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.”