montgomery County Fire Department, quoted by The Washington Times.
While returning from a smoke inhalation call at Pentagon City aboard Arlington's Ambulance 101, Volunteer Lieutentant Jay Gremillion of Company 1 was moved by the sight of a small American flag ``perched high above the ruins and devastation’’ of the Pentagon.
``Clearly, one of the early tasks of the response teams was to make sure that the flag was flying – and sending the message that our resolve was strong,’’ Gremillion said. ``The small flag was later removed and a large four-story American flag was unfurled to coincide with President Bush’s visit. Still, the sight of that small flag on top of the building and near the impact point is the more poignant symbol in my mind of what we did and the mood of the rescuers – and indeed the country.’’(Sadly, Gremillion died of natural causes about a year later.)
At 7 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 21, the recovery effort officially ended and the site was declared a crime scene, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation taking over from the Arlington County Fire Department. Firefighters stayed on the scene to assist the FBI. After the investigation was completed, construction crews moved in – working almost around the clock – with a goal of completing much of their work by the first anniversary of the attack. The rebuilding effort was dubbed the ``Phoenix Project.’’
A statement issued by the county said:
``Responsibility for incident and site management at the Pentagon crash site was transferred from the Arlington County Fire Department to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) effective at 7 a.m., Friday, Sept. 21. It is anticipated that additional remains will be discovered during the course of the FBI’s investigation. Qualified mortuary personnel remain on site to process these remains.
``Arlington County Fire Department personnel will remain on site to continue to provide emergency protective measures for the FBI. Specifically, they will be providing firewatch and monitoring the safety of the structure as the FBI conducts its investigation. Arlington Police will also assist the FBI in evidence processing as well as provide security as needed.
``The Urban Search and Rescue team from New Mexico completed its last shift on site at 6 p.m., Thursday evening. The team from the Military District of Washington completed its last shift at 6 a.m. Friday morning. All areas of the Pentagon except for the C, D and E rings between the fourth and fifth corridors are being released to the Department of Defense.
``The Arlington Emergency Operations Center remains operational at a staffing level appropriate for this next phase of the operation.
``The FBI expects the crime scene investigation to last about a month. ''
Army Major General James T. Jackson, commanding general of the Military District of Washington, personally thanked the firefighters and civilian engineers at a crash site ceremony on Sept. 21. According to a military press release, Jackson told them: "You truly are the foundation upon which our country will continue to stand."
Rebuilding the fire service
Then the rebuilding began.
The Army declared Foam Tender 161, an E-One Titan 4x4 aircraft fire fighting and rescue vehicle, a total loss and acquired a replacement from Emergency One Inc., of Ocala, Florida. The new rig was delivered to the Fort Myer Fire Department about two weeks after the attack. Federal firefighter Alan Wallace - the man at ``Ground Zero" at "Zero Hour" - recovered from his injuries and returned to work.
On Sept. 22, while the wounds were still fresh, the county board approved $460,969 to upgrade or replace the county’s analog radio network with a digital system. Board Chairman Jay Fisette described the decision as ``a prudent and responsible decision at this time.’’
On Nov. 17, 2001, the county board announced plans to replace its front-line engines with seven new Class A, 1,250-gallon per minute pumps, through a $2.1 million lease with E-One. The new apparatus returned the traditional fire service color of red to the fire department. The county's fire apparatus had been yellow and white since the 1970s as part of a safety program.
Also on Nov. 17, the board approved $280,000 to purchase chemical, biological and radiological detection and decontamination equipment for the police and fire departments. ``The need for such equipment is apparent against the backdrop of the past two months,’’ Fisette said. The fire department also acquired tractor-trailer hazardous materials unit, Hazmat 101, and stocked a mass casualty unit with medical supplies.
(While discussing the issue of equipment, it should be noted there was some friction between the Arlington County Fire Department and the District of Columbia Fire Department as Virginia firefighters accused some of the district firefighters of absconding with their expensive equipment.)
Also in the months after Sept. 11, Assistant Chief James Schwartz, the incident commander at the Pentagon, was appointed to head the county's newly organized emergency management office, to better prepare Arlington for disaster preparedness and response. Among the achievements during his watch at the new department, a text and e-mail paging service for the citizens of the county called ``Arlington Alert.'' Schwartz returned to the fire department in 2004 as fire chief, replacing the retiring Ed Plaugher.
The Fort Myer Fire Department was also given more responsbility within the county fire system in the years after the Sept. 11 attack, with Rescue Engine 161 automatically responding on box alarms and other emergencies in Rosslyn and Crystal City.
'Heroes with grimy faces'
A Day of Remembrance was declared Oct. 11, with a service at Washington and Lee High School honoring the victims of the Pentagon as well as the rescuers. In November, Major General James Jackson of the Military District of Washington presented a commemorative plaque to Plaugher, honoring the work of the fire department.
Alexandria Fire Chief Thomas Hawkins, formerly chief in Arlington County, accepted a plaque for his city's department. ``It’s a double-edged sword,’’ Hawkins told the Journal newspapers. ``First of all, it means we had to go to the second worst disaster in order to get it, but we do appreciate getting recognition.’’ Alexandria rotated all 200 of its firefighters to the crash site.
The military also honored the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, which sent more than 400 firefighters and support personnel. In addition to providing personnel and equipment at the crash site, Fairfax County provided a special manpower unit, Engine 407, to the Clarendon station in the days after the attack.
In October, Bonzano, the battlion chief, represented the Arlington County Fire Department at a Columbus Day ceremony with President Bush and the first lady at the White House. Also in attendance, New York Fire Chief Daniel Nigro and the family of the Nigro’s predecessor, Chief Peter Ganci, who died with his men at the World Trade Center.
``The evil ones thought they were going to hurt us, and they did, to a certain extent,'' Bush said at that ceremony honoring Italian-Americans. `` But what they really did was, they enabled the world to see the true character and compassion and spirit of our country.''
During the German raids on London and other cities in World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called British firefighters ``Heroes with grimy faces.’’ The same can be said for the firefighters and rescuers at the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
It can also be argued that the attack on the Pentagon had a profound change on the Arlington County Fire Department, and that the history of the department should be viewed from the perspective of before and after Sept. 11.
As Bonzano said in the Washingtonian magazine: ``Now you're much more conscious about what a call could turn into. You don't see what we've seen without some kind of scar. There's no such thing as a routine call anymore.''
The aftermath for the `Heros of Sept. 11'
There's an old cowboy song by Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys about healing entitled ``Time Changes Everything.'' On the third anniversary of the Pentagon attack, Arlington's bravest were still on the mend, as The Washington Post reported:
For Arlington firefighters who for nearly two grueling weeks led the rescue and recovery efforts at the Pentagon, the world after Sept. 11 will really never be the same. They may not have lost any of their own that day, but the 343 New York firefighters who perished in the World Trade Center weigh heavily on their minds. They know what could have happened here. It tested them in ways few could have imagined.
``9/11 was a plane crash, a building collapse, a fire and a terrorist attack all in one,'' said Dodie Gill, who runs the county's highly praised employee assistance program and has worked closely with its firefighters since Day One.
A few have paid a heavy price for what they did and what they and saw - haunted espacially by the images of severed body parts, of faces literally pealed away like masks by an intensity of heat that even veterans had not felt before.
``We deal with death and destruction all the time, but this was a different thing,'' said (Arlington Fire Captain Mike) Staples.
So was the degree of deeply strained or severed marriages, panic that twice sent one firefighter into heart afribrillation, an attempted suicide and, at last count, a dozen early retirements provoked by emotional aftershocks.
The Arlington County Fire Department made U.S. history when it hired Judith ``Judy’’ Brewer as the nation's first female career firefighter in 1974. It was front-page news.
Brewer’s hiring set off a social and political firestorm. ``The wives were upset about their husbands bunking with a woman,’’ Brewer recalled in an article in the Dec. 25, 1990 edition of The Washington Post. ``I’m still here, so obviously the concern died down eventually.’’
Brewer, whose last name then was Livers, was attracted to the fire service while helping her firefighter husband study for his fire science classes, according to the group Women in the Fire Service Inc.
A number of women had served as volunteer firefighters in the U.S. before then, starting with an African-American woman named Molly Williams in New York City in 1818. What’s more, female firefighters valiantly helped to protect London during the German air raids of World War II - ``The Blitz.''
Nonetheless, many of the Arlington firemen signed a petition urging Fire Chief Robert Groshon against hiring any more women as firefighters.
Wives demand meeting
Their wives demanded, and got, a meeting with the chief and County Manager Bert Johnson. Brewer was quoted as saying, ``Everybody watched me, everybody asked everybody else, `What did Judy do on that fire? I knew this would keep happening until I gained their acceptance.’’ Brewer was also quoted as saying, ``The wives are extremely upset. One of them screamed at me and told me not to talk to her husband.’’
Brewer was first assigned to Station No. 4 in Clarendon. Accommodations for women were lacking at the firehouse. She slept in the same bunkroom as the men. There were no partitions, so she slept with her clothes on, Groshon said. She was allowed, however, to shower in private in the duty battalion chief’s bathroom.
According to a profile of Brewer in the Jan. 18, 2001 edition of the Arlington Sun Gazette, which was written by Ingrid Kauffman of the Arlington Public Library, ``When she applied for the job she was not interested in breaking new ground as a woman. Nor did she realize she would be the first. She just wanted to be a firefighter. … From the beginning she had to overcome a lot of opposition, from both her male co-workers who didn’t think she would be able to do the job, and from their wives, who were concerned with the sleeping arrangements.’’
Recalling those events of more than a quarter century ago, Groshon said, ``I knew I was sticking my neck out’’ in being the first to hire a female firefighter, but ``there were no rules that said a woman couldn’t be hired.’’
Groshon was also impressed by Brewer’s determination. ``She came in looking for the job. I told if she passed the test we’d hire her. She flunked the sand bag test (in which fire service candidates hauled sandbags to test their strength) the first time. So she built her own sandbags and practiced at home.’’ She passed on her next try, he said.
Brewer, who advanced through the ranks of the fire department during her 25-year career, retired in 1999 as a battalion chief. She helped open the door for other female firefighters in Arlington County – and beyond.
As for Groshon, who retired in 1978, it can be said he was at the forefront of the ``progressive firefighting'' movement in the U.S.
In addition to opening the door to female firefighters, Groshon caused a stir by advocating the use of safety yellow for fire apparatus instead of the traditional red. Paramedics also debuted during Groshon's tenure.
Additionally, Groshon was instrumental in the creation of a regional response plan, in which the nearest Arlington, Alexandria of Fairfax units are dispatched on alarms, regardless of jurisdictional boundaries.
The fire department is committed to mitigating threats to life, property and the environment through education, prevention, and effective response to fire, medical, and environmental emergencies. - Mission statement
Today, the Arlington County Fire Department - led by Fire Chief James Schwartz - employs more than 300 firefighters and civilian employees and operates 10 fire stations, a fire academy and a logistics center. Fire administration is located at the Arlington County Courthouse. The volunteers of the Arlington County Fire & Rescue Association assist the career fire department.
Annual runs total about 30,000. Emergency medical calls account for about three-quarters of the yearly total, generating roughly $2 million in revenue. (The fire department has billed for ambulance service for many years.)
In fiscal 2004, the fire department budget totaled $29.9 million, according to county budget documents. That was up from $19.8 billion in fiscal 1996. Federal grants increased in the aftermath of the Pentagon attack.
The fire and rescue budget for fiscal 2005 is $31.6 million, a 5.7 percent increase from a year earlier. The proposed budget for fiscal 2006 is $31.7 million.
During fiscal 2004, Arlington County Fire Department employment - uniformed and civilian combined - totaled 305, up from 267 in fiscal 1996.
The rank structure and chain of command is fire chief, assistant chiefs, battalion chiefs, captains and firefighters. (The rank of lieutenant was eliminated in the 1990s.)
According to the county government's web site:
Arlington is an urban county of about 26 square miles located directly across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. No incorporated towns or cities lie within Arlington's boundaries.
Originally part of the ten-mile square surveyed for the nation's capital, the portion on the west bank of the Potomac River was returned to the Commonwealth of Virginia by the U.S. Congress in 1846. This area was known as Alexandria City and Alexandria County until 1920, when the county portion was renamed Arlington County.
Arlington had an estimated population of 198,739 as of January 1, 2004, reflecting an increase of 5% since 2000. It is among the most densely populated jurisdictions in the country with a population density of 7,700 persons per square mile more than cities such as Seattle, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.
County Manager Ron Carlee's proposed fiscal 2006 budget painted a picture of prosperity:
Arlington is once again extremely fortunate to have a thriving economy that has resulted in high incomes, low unemployment, and increased values in all classes of property.
Firehouses and apparatus in 2005
Each engine/quint company is staffed by a captain and three firefighters. Each truck and rescue company is staffed by a captain and two or three firefighters. Medic units are staffed by two paramedics or a paramedic and a firefighter. All firefighters are certified as emergency medical technicians (EMTs).
Each platoon is commanded by two battalion chiefs - one for the northside and the other for the southside.
Station 1 - Glebe Road
Engine 101, Medic 101, Hazmat 101, Battalion 111 (southside duty chief), EMS 111 (southside medical supervisor)
Station 2 - Ballston
Engine 102, Medic 102, EMS 112 (northside medical supervisor), Metro Support Unit, Ambulance 102 (volunteer)
Station 3 - Cherrydale
Station 4 - Clarendon
Quint 104 (Plans called for a new aerial ladder company, Truck 104, to replace Quint 104, a combination pumper and aerial ladder), Rescue 104, Battalion 112 (northside duty chief), FM 114 (duty fire marshal and logistics coordinator)
Station 5 - Crystal City
Engine 105, Tower 105, Medic 105
Station 6 - Falls Church
Engine 106, Truck 106, Medic 106, Ambulance 106 (volunteer), Utility 106 (volunteer), Canteen 106 (volunteer)
Station 7 - Fairlington
Station 8 - Hall's Hill
Engine 108, Medic 108 (part-time), Light & Air 103
Station 9 - Walter Reed Drive
Quint 109, Rescue 109
Station 10 - Rosslyn
Engine 110, Medic 110
Two other career fire departments operate in Arlington County - the U.S. Army's Fort Myer Fire Department and the airport authority's fire department at Reagan National Airport. Both of the departments work closely with the county fire and rescue service.
The Arlington County Emergency Communications Center - ECC - dispatches fire and police units and answers the county's 911 emergency telephone line.
Among the priorities in the 2005 fire and rescue budget:
Maintain timely, efficient and quality responses to requests for assistance from the residents of Arlington County by maintaining a sufficient number of trained Firefighters/Paramedics and officers.
Continue to implement the paramedic engine concept to improve response time to the increasing number of medical emergencies and the overall effectiveness of the Advanced Life Support (ALS) program; and improve training and supervision for all Firefighter/Paramedics.
Continue to expand our Smoke Detector, Public Education and Life Safety Programs and the Confidence Testing Program for fire protection systems.
Enhance the information systems capabilities and technology applications within the Department.
Continue comprehensive ambulance billing collection and implementing a human resources system.
Maintain and enhance effective response elements for response to terrorism events and natural disasters.
Today's modern fire department had humble beginnings.
Organized firefighting in Arlington County began in 1898 with the establishment of the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department. Arlington, then called Alexandria County (the name was changed in the 1920s), was rural in the 19th century. Those first volunteers pulled their hose carts to fires. They didn't use horses.
According to Kathy Holt-Springston, Cherrydale's resident historian:
During the first few years after the CVFD was organized, the equipment (consisting of leather buckets, bells, and ladders) stayed out in the open. By 1906, a small shed (later referred to as "House #2") on what is now Taylor Street was erected to house the County's first mechanized equipment - a hand-drawn water and hose cart. "Engine House #1," another small shed with a hose tower atop, was completed on the grounds of the old Cherrydale School in December 1912. It housed the first real fire engine in Arlington, a 60-gallon pumper engine which was purchased by the Cherrydale Volunteers in 1913. In 1914, "Engine House #3" was erected in the Maywood area. "Engine House #4" was completed a few months afterwards. These buildings housed additional firefighting apparatus owned by the Volunteers, including a ladder truck and chemical engine.
Other fire companies were organized in the early 20th Century: the Arlington VFD, the Ballston VFD, the Clarendon VFD, the Jefferson District VFD, the Falls Church VFD and the Hall's Hill VFD. The volunteer fire companies were often organized under the auspices of citizens associations. Other volunteer companies served Fort Myer Heights and East Arlington (also called Queen City) but were disbanded before World War II. The Bon Air VFD operated for a short time as a division of the Ballston company.
An article from the Sept. 5, 1923 edition of The Evening Star announced the formation of ``The Arlington Volunteer Fire Department, the latest fire fighting the body in Arlington County.’’ The Star reported a chemical engine ``of the latest design, carrying two forty-gallon tanks, with auxiliary hand tanks ands buckets’’ was presented to Chief Ralph Snoots by the Arlington Citizen’s Association and the Arlington Athletic Club.
In the 1940s, the Fairlington VFD was established. Because the county was racially segregated, the Hall's Hill and East Arlington companies were reserved for African Americans. (East Arlington, also known as ``Queen City,'' was leveled to make way for the construction of the Pentagon. A number of buildings in that old neighborhood burned in a conflagration shortly after they were condemned, according to old timers.)
The white-only volunteer companies formed an umbrella group, the Arlington Firemen's Association, in December 1935, as a predecessor to an earlier alliance called the Arlington-Fairfax Firemen's Association. That earlier organization represented the interests of fire companies in Arlington and neighboring Fairfax County. John Paul Jones served as one of the volunteer association's earliest and most influential presidents, and played an instrumental role in the effort to equip fire apparatus with two-way radios.
Volunteering was - and still is - a dangerous business, and at least three of the early volunteer firefighters died in the line of duty before the establishment of the Arlington County Fire Department in 1940.
Arlington County’s first paid firefighters went on the job on July 15, 1940 though the push for a career force started in the 1930s, with the chamber of commerce, civic associations – and even the volunteer fire companies – at the forefront of the lobbying effort.
The county's first fire marshal, Albert Scheffel, was appointed 13 years earlier in 1927. Scheffel, who got his start as a volunteer at Company 1, was named Arlington County's first paid fire chief in the 1930s.
Newspaper accounts from 1936 tell of a campaign to hire full-time paid firefighters in addition to the volunteers who had valiantly served the county since the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department was organized in 1898.
``The county has come to the point where it not only needs, but must have a paid fire department,’’ said Munroe Stockett, a member of the Arlington County Chamber of Commerce, quoted by the Jan. 16, 1936 edition of the Sun newspaper.
Benefits of paid department
The Sun’s reporter added that Stockett praised the volunteers for their ``efficiency and voluntary service’’ but that ``he believed the county would save money by paying for fulltime firemen, since it would mean a decrease in loss of property, lowered insurance rates and increased protection of fire equipment.’’
John Malloch, president of the Arlington County Volunteer Firemen’s Association, also expressed support for a paid fire department but expressed concern about the cost – an estimated $14,000 annually to employ 14 paid men, or two men for seven of the county's stations.
Still, to some it wasn’t proper ``to ask or expect the young men of our county to give their time in our behalf without compensation,’’ said Walter Varney of the Arlington County Civic Federation, according to Sun on March 5, 1936.
Discussions and planning continued into 1937, 1938 and 1939.
Group of 18
Finally in June 1940, County Manager Frank Hanrahan announced that the first career firefighters – a group of 18 from the volunteer ranks – would go on duty July 1, 1940 after passing physical examinations.
Chief Scheffel asked each volunteer company for a list of candidates. Bureaucracy and politics being what they are, the men didn’t actually go on the job until July 15, earning a starting salary $100 a month.
They were assigned as follows:
Arlington: Carl Scheffel, William McAtee and J.R. Snoots. (Snoots later transferred to the police department).
Ballston: William Stoneburner, Harvey Smallwood and Frank Biggs.
Cherrydale: Elmer Marcey, George Robertson and Maynard Howard. (Robertson drowned off duty and Howard transferred to the District of Columbia Fire Dept., according to retired Battalion Chief James Fought.)
Clarendon: Charles Padget, Samuel Krigbaum and Julian Georgie.
Jefferson District: Lawrence Finisecy, Herbert Tyler and Clarence Bly.
Falls Church: Herbert Sterling, Herbert Knox and Dean Blood.
None of the paid men were initially assigned to the Hall’s Hill station. (In the first part of the 20th Century, racial segregation was the rule in much of the country, and Hall's Hill -- Company 8 -- was staffed by African-American volunteers. The first paid black firefighters weren't hired until after the end of World War II.)
At least two of the career firefighters were expected to be on duty at all times, mainly serving as drivers for the volunteers. They weren’t outfitted with uniforms until August 1940 – when the county provided ``summer outfits of blue.’’ Hanrahan impressed upon the new hires `` the success of an ultimately fully paid fire department rests on the cooperation and success of this small nucleus of firemen.’’
When World War II broke out, the county hired more firefighters as the war effort depleted the ranks of both the paid and volunteer forces. In 1943, the county board raised the annual salary for third-year firefighters to $2,050 from $1,680, second year to $1,780 from $1,680, and first year to $1,690 from $1,540. Hanrahan took into account ``the cost of living and the salaries now being paid.’’
There were expressions of concern when the paid department started. All in all, though, ``A fine spirit of cooperation prevails,’’ Hanrahan said, stressing ``the importance of the maintaining the volunteer spirit.’’
1940s, 1950s and 1960s
The National Airport Fire Department, operated by the federal government, was organized in 1941, the same year as the airport. The airport’s first firehouse was located along Mount Vernon Highway. In 1943, a crash station opened on the airfield. (The federal government also operated fire departments at Fort Myer, the South Post of Fort Myer and the Army's Arlington Hall Station during this period.)
The county's only Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph ``pull boxes'' were installed on streets in the Fairlington neighorhood and rang directly into the Fairlington firehouse. Here's how the Gamewell system worked, according to a ``virtual museum of electronics'' called ``Reverse Time Page" (http://uv201.com):
Fire alarm telegraph systems came into use in the mid 19th century, and were a primary method of reporting fire alarms throughout the 20th century. ... The fire alarm telegraph system relied on the familiar red fire alarm boxes located throughout a city or town. These were the transmitters ... Each alarm box contained a code wheel which was unique to the particular box in which it was installed. When the alarm was activated, the code wheel turned and operated a switch. This transmitted the coded pattern over the telegraph system to the receiver (register) in the fire house which punched holes in a moving strip of paper. The pattern of holes served to identify which alarm box had sent the signal and, thus, the location. This register was generally used with a bell to alert the fire fighters on duty.
Fairlington's Gamewell system remained in use for many years but was prone to abuse. An entry from Station No. 7's journal dated May 5, 1961 read: ``3:19 p.m. Called Fire Marshal Shelton in regard to a kid that pulled Box 51. Gave him the child’s name and address. A little girl gave me this boy’s name’’ – Shackleford on watch.
In 1951, the county established its first fire alarm office. Police had dispatched fire apparatus. Before World War II, fire alarms were received at the central switchboard at the county courthouse. The phone number was CLARENDON 3200. Sirens alerted volunteers.
In 1955, the predecessor of today’s union, the Arlington County Paid Firemen’s Benefit Association, was organized by three of the career firefighters, according to retired firefighter Frank Higgins. Today, the union is called the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association, Local 2800 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
In January 1956, Joseph Clements took command of the department upon Scheffel's retirement. Clements served as fire chief until his retirement in 1973. The rank of battalion chief was also introduced in the 1950s. (At first, the duty battalion chief covered the entire county. Starting in the late 1980s, two battalion chiefs were assigned to each 24-hour shift - a northside battalion chief and a southside battalion chief.)
In 1957, as the population increased, the number of house fires exceeded the number of brush fire and trash fires for the first time, according to Higgins.
The first fire stations built by Arlington County government, No. 9 on Walter Reed Drive and No. 10 on Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn , were opened in 1957 and 1958. Over the years, volunteer-owned stations have been replaced by county-built firehouses.
The 56-hour workweek went into effect for the career firefighters in December 1962, with the introduction of the three-platoon system. The duty schedule consisted of four days of day work (10 hours), four days of night work (14 hours) and four days off. Before the three-platoon system, firefighters worked in two shifts, with longer hours on and fewer days off. The 24-hour shift went into effect in 1984.
Chief Darne remembers
Retired Battalion Chief Ralph Darne, who was hired in 1965, recounted his early days on the fire department in a presentation to Recruit School 52 on July 7, 1999:
In 1965, Station 7 was the slowest station, making a total of 163 runs – or a call every 48 hours. Thirty years later, Station 7 was still the slowest station, but it ran 1,425 fire and medical calls – almost nine times more than 1965. The starting salary for a firefighter in 1965 was $5,620 annually. In 1999, the starting salary was just over $31,000.
A captain and four firefighters were assigned to two-piece engine companies in the 1960s, with the exception of Station 7 where a lieutenant was assigned as the officer. In reality, actual staffing usually consisted of the captain and three firefighters, with the officer and two firefighters on the wagon, and a firefighter on the pumper. Taking into account leave and little or no budget for overtime, engine companies frequently ran with two men on the wagon and one man on the engine.
Ladder companies were assigned a lieutenant and two firefighters, but frequently ran with two men – one driving and the other on the tiller. Falls Church Truck 6, a straight ladder, frequently ran with a single firefighter.
The Northern Virginia Regional Response Plan – NOVA – became operational on Dec. 15, 1975 in Arlington County, the City of Alexandria and Fairfax County, allowing for the automatic dispatch of the nearest fire and rescue units, regardless of jurisdictional lines - the ``mutual box.’’
Arlington County Fire Chief Robert Groshon, Alexandria Fire Chief Milton Penn and George Alexander, director of fire and rescue services in Fairfax County, signed the agreement on Dec. 12, 1975. Other fire departments have since joined the pact, essentially creating a regional fire department with more than 60 stations.
``We knew a person trapped in a burning building didn’t care which fire department rescued them,’’ said Groshon. ``We got to thinking here’s a guy hanging out a window three blocks from Station 7 and he’s waiting for Alexandria to get there.’’
Before the NOVA plan, the fire departments – at first through gentlemen’s agreements and then formal pacts – provided mutual aid on a case by case basis.
Early mutual aid arrangements
An old logbook provided by the late Robert Potter, a former president of Company 1, listed a variety of runs out of the county in the 1920s and 1930s. These included: Fire at the Luther Cleveland residence in Bailey’s Crossroads on March 8, 1928, a blaze at the Fairfax Apartments in Alexandria on Jan. 2, 1929, and a barn fire at the Lynch pig farm in Annandale on Nov. 19, 1930.
Mutual aid runs tended to stretch the resources of Arlington’s fire and rescue services, according to a Dec. 8, 1930 letter discovered by retired Battalion Chief Ralph Darne. In that letter C.L. Kinnier, the county’s directing engineer, told W. Glen Bixler, chief of the Jefferson District Volunteer Fire Department:
As a result of recent fires in Fairfax County, the question of taking the fire equipment out of the county has risen again. I will call to your attention the fact that before taking any equipment out of the county it is necessary to first secure permission from the supervisor in whose district the equipment is located or from me.
In case of receiving this permission only one piece of equipment is to be taken from the fire house and only in case there is sufficient manpower left to take care of any fire that might originate in that territory during your absence. I will appreciate it if you will see that this rule is enforced.
On June 11, 1929, a fire that leveled Veal & Walters’ garage in McLean in Fairfax County illustrated the demands placed on Arlington County’s fire companies. Cherrydale, Clarendon, Ballston, Arlington and Jefferson District all answered the alarm, and supplemented firefighters from McLean, Fairfax and Falls Church. Alexandria also sent help.
What’s more ``the Cherrydale fire engine sideswiped a telephone pole while making the run to McLean, but was not prevented from continuing to the fire,’’ The Washington Post reported. ``Jack Horner, a member of the Cherrydale department, was slightly injured. Horner was standing on the side of the truck that grazed the pole.’’
There had been other tension over the years.
In the 1960s, Station 6 in Falls Church, staffed by paid personnel from Arlington County and volunteers from the City of Falls Church, spent a considerable amount of time in Fairfax County, drawing down Arlington County’s on duty force. Its apparatus and station were equipped with both Arlington County and Fairfax County radios – and Fairfax County never established its own Company 6 or Station 6 because Falls Church’s equipment made so many runs into Fairfax.
Of course, neighboring fire departments regularly made runs into Arlington.
The District of Columbia sent its Engine 5 and Engine 29 for a fire at the Washington Golf and Country Club in the 1930s, recalled retired Battalion Chief James Fought. The Alexandria Fire Department sent apparatus to the general alarm fire at the Murphy & Ames Lumber Yard in Rosslyn on Dec. 28, 1951. Companies from as far as Maryland responded to the devastating Pentagon fire on July 2, 1959.
Implementing the plan
The NOVA agreement itself met some opposition. Some firefighters voiced concern about the agreement’s impact on future hiring and staffing levels.
While all companies in Arlington County, Alexandria and Fairfax County are today ``on the card’’ for ``mutual box'' runs, the automatic response plan was initially phased in, starting with Arlington County Station 7 in Fairlington and Fairfax County Station 10 in Bailey’s Crossroads.
Both firehouses are located close to municipal boundaries. As a result, Bailey’s Crossroads is first due along the western stretch of Columbia Pike in Arlington County, and Fairlington is first due on a number of boxes in Alexandria.
Drills were held so firefighters could become better acquainted with each department’s apparatus and operations, and standard communications practices were put into place.
When the NOVA program was implemented, tactical calls were assigned to each of the fire departments. Numbers 1-49 for Fairfax County, 50-59 for Alexandria and 70-89 for Arlington County. The numbers 60-69 were assigned to the fire departments at National and Dulles airports as well as military posts.
For example, Arlington County Engine Co. 3 – Cherrydale – became Engine 73 on the air and in the dispatch protocol.
Alarm zones – commonly known as boxes (named for the old street corner red fire boxes) – were established to allow for efficient and uniform dispatching, with the first two digits of a four-digit ``box'' designator identifying the first due fire station. The Rosslyn high rise district, for example, was assigned Box 7002. Arlington County Fire Station No. 10 – Engine 70 – was first due. Or, in another example, Box 0147 denoted a Fairfax County alarm zone in the territory of the McLean firehouse, Fairfax Co. 1.
Additionally, a separate VHF radio channel – called NOVA (154.265 Megahertz) – was allocated as well to manage mutual boxes.
In an effort to avoid confusion, the radio designation of the fire alarm offices was aligned to the jurisdiction, i.e., Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax. In the past, generic designations such as ‘’headquarters’’ had been used, according to Darne.
On Jan. 5, 1998, the tactical calls of the field units were again changed – to three digits – coinciding with the greater use of 800-Megahertz trunked radio systems across the region. Box designations, however, remained the same. Under the revised plan, Arlington County units were assigned 100-series calls, i.e. Engine 73 became Engine 103. Alexandria units were assigned 200-series calls, the airports 300-series calls, and Fairfax County 400-series and 800-series calls.