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.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

'BOY FIREMAN' - 1925

"Boy Fireman" George Whalen

For six months, George Washington Whalen, 16, a volunteer fireman from the City of Alexandria, clung to life after suffering injuries at his first and last alarm.

Whalen - who the newspapers admiringly called "boy fireman" - fell into the hull of a ship during a fire at Jones Points Shipyard on Aug. 2, 1924 and fractured his spine and skull.

Rescuers found him in water up to his neck.

He died Feb. 20, 1925 at Alexandria Hospital.

Firemen and friends raised money for his family, presented him with a radio set for his 16th birthday and supplied a Christmas tree and holiday gifts.

"His case was hopeless from the the first," The Washington Post reported. "The fact that he survived his injuries so long has been a source of wonder to his physicians."

A photograph in a book about the Alexandria Fire Department showed Whalen's funeral procession, led by a hose wagon carrying his casket.


The Alexandria Times retold the story on March 6, 2012:

... Volunteer firefighter George Washington Whalen was left with a crushed back and fractured skull after tumbling about 100 feet. Known as the “baby of the fire department,” Whalen was just 15 when he joined his brother and other firefighters on August 2, 1924 fighting a blaze on the Bellbrook, a wooden ship docked at the city’s waterfront, according to an account by the Alexandria Gazette.
“At about 4:30 a.m. Whalen asked one of the firemen for a match, saying he wanted to light a cigarette,” the Gazette reported later in the day. “His request was complied with and he moved backward on the ship. That was the last seen of him … Next they heard cries and groans from the bottom of the ship.”
Whalen landed face up on a pile of junk in the bottom of the ship’s hold. His friends took a break from fighting the blaze, which began about 2:16 a.m., to lower a wooden stretcher down to the teenage fireman. They later transferred Whalen, who never lost consciousness, from the deck to a waiting ambulance using a makeshift rope ladder.
The teenager lied about his age to become a firefighter. He joined the department with the doomed hope of marching in the annual State Fireman’s Convention parade in Harrisonburg.
Reporters eagerly covered Whalen’s six-month fight for life, including a baseball game held to raise funds for his family, and his eventual death. “Death comes as sweet relief to [Whalen],” the Gazette’s front page told readers on February 21, 1925. “Whalen put up one of the most gallant fights against death ever known.”


On Jan. 12, 1910, a watchman, a constable and another man freed 40 horses from a stable fire at the Arlington Brewing Company in Rosslyn - and "the animals ran wild through the streets," The Washington Post reported. As there was no organized firefighting in Rosslyn, the District of Columbia Fire Department sent sent Engines 1, 5 and 9 and Truck "E" across the old Aquaduct Bridge.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


In 2011, a Bomb Squad was added to the Arlington County Fire Department fleet of special units. The fleet also includes a HAZMAT Unit, a Technical Rescue Unit and a Mobile Command Unit.


On July 22, 1956, an Arlington County firefighter hurt at a blaze at the Henderson Hall Marine Barricks saved a Marine injured at the fire - in the ambulance taking them to Arlington Hospital!

Leslie Hughes "struggled up" from his cot to administer artificial respiration to Marine Sergeant Hackett, The Washington Post said.

Another firefighter, Guy Swarthouth, administered oxygen to Hackett, who was "out for about five minutes," said Hughes, who returned to the fireground.

The blaze damaged the Henderson Hall theater building.

Firefighters from Arlington County, Fort Myer and Henderson Hall - supplemented by 200 off-duty Marines - extinguished the flames, the Post reported.

LAZO FIRE - 1934

Two days before Christmas in 1934, two children perished in a house fire in Arlington County - a holiday tragedy that would be repeated a decade later.

Richard Lazo, 7, and his sister Peggy, 3, were alone on the second floor of the family's two-story frame home on Malvern Place in Thrifton Village, according to The Washington Post.

(Malvern Place is no longer on the map. The Arlington Fire Journal first learned of this fire from the late James Fought, a former volunteer and retired battalion chief, who said the fire was on North Edgewood Street.)

Neighbors turned in the alarm at 8:50 p.m. on Dec. 23, 1934.

Flames poured from the windows when the first engines arrived.

Clarendon Fireman George Watts found little Peggy Lazo in her crib "gasping from the smoke," and Captain Orlando Crigbaum carried her outside, according to The Post. She died enroute to Georgetown Hospital.

Fireman Watts then located the body of Richard Lazo, who "left his bed and in his terror wandered straight into the flaming rooms," the newspaper reported.

The parents, Manuel and Annette Lazo, were located at Lazo's real estate office on Wilson Boulevard in Clarendon. The residents of the first floor, Mr. and Mrs. W.C. Jansen's, were at church.

Sixty firefighters and "all available fire apparatus in the county rushed out to fight the fire, which devoured furniture and stripped the walls of the apartment, living room and kitchen," the Post reported.

The parents built a "fire-proof" new home at 404 North Nelson Street, according to an Arlington Fire Journal reader.

It's not far from their childrens' graves.

The reader, Sandy Mendyk, tells us:

"I had heard a story about the fire from a woman who lives at 404 North Nelson Street when talking to her about her stone house. She said the builders of the home had it constructed of stone and steel because they had lost two small children in a fire.

"She said the children were buried at Columbia Gardens Cemetery near the dead end of Nelson Street that used to extend into the cemetery. She added that when the parents lived on Nelson Street, they used to visit the graves of the children every day.

"I recently found the graves of the Lazo children at the location the present resident described. Richard Henry Lazo was born in 1927, his sister Peggy Anne Lazo in 1931."

On Christmas Day 1934, The Washington Post published a dispatch from the Associated Press in Richmond that holiday mishaps - auto wrecks, an explosion and fires - claimed 12 lives across Virginia, including the Lazo children.

A decade later, another tragedy - eerily familiar:

On Dec. 12, 1944, an exploding stove killed three children left alone in their frame home at 1520 South Vermont Street.
Julie Carter, 5, and her brothers Sidney, 3, and Garland, 2, were buried in a single casket, according to The Washington Post.


LADDER RESCUE: On Jan. 14, 1954, Arlington County firefighters rescued two children from a house fire at 1639 North Woodstock Street. Caroline Justice, and her sister Alice, 6, were carried down a ladder to safety, The Washington Post reported. Their father, S. Marion Justice, tried to reach the girls before the fire department arrived. Their mother and sister, Jeanette, 10, escaped, according to the newspaper.

THOUSANDS FLOCK TO FIRE: On May 24, 1933, a two-alarm fire visible from downtown Washington erupted at an Arlington County salvage yard and attracted thousands of gawkers. "Washingtonians and Virginians flocked from miles around to witness the spectacular fire," The Washington Post reported. "Traffic was at a standstill on Memorial Bridge. Hundreds lined river drives through Potomac Park to watch the flames." The Arlington Volunteer Fire Department answered the initial alarm. The second alarm summoned fire crews from the old stations at Jefferson District, East Arlington, Clarendon and Ballston.

CLOSE CALL: On Nov. 10, 1949, an airplane carrying U.S. Vice President Alben Barkley came within 50 feet of colliding with a blimp over the Pentagon, according to an Associated Press dispatch. Barkley's flight landing safely at National Airport. the blimp was used for "advertising purposes," AP reported.