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.

Friday, February 11, 2005



Murphy's Five and Dime - 1968


Two hours after closing on Feb. 21, 1953, fire swept the Safeway supermarket at Lee Highway and North Buchanan Street. The general alarm fire brought all of Arlington County’s fire companies to the scene, according to newspapers. Companies from Alexandria and Fairfax County filled Arlington County’s fire stations.

The first alarm was transmitted at about 11 p.m., followed almost immediately by a second and third alarm. Flames could be seen for two miles that Saturday night. Traffic was detoured to Little Falls Road.

At the height of the inferno, the roof of the one-store brick building collapsed. Firefighters had been ordered off the roof before it gave way. The store’s big plate glass window exploded, sending shards onto Lee Highway. ``Huge cracks appeared in the side wall,’’ according to The Washington Star. ``Firemen feared the wall would buckle.’’

Retired Battalion Chief James Fought, then captain of Rescue Squad 5, recalled that crews took a beating as they advanced hose lines through the loading platform at the rear of the supermarket. ``The fire had gotten into the dropped ceiling,’’ said Fought. ``It was hell to get under control.’’

Firefighters also encountered an exposure problem. They played streams on a house at 4803 Lee Highway to prevent the fire from spreading. Mrs. Virginia Turner lived in the house, the Post said. The blaze apparently started in an incinerator. No serious injuries were reported though first aid crews administered oxygen to at least one firefighter. The fire was declared under control at 1:55 a.m.

According to firehouse folklore, a few of the men had managed to ``rescue’’ a ham for Sunday dinner at their firehouse. The Star and Post both carried front-page accounts of the Safeway fire in their Feb. 22 editions, along side accounts of an arson fire that destroyed Kann’s warehouse in downtown Washington.


In December 1935, controversy embroiled Arlington County. Prohibition had ended and the Commonwealth of Virginia decided to open an ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) store at 3131 Wilson Boulevard in Clarendon on a trial basis.

Many people were against the state's decision, and yet the store opened on Christmas Eve - and stayed open until 11 p.m. that night. Business was brisk. County police officers and Sheriff Howard Fields were on hand as a precaution, and yet there were no reports of protest or disorderly conduct.

However, at about 3 a.m. on Dec. 26th, the day after Christmas, flames were discovered behind the store by a passerby who sounded the alarm.

Members of the Clarendon and Ballston volunteer fire departments - no doubt enthusiastic customers of the new enterprise - responded and waged a valiant battle to save the building and its contents - more than 2,000 cases of liquor.

The blaze apparently started in boxes and rubbish piled outside the rear of the ABC store.

Damage was limited to the exterior. ``The blaze was put out after a window frame had been burned and telephone and light wire felled by the flames,’’ according to The Sun newspaper, though no cause was listed.


Arlington County firefighters helped Fairfax County crews save a woman from a rocky islet at Great Falls on July 4, 1949. Truck 1 from Clarendon made the mutual aid run at the request of the McLean and Forestville (now Great Falls) fire departments. Thousands of picnickers witnessed the Potomac River rescue.

Martha Treml, 25, ``calmly waited more than three hours on a jagged rock as firemen worked to get ladders from the Virginia shore across the surging 100-foot stretch of water to Middle Rock,’’ The Washington Post said. ``Miss Treml was wading when the churning waters of the Great Falls spout made her lose her footing. The water’s force pushed her steadily toward the edge of a 20-foot waterfall. She saved herself from probable death by clinging to one of the crags jutting out from Middle Rock.’’

Fairfax County’s first fire chief, John Carper, directed the rescue. During World War II, Fairfax County hired Carper, a member of the McLean Volunteer Fire Department, to procure supplies from the War Rationing Board for its 11 volunteer fire companies. Fairfax County hired its first 10 career firefighters in 1949. They were paid on the same scale as school janitors and wore the same uniforms, according to the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department’s website.


It was a BIG barbecue. Flames destroyed a commissary building at Fort Myer on Nov. 27, 1950. The blaze broke out after midnight at the central meat cutting plant and raged until dawn. The Army estimated the damage at $126,000 – including the post meat supply, valued at $110,000.

``Escaping refrigeration gas fed the blaze until only the brick walls of the single-story, 200-foot long structure remained standing,’’ The Washington Post reported. ``When four Arlington fire companies and the post fire units arrived at the scene, the flames were shooting through the commissary roof.’’ Firefighters Harry Leep Jr. and F.B. Adams suffered minor injuries after falling on icy pavement.

The warehouse, which was located off Sheridan Boulevard near the Lee Boulevard boundary of the north post, was built in the early 1900s. County police officers E.R. Davis and W.H. Corsini, on patrol on Lee Boulevard, sounded the alarm. Fort Myer’s new firehouse is located on the site, according to Frank Higgins, a retired county firefighter.

Later that day, Arlington firefighters waged battle on a blaze at the Thompson residence, a two-story frame dwelling at 1715 N. Edison St. ``Only the walls and portions of the roof … remained intact,’’ the Post reported. Two more firefighters – Charles Theodore and James Fought – suffered minor injuries at that blaze.

1920s and 1930s

May 11, 1929 - Fire caused $25,000 damage to the shops building at the old U.S. Experimental Farm. Volunteers companies from Jefferson District, Clarendon, Ballston and Halls’ Hill fought the fire along with two District of Columbia fire comoanies, Engine 3 and Engine 5. On June 6, 1930, Arlington crews answered another alarm at the Experimental Farm, which was located near the present site of the Pentagon.

January 1936 - A fast-moving fire gutted the William Bobeck residence at 11th and North Frederick Street. After members of the Ballston Volunteer Fire Department extinguished the blaze in the frame bungalow, they found six canaries asphyxiated by the smoke, according to The Sun newspaper.

1940s and 1950s

Aug. 22, 1941 - Danny Cross, 12, of Arlington, was trying out his new bicycle when he spotted a fire in a house. ``Outdistancing his companions who were on foot, Danny raced to the burning home and saved a mother and her two children,'' The Washington Post reported.

Dec. 27, 1943 - Firefighter Julian Georgie, one of the county’s first paid men, rescued a 4-year-old girl from a house fire at 907 North Highland Street. Georgie climbed through a second-floor window to reach the girl after smoke from a basement fire trapped the girl upstairs, according to The Sun newspaper. The fire started in the furnace.

1940s - Arlington County firefighters helped at a warehouse fire on the Alexandria waterfront. They were assigned to relay water from the Potomac River but their worn hose burst when the D.C. fireboat charged the line. New equipment was scarce during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the war years.

Jan. 30, 1944 - A spectacular blaze destroyed a large garage and several vehicles at Fort Myer, according to The Washington Post.

Aug. 2, 1944 - Torrential rain pounded Arlington County, causing flooding at the Jubal Early Homes. In some places, floodwater rose to a depth of six feet, according to the Sun newspaper. Firefighters, police, civil defense personnel and Army engineers evacuated 170 families from the government-sponsored, low-cost housing development located between South Fern and South Eads streets, just off South 23rd Street. The basement of old Station No. 5 flooded as well, according to retired Firefighter Clayton DeKay.

December 1944 - A house fire killed three children on or near South Four Mile Run Drive. Until a rooming house fire in 1986 that also claimed three lives, this was the greatest loss of life in a fire in the history of Arlington County.)

Jan. 30 1945 - Fire damaged the Greystone Restaurant at 650 North Glebe Rd. ``Fire Chief Al Scheffel had to call on three companies in order to get enough men to form a crew,'' The Washington Post reported.

Feb. 21, 1945 - Flames damaged four one-family units at Shirley Homes, a federal housing development on South Scott Street in Shirlington. The Arlington Chapter of the American Red Cross assisted the displaced occupants, all members of the military and their families.

Oct. 16, 1945 - Judge Hugh Raid ordered county welfare authorities to investigate why 3-year-old Sandra Jean Cheatham was left in a locked room in a radio repair shop that caught fire, according to The Washington Post.

July 18, 1946 - A 14-year-old Arlington boy saved a 3-year-old child from ``almost certain death'' at a fire, according to The Washington Post.

Summer of 1947 - Cold war hysteria? A flurry of UFO sightings were reported across the Washington region. An Air Force investigation determined the sightings mostly stemmed from ``mass hysteria and hallucination, hoax, or misinterpretation of known objects,'' according to the Central Intellignce Agency. It's not known if the Arlington County Fire Department had contingency plans for an alien landing. More sightings were reported in July 1952 when radar scopes at National Airport tracked ``mysterious blips.'' Police and fire switchboards were probably pretty busy during these scares.

Aug. 5, 1949 - Hot cakes! Firefighters battled for almost two hours to extinguish a blaze at the Hot Shoppe restaurant at Kirkwood Road and Lee Highway. The fire started in the kitchen at dawn.

Aug. 24, 1949 - Today's editions of The Washington Post report: ``The theory that chemical fumes from a burning television set gave ten Arlington firemen aching noggins in a recent fire was pooh-poohed yesterday by the United States Public Health Service and the Bureau of Standards.''

Late 1940s or early 1950s - A three-alarm blaze swept the Ives Funeral Home at 2847 Wilson Boulevard. Firefighters James Fought, of Company 2, and Frank Higgins Jr., of Company 4, suffered smoke inhalation. The fire apparently started near a first-floor stairwell and swept much of the second floor, except for a room containing an embalmed body. Fire apparatus responded from Clarendon, Cherrydale, Ballston and Jefferson District.

June 3, 1950 - In the aftermath of a service station fire, the Arlington County Board voted unanimously to outlaw self-service gasoline pumps, on the recommendation of Chief Scheffel.

Oct. 27, 1950 - Two-alarm fire destroyed electronic equipment stored on the third floor of Arlington County school system's new warehouse.

March 11, 1953 - A general alarm fire swept Worthington Oil Refiners, Inc. at 2201 N. Oak St. before dawn.

Oct. 30, 1953 - A 5-year-old girl suffered severe burns when her Halloween costume was ignited by a candle-lit jack-o'-lantern during a party at a private school, The Washington Post reported.

Oct. 15, 1954 - Hurricane Hazel slammed into Arlington County, and Washington National Airport reported sustained winds of 78 m.p.h. with gusts to 98, according to the National Weather Service.

Aug. 17, 1957 - Firefighter Woodrow "Woody" Griffin, 40, was overcome by smoke in a fire at the Newlon Transfer & Storage Co. warehouse on Fern Street at North 15th Street (now vicinity of I-66). Griffin was treated at Arlington Hospital and released. The fire caused $100,000 damage, according to The Washington Star. Also during this period, which coincided with the opening of Fire Station No. 9, firefighters battled a major blaze at the Hollinger Box Factory at 3824 Four Mile Run Dr. The box factory was ``fully involved'' upon the arrival of the fire department.

1960s and 1970s

March 26, 1962 - ``Better make my order to go!'' Fire damaged the Tops Drive-Inn restaurant - an Arlington landmark and home of the ``Sir Loiner'' - at 40 North Glebe Road. Hamburger joints are prone to grease and ductwork fires.

Nov. 2, 1965 - Norman Morrison, 32, a devout Quaker, set himself ablaze outside the Pentagon to protest the war in Vietnam. Morrison had taken his baby daughter, Emily, with him and either set her down or handed her off before burning to death.

1966 - Fire damaged AAMCO Transmissions on Wilson Boulevard.

March 10, 1968 - Fire damaged a medical building at 3215 Columbia Pike.

Oct. 23, 1968 - Flames gutted Murphy's Five and Dime Store in Clarendon. The blaze was discovered by the crew of Wagon 4, on their return from an alarm at Bergman's Laundry, according to Fought. The store’s contents were destroyed.

May 31, 1969 - A blaze at the Hechinger’s store in Falls Church warranted second-alarm assignments from both Arlington and Fairfax Counties, according to retired firefighter Frank Higgins. More than 100 firefighters from 12 companies used an estimated million gallons of water to extinguish the flames, prompting the declaration of a water emergency, The Washington Star said. ``You could drop it in the Potomac and it still won't go out,'' Battalion Chief James Fought told the Falls Church fire chief. On that same day in 1969, Arlington firefighters fought an apartment fire at 4418 North 19th Street, scene of a standoff between police and a man armed with a gun. The suspect was found dead, the Star said. Police used a fire department aerial.

Feb. 16, 1970 - A blaze damaged the Page Airways Terminal at National Airport.

Dec. 31, 1970 - Fire gutted a United Airlines jetliner parked at Gate 25 at National Airport. Passengers were only minutes away from boarding Flight 589 to Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee. The fire broke out behind an oxygen service panel near the twin-engine Boeing 737’s nose, according to The Washington Post.

May 19, 1972 - A pipe bomb destroyed a restroom at the Pengaton. The radical group ``Weather Underground'' claimed responsibility for the bomb. No one was injured in the after-hours explosion.

September 1974 - fire damaged the Modern Living Furniture Warehouse at 4160 South Four Mile Run Drive.

December 1976 - Tragedy was averted when Captain Frank Biggs and another firefighter climbed down from a roof on the verge of collapse during a two-alarm house fire at 3811 South 18th Street, according to The Washington Star.

January 1977 - A three-alarm fire destroyed Robinson's Upholstery shop and three apartments at 1229 North Irving Street. A heater ignited some paint thinner, according to The Journal newspapers.

April 28, 1977 - A corporate jet crashed in McLean in Fairfax County after taking off from National Airport, damaging homes along Old Stable Road and Foxhound Road. The crash killed the four people on the aircraft. There were no injuries on the ground. A day later, a three-alarm fire damaged the Woodlake Towers Building No. 2 at 3100 South Manchester Street in Arlington.

1970s - Arlington County firefighters battled major fires at the old Brown Derby Restaurant at Shirlington Circle as well as a dining hall at the Pentagon. Flames also gutted a drug store in Rosslyn.

1980s and 1990s

April 4, 1982 - Arlington County firefighters responded to a "mutual box" at the Filene Center at the Wolf Trap National Park for the performing arts in Fairfax County. The nightime blaze leveled the famous outdoor theater. Retired Battalion Chief Ralph Darne, then an engine company officer at Station No. 6 in Falls Church, recalled seeing the glow in the sky as Engine 76 approached from several miles away.

June 6, 1982 - A bomb damaged the Arlington-Fairfax Medical Center, a women's clinic. Anti-abortion protesters bombed a number of clinics in the Washington area during the 1980s.

Autumn 1985 - An Eastern Airlines Boeing 727 shuttle to New York skidded off the north end of the main runway at National Airport - and onto the grass - after a close call with a helicopter. National Airport and Arlington County firefighters responded to the call with the airport's Medic 62 coming up on the county fire dispatch channel to alert county dispatchers that an aircraft had gone off the runway. There were no serious injuries among the passengers, which included David Hartman, host of ABC-TV's ``Good Morning America.'' The runway, which borders the Potomac River, had been extended after the 1982 Air Florida disaster.

Oct. 16, 1985 - Captain William Moose and firefighters George Hollingsworth and Elroy Rowe rescued 95-year-old Cosa Thomas and her neighbor from an apartment fire at Colonial Village at 1724 Queens Lane. The neighbor, Jean McRae, commended county firefighters in a letter to the county board. ``Each time I hear the sirens now, I am reminded of the risks they take in the performance of their duties,’’ McRae wrote. The incident commander at that blaze was Battalion Chief Claude ``Bucky’’ Jenkins.

July 15, 1986 - Latest edition of the fire department newsletter Fire Lines included the following item about Fire Station No. 4 Commander Floyd Walters: ``Is it true that Commander Walters really gave `mouth-to-mouth’ to the dog he saved on Granada Street? Nice job, Cap’n! Yuk, Phooey, Hack, Hack, and you can’t kiss me anymore, either!’’

Nov. 14, 1986 - A fire in a rooming house in Ballston killed three people and investigators blamed the blaze on discarded smoking materials in the kitchen.

Late 1980s - The Arlington County Fire Department battled a late night house fire on Washington Boulevard, close to the Glebe Road and Interstate 66. Sadly, the fire claimed the life of the occupant, who had stacked his home -- floor to ceiling -- with old newspapers and a variety of other items. His chared body was found at the bottom of the stairs, surrounded by the clutter - including a space heater propped up by a tire. Such tragedies aren't uncommon in the fire and rescue service, and the New York City Fire Department even has a name for it - "Collyer's Mansion Conditions," dating back to a bizarre incident in the 1930s in which the bodies of two eccentric brothers were found buried in trash in their once fashionable mansion.

Late 1980s - Fire damaged a building at the U.S. Army's old Arlington Hall Station on Route 50. Firefighters from Engine 66 - the old Arlington Hall Fire Department - were the first on the scene at Box 6672. Engine 66 rarely turned a wheel.

Late 1980s - Fire crews responded for a fire in an underground electrical vault at the Holiday Inn in Rosslyn, and after the incident firefighters expressed concern about exposure to the toxic chemical PCB, used in electric transformers. (In Washington, a PCB fire forced the closure and a prolonged cleanup at the Washington Hilton Hotel.)

July 31, 1994 - An arson fire damaged the Commonwealth Women's Clinic in Falls Church. Women's clinics have been the target of anti-abortion groups.

Nov. 15, 1996 - Smoke and fumes from a smoldering kitchen fire killed a family of four – including a 4-month old baby – at the Park Warren Apartments in the 800-block of South Dickerson Street early. A faulty smoke alarm may have cost the family their lives, according to The Washington Post. The fire, itself, was confined to the kitchen.

April 12, 1998 - Nineteen cars of a CSX freight train derailed near Crystal City, shutting down freight and passenger service between Washington and Richmond. There were no injuries.

Jan. 31, 1999 - Three firefighters were injured in a fire that destroyed a 2 ½-story single-family home at the corner of 13th Street and North Stafford Street, just across from Washington & Lee High School. Balloon construction ``was primarily responsible for the rapid development of this fire,’’ according to Pat Evinger, deputy chief of the Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department.

Nov. 21, 1999 - Fire caused extensive damage to the City Sunoco service station at 930 West Broad Street in Falls Church.

Nov. 29, 1999 - Fire caused more than $300,000 in damage to the Crystal Towers South apartments in Crystal City. Two firefighters were injured.

Dec. 31, 1999 - The fire department was placed on a high state of alert for Y2K. Nothing happened.

Early 21st Century
A new century, more calls:

A three-alarm fire on July 1, 2001 destroyed a warehouse at 205 West Jefferson Street in Falls Church. Six firefighters were injured. The Pentagon was the scene of a two-alarm electrical fire on Aug. 2, 2001.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks (see separate article), firefighters dealt with the fallout from the anthrax attacks across the U.S., responding to calls reporting suspicious letters, suspicious white powder, etc., etc.

On Feb. 12, 2002, crews from Arlington County and Fairfax County helped Alexandria firefighters battle a four-alarm structure fire in Old Town.

March 2002 roared in like a lion for the Arlington County Fire Department. A two-alarm fire and explosion damaged a construction site in the 1800-block of North Oak Street in Rosslyn on March 7 followed by a three-alarm blaze March 9 at the Buchanan House at 2301 Jefferson Davis Highway in Crystal City.

A pair of snipers terrorized the Washington area in October 2002 and struck at the Home Depot at the Seven Corners Center on Oct. 14, 2002, killing Arlington resident Linda Franklin.

On Jan. 11, 2003, firefighters and paramedics attempted to save Arlington County Board Chairman Charles Monroe, who suffered a fatal stroke while presiding over his first board meeting as chairman. Two members of the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department were seated in the audience and performed CPR until the paramedics arrived, The Journal newspaper said.

On Jan. 20, 2003, a Metrorail blue line train derailed near Reagan National Airport, prompting a fire department response. There were no injuries. The transit authority attributed the accident to ``improper work on the track.''

On Jan. 30, 2003, National Airport firefighters extinguished a fire in a de-icing truck next to an aircraft and rescued a worker trapped in the truck's bucket, which was extended about 12 feet. Foam 331 knocked down the flames and Rescue Engine 335's crew rescued the d worker, according to Foam 345, Medic 325, Battalion 301 and FM 313 also responded and Arlington Engine 105 provided coverage at the airport station.

Arlington County police pulled an elderly woman from a house fire on Robert Walker Place on April 18, 2003 after a ``hang-up'' call to the 911 center. According to The Washington Post: ``Officers got to the home nearly 30 minutes after the emergency call, police said. Operators had been trying to call the number back but couldn't get an answer, and the first available officer arrived at the scene at 10:13 a.m.'' The initial ``hang-up'' call came in at 9:45 a.m., the Post said.

Firefighters from Arlington County and Fairfax County battled a fire that caused $1 million damage to the Craftsman Auto Body Shop on Gordon Road in Falls Church on May 22, 2003.

On Sept. 18-19, 2003, Hurricane Isabel downed trees and power lines across Arlington County and the rest of the Washington metropolitan area. Firefighters rescued a man trapped in his bed by a falling tree on Military Road. Thousands of homes and businsses went without electrical service for days. The county issued a press release on Sept. 19 that said: ``Initial assessments include two homes destroyed; 36 homes with major storm damage, 141 with minor storm damage; and 43 cars flattened.'' The Civil Air Patrol provided an aerial assessment of the damage. Arlington Fire Station No. 7 in Fairlington provided drinking water to residents of the Alexandria, where water supplies had been contaminated by the storm. Arlington's water supply wasn't affected, though Fairfax County also had contaminated water.

On Nov. 27, 2003, a two-alarm fire gutted the Restaurant Mediterranee, just down Lee Highway from Fire Station No. 3. Firefighters were hampered by heavy smoke and security bars on the restaurant's windows. The stairs were also burned out.

Before dawn on Valentine's Day 2004, firefighters were advancing a hose line into a two-alarm house fire in the 2100-block of South Nelson Street when the floor and stairs collapsed. Fortunately, no one was injured.

On April 14, 2004, National Airport firefighters extinguished a fire in the No. 2 engine of an MD-80 jetliner along Runway 1. Foam 331 attacked the flames with its roof and bumper turrets. The aircraft's 127 passengers and crew remained on the aircraft. There were no injuries.

A fire that started near a gas meter damaged a home on South Queen Street before dawn on Nov. 30, 2004. A passing motorist sounded the alarm and awoke the occupant.

On Dec. 5, 2004, firefighters from Rescue 109 rescued a bed-ridden woman from a house fire at 2137 South Oxford Street.

On Jan. 11, 2005, firefighters and paramedics went to the aid of a Pentagon police officer critically injured by a man driving a stolen Cadillac. The officer, James M. Feltis III, died Feb. 14, the Defense Department announced. He was 41.

``It's a boy! It's a boy!'' During a rather sudden snow storm on Jan. 19, 2005, Arlington firefighters and paramedics assisted a woman who gave birth in a car - a 1994 Honda Civic - stuck in traffic at Military Road and North 36th.

On Feb. 2, 2005, firefighters rescued an unconscious woman from an apartment fire at the Woodland Hills Retirement Home on South Carlin Springs Road.

A three-alarm fire gutted an auto repair business - Gene Moore Auto Repair in the 2400-block of South Shirlington Road - on Feb. 4, 2005. Gasoline fumes ignited, according to The Washington Examiner (formerly The Journal.)

The Falls Church News-Press reported the following arrest in its Oct. 19, 2006 edition: ``Arson, Ideal Tile, 929 W. Broad St., October 14, between 7:00 a.m. and 7:41 a.m., police arrested a male, 44, of Falls Church, for setting fire in the dumpster at the establishment. Incident to the arrest, the suspect admitted to several arsons within the City of Falls Church. He was turned over to the Fire Marshal for further investigations.''