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, July 29, 2015


Photo: Abbey Roads blog

"John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration was on fire — literally. Cardinal Richard Cushing’s podium caught on fire because of an electrical short while he was saying the invocation. Kennedy kept it cool, though, cracking a smile once the situation was handled." - Politico


On Feb. 1, 1961, fire killed seven patients on the top floor of the Mount Vernon Nursing Home at 2301 Calvert St., Northwest, Washington, D.C.

Twenty-seven people were reported injured.

Residents of the first three floors were rescued by employees, firefighters and passersby.

The dead were identified by the Associated Press as:


Washington (AP) -- Seven aged, bedridden patients burned to death yesterday when racing flames quickly engulfed a four story private nursing home for the elderly.

At least 27 other persons -- patients, employes, firemen, policemen and passersby -- were treated in hospitals.

Fire Chief Millard H. Sutton called it "one of the worst fires in years" here.

The seven who died -- four women and three men -- were in bed on the top floor when the fire reached them from the basement. Their bodies were found either still in bed or on the floor.

Two nurses, NANCY COGINS and LUCY CARTNER, said they were on the fourth floor when the ararm was sounded. They said they managed to drag one of the floor's eight patients to safety, hoping firemen could rescue the other seven.
Patients on the first three floors were taken out by employes, firemen and passing citizens. The aged survivors, shock and bewilderment evident in their faces, were led to nearby buildings. There they waited their turns for ambulances shuttling back and forth to hospitals.

All available doctors and ambulances in the city were ordered to the scene and many ambulances from nearby Maryland were pressed into service.

At least one woman patient was taken down a ladder about an hour after the flames broke out, despite the speed with which the fire spread.

The brick building -- the Mount Vernon Nursing Home -- is located in the fashionable Rock Creek Park area near the Calvert street and Connecticut avenue bridges across the park.
The streets nearby are normally heavy with traffic. The added rush of fire and rescue equipment plus a rush of onlookers created such a jam that at one time it nearly halted the movement of ambulances.

There were 24 patients in the home along with five nurses and two assistants.

The cause of the fire was not immediately determined.

It was discovered by a nurse, MRS. RUTH PEACE, when she opened a basement door.

She ran upstairs and began helping patients to escape.

The first alarm was turned in by two police officers who were passing in a police cruiser and spotted the flames.

Workers at the home, passersby and firemen who suffered injuries did so mostly in trying to rescue the elderly patients. Some of them made several trips.

RICHARD CARTER, 23, who works across the street, ran into the burning building, passing several persons who were carrying out patients. He was told the first and second floors had been cleared.

So he struck out for the third floor. There, in a thick haze of smoke, he found a woman on the floor. He carried her in his arms, down the stairs and out of the building. CARTER said he was coughing so violently from inhaling smoke he could not make another trip.

The first alarm was sounded at 1:42 p.m. (EST), but it was 3:15 p.m. before firemen were able to enter the building and locate the dead.


The Associated Press reported a house fire in the District of Columbia killed seven people, including five children, on April 12, 1935.

The victims were:

"Firemen carried the seven dead from the house and took them to a hospital, where efforts to revive them failed," AP said. "Although the bodies were burned, asphyxiation was given as the cause of death.

"The fire was said to have started from a faulty flue in the kitchen on the first floor."

Friday, July 24, 2015


Scenes from 1959 Pentagon fire: Smoke pushing from basement; Capt. Charles Theodore and a soot-covered Capt. Leon Dodson Sr. , with Theodore carrying an MSA breathing apparatus.

To the Editor:

I read with great interest, the article about the fire at the Pentagon which took place July 2nd 1959.  Link to article

I was surprised to read that "miraculously, no one perished", because in fact, my grandfather Horace L. Woodward Sr. died at his home, at 1611 Army Navy Drive, as a result of smoke inhalation from the fire.

He was at the Pentagon when the fire occurred and helped many people out of the building, after which he left the scene and went home where he then collapsed.

My grandmother, Olga Woodward, then called their doctor, who, after examining him gave him an injection of something (possibly digitalis?) which caused my grandfather to awaken and exclaim, "What are you doing to me?"

He then collapsed and died. Perhaps he would have survived, had he stayed at the scene and been treated by the medics there, or if he had died there he would have been rightfully counted as the lone casualty of the fire.

I was only seven years old at the time, and our family lived far away in New Jersey.

I've always considered my grandfather to be a hero for the way he helped others without concern for his own safety.


Niel C. Woodward

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Photo: ACFD Virtual Museum
Smile at the camera boys! Old Engine 7 was a GMC/American LaFrance 750 gpm. Left to right Arlington County's Frank R. Higgins, Lt. Charlie Burke and Woody Griffin in 1969.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Site of the crash

Mr. Harold Leroy (above) and Frank Higgins (below) were among the Arlington firefighters who responded to the Eastern Airlines crash

On Nov. 1, 1949, an Eastern Airlines DC-4 passenger liner plunged into the Potomac River just south of National Airport after a mid-air collision with a military aircraft.

It would be the second major disaster of the day for Washington area fire departments.

Glen Tigner, 21, an air traffic controller on duty at the National Airport Tower, sounded the crash alarm. ``Turn left! Turn left!’’ Tigner had radioed moments earlier as a Bolivian Air Force fighter on a practice run veered toward a commercial flight on approach to the airport from the south.

Eastern Airlines Flight 537, which originated in Boston and made a stopover in New York, carried 55 passengers and crew. The Bolivian aircraft, a single-seat P-38 Lockheed Lightning, had just been purchased from the U.S. government. Flight 537’s final destination was supposed to be New Orleans. It never made in beyond Alexandria. At 1156 hours, the fighter slammed into the Douglas DC-4. The tail of the commercial airliner just missed the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, near Four Mile Run.

Everyone aboard Flight 537 died. The pilot of the Bolivian aircraft, Capt. Eric Rios Bridaux, 28, was seriously injured - but survived.

At the time, it was considered the nation's deadliest civilian aircraft accident.

CLICK HERE for Flight 537 investigation report.] 

Among the dead: 
U.S. Representatives George Bates of Massachusetts, Michael Kennedy of New York and Helen Hokinson, a cartoonist for New Yorker magazine.

"The DC-4 pilot swerved the big ship from its path, but too late," according to a dispatch in the Nov. 2, 1949 edition of The St. Joseph (Michigan) Herald-Press newspaper. "The fighter ripped into it from above and from the side. The airliner split in half. Bodies and wreckage fell into the water and along the bank of the Potomac."

Retired Arlington firefighter Frank Higgins recalled the grisly recovery, with fire and ambulance crews removing victims from the river. Some were still strapped in their seats. Many were severely disfigured. ``Legs, a headless body,'' Higgins said, describing the gruesome inventory.

Others related similar stories. Firefighters also gathered personal effects from the knee-deep water and muck. ``The river was very shallow there,’’ said Harold LeRoy, a veteran Arlington volunteer firefighter.

A quarter mile away, a crash boat from Bolling Air Force Base rescued the fighter pilot. ``The Bolivian ambassador, after visiting Captain Rios in the hospital, said the pilot told him he had been occupied with engine difficulties and apparently did not hear the final warning from the control tower,’’ according to The New York Times.

Newspaper and wire service photos of the crash scene showed the shattered rear of the DC-4 resting on the Virginia shoreline, firefighters removing a victim’s body from the shallow water on a stretcher and an airline pilot carrying a child’s doll recovered from the river.

J. Donald Mayor, a sales manager for Custom Upholstering Co, was driving on the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway and witnessed the collision. The Falls Church resident stopped his car and waded into the river before firefighters arrived.

``I ripped off my coat jacket and took off my shoes,’’ Mayor told The Washington Post. ``I saw a few fellows just standing there and I shouted `What’s the matter? You cowards?’ Two ran along with me. For some reason, I don’t know why, but I rolled up my sleeves.’’

Mayor and the others spotted a woman floating face down in the oily water. They dragged her ashore. She was bleeding from the mouth and mortally wounded. By that time, firefighters arrived and blanketed the wreckage with foam.

``Then I saw them open rescue holes in the plane with special equipment they had,’’ Mayor said. ``Rescue workers got a woman’s body out of the wreckage first. She was about 70 at least, with gray hair and wrinkled skin, very heavy set. Looked like her nose had been ripped off. Then they brought out a young man, about 30 or so. He was in an Army jacket, I think. Next they got a heavy man.’’

Soaked and shivering, Mayor got in his car and headed home to his family in Falls Church. ``I saw I couldn’t do any more,’’ he said.

The Associated Press reported:

"When darkness came last night, more than a score of bodies had not been recovered. Police figured that all of those yet missing were in the river. As the night went on, a few more bodies were recovered but the progress was slow.

"It was an eerie scene. Sticking out from a clump of small trees at the river's edge was the tail and fuselage of the big airliner. Its wings were shorn off, the four engines gone.

"Big floodlights played on the inky river from atop fire department trucks. Another searchlight had been set up on the bank. Off to one side a corps of Red Cross women served coffee and sandwiches to the tired battalions hunting for the dead.
"Occasionally one of the boats would break away from the other little craft about 100 feet off shore. Quietly the word went around and men carrying a stretcher would go down to the water. Then in a few minutes an ambulance, siren wailing softly, would move off toward the city."

[Sadly, the scene was repeated a month later. On Dec. 12, 1949, Capital Airlines Flight 500 crashed in the Potomac River. Of the 23 people aboard, six perished the DC-3 "wandered off a radar path leading into fog-bound National Airport," the Associated Press reported.] 

Downtown Explosion

Earlier in the day, a
 series of explosions heralded a fire on the top floors of the New Post Office Department building at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest. Twenty people were injured, including eight firefighters. The first alarm for was transmitted at 0958. A second alarm followed at 1012, and a third alarm was sounded at 1031.

In all, twelve engines, four ladders, a water tower and tender, two squads and six ambulances answered the series of alarms. D.C. Fire Chief Joseph Mayhew and three battalion chiefs directed the operation.

Aaron Trail, the building superintendent, was trapped in a room with barred windows on the eighth floor. A truck company extended an aerial ladder as far as it would go and then – in a rare and dramatic operation – two firefighters used a scaling ladder to reach the barred window and pass breathing apparatus to Trail.

Another crew of firefighters reached Trail from the inside and escorted him to safety. He was treated at Emergency Hospital for minor injuries.

Among the most seriously injured firefighters at the postal blaze was D.C. Fire Sergeant Joseph Mattare of Engine 13. Mattare was admitted to Emergency Hospital for smoke inhalation and a shoulder injury. The Washington Post published a photograph of the fire department physician, in full running gear, resuscitating the fallen firefighter. After recovering from his injuries, Mattare went on to serve as fire chief.


Crash Dispatch Log

From the magazine Fire Engineering:

11:45 A.M., Alexandria, Va., Fire Department Rescue 1, Ambulances 1 and 2, with Chief Bernard Padgett, respond to reported scene of crash. Alarm received via Alexandria Police Radio Scout car.

11:48 A.M., Washington National Airport Fire Department responded with the following: No. 155 crash truck, 1000 gal. tank with H.P. fog and foam; No. 125 Hardie crash truck, 300 gal. tank, H.P.; 1-500 GPM American LaFrance pumper; 1 Jeep, 250 Lb. Ansul Powder: C12 Ambulance and Chief Charles F. Petellat. Alarm via National Airport Control Tower.
11:48 A.M., M.A.T.S. Army Airport Fire Department responded with the following: No. 155 Crash Truck, 1000 gal. tank, H.P.; 1-750 GPM Pumper (make not given) with Chief Raymond Peake.
11:50 A.M. Alexandria, Va., Fire Department Engine 4 [called via Alexandria Police].
11:50 A.M. Penn Daw, Va., Fire Department Ambulance 1.
11:50 A.M. Franconia, Va., Fire Department, Ambulance 1.
11:50 A.M., District of Columbia Fire Department, Chief Engineer Joseph A. Mayhew and DCFD Fireboat [called via Airport Control Tower].
11:59 A.M. Arlington, Va., Fire Department, Rescue 5, Ambulance 4, Engines 4 and 5 (two pumpers) under Chief A. C. Scheffel.
12:00 A.M., Prince Georges County, Md., sent the following:
Bladensburg, Md., Ambulance 1 and 2;
Branchville, Ambulance 1;
Glenn Dale, Ambulance 1;
District Heights, Ambulance 1;
Oxen Hill, Ambulance 1.
12:01 P.M. Montgomery County, Md. sent the following:
Silver Spring, Rescue 5;
Takoma Park, Ambulance 14;
Kensington, Ambulance 20;
Glen Echo, Ambulance 53;
Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Rescue 3, Ambulances 1 and 2;
Chevy Chase Fire Department, Engine 60.
Gaithersburg Ambulance 41 transferred to Chevy Chase F. D. Hq.
Alarms to Prince Georges Control Center, Hyattsville, Md., and Montgomery County Fire Board, Silver Spring, Md. Request of District of Columbia Fire Alarm Hq. for all available rescue squads and ambulances.
12:06 P.M., District of Columbia Fire Department Rescue land Ambulance 1. A total of 43 pieces of equipment, as follows: 5 Rescue squads, 21 ambulances, 11 pieces of fire apparatus, 1 fireboat, 5 fire chiefs’ cars


Eastern Airlines Flight 537 Passengers

Rep. GEORGE J. BATES (R-Mass.), 58, Salem, Mass.

MICHAEL J. KENNEDY, 52, New York City.
GARDNER W. TAYLOR, Bronxville, N. Y.
DR. FRANCIS E. RANDALL, 35, Lawrence, Mass.
LAWRENCE P. GLASSNER, 42, Jamaica, N. Y.
RAYMOND DEAN, 33, Yonkers, N. Y.
M. L. DANIEL,  New Boston, N. H.

LOUIS ISGUR, Brookline, Mass.
MR. AND MRS. FRED E. McCUSTY and daughter MAUREENE, 18-months-old, Brighton, Mass.
MRS. M. A. PERKINS, Cairo, Ga.
WHITNEY E. BAKER, Plainfield, N. J.
W. J. CASEY, Brooklyn, N. Y.
MRS. CHARLES (BETTY) CHASE, 26, and CARTER CARRINGTON CHASE, 9-months-old, Wiscasset, Me.
MISS G. COSTA, Rio Padres, Puerto Rico.
E. FAIR (or FAIRE), no address.
ROBERT M. FIELD, Riverdale-on-Hudson, N. Y.
NOAH GALLOP, Jamaica, N. Y.
FRED HARTMAN, Amityville, N. Y.
HOWARD C. HAUPT, Garden City, N. Y.
MRS. S. KENT, no address.
ROBERT LYNAK, Ridgewood, N. H.
MISS O. MARTINEZ, Rio Padres, Puerto Rico.
TED MAGEE, Oklahoma City.
MR. AND MRS. RALPH F. MILLER, Chevy Chase, Md.
L. B. MOSS, White Plains, N. Y.
MR. AND MRS. PAUL N. PECK, Richmond, Va.
L. SAXE, no address.
RALPH B. SHAW, Bayside, N. Y.
HAROLD V. SMITH, Saratoga Springs, N. Y.
WILLIAM SMYTHE, Roslyn Estates, N. Y.
FRANK E. SPAULING, White Plains, N. Y.
HAROLD W. ST. CLAIRE, New York City.
MISS BETSY THORUP, Wellesley Hills, Mass. Senior at Duke University.
MRS. ISABELLE VELOUTINI, Caracas, Venezuela.
JULES VOGEL, New York City.
FRANCIS M. WELD, New York City.
J. D. WICKS, Gastonia, N. C.
Pilot Capt. GEORGE RAY, Mt. Kimball Lake, N. J.
Co-pilot CHARLES R. HAZELWOOD, Roselle, N. J.
Hostess MISS HELEN GILBERT, Brooklyn.
Purser OSCAR ORIHUELA, New York City.


Photos: Falls Church VFD

On Memorial Day 1969, fire destroyed the Hechinger's building supply store on South Washington Street in Falls Church.

It was one of the biggest blazes of the 1960s for the Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department and the Arlington County Fire Department.

The flames - from a store stocked with lumber, paint and other flammables - were visible for a mile or more at the height of the inferno

The Hechinger Co., founded in 1911, was a mainstay of the Washington area for decades.

The company went into a state of decline in the 1990s, declared bankruptcy and closed in 1999.


Collapsing walls killed five District of Columbia firefighters at a blaze in the 1890s.

It happened at the Commission House conflagration on Louisiana Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets, Northwest, on May 18, 1896.

Killed at the general alarm at Box 139:

Thomas Griffen, assistant foreman, Truck Company B
Daniel Conway, private, Engine Co. 9
George Giles, assistant foreman, Engine Co. 9
Joseph Mulhall, private, Engine Co. 8
George Kettler, assistant foreman, Engine Co. 8

A dispatch published by the Trenton Evening Times in New Jersey said:

"The buildings covering the block adjoining the Centre Market constituted practically the entire commission and wholesale produce business of Washington, and while not of great value, their contents burned so fiercely that a great portion of the residents from all parts of the city were attracted to the scene of the conflagration.

"From 7 to 8 o'clock the city was visited by one of the most terrific thunder storms in years and it is thought lightning traveling on telegraph wires entered a Postal Telegraph sub-station and started the flames, which spread rapidly through the highly inflammable materials of the building on Louisiana avenue, Ninth, Tenth and D streets.

"In a few minutes, under general alarm orders, the entire fire department commenced its efforts to check the fire's spread, but exploding barrels of kerosene and gasoline drove them off and led them to direct their energies to preventing the flames from crossing streets to neighboring squares.

"While the firemen of No. 8 engine were working a hose through one of the old buildings the roof fell without warning, burying them in the ruins.

"The wrecked building at once began burning furiously and any attempt at rescue was beyond question. Not until an hour later had the flames sufficiently subsided at this point for the firemen to begin clearing away the debris."


1980's era reserve ladder nicknamed "Christine" after a horror movie of same name about "a sentient and violent automobile" restored after extensive repairs.


Old Cherrydale Fire Station following World War II

Old Cherrydale Fire Station in 21st Century

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

MURPHY'S - 1968

On 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.


Fire Capt. Archie Hughes

Firefighters attempt to reach Hughes

An Arlington County fire captain was killed in the line of duty in a seemingly routine house fire on the night of Monday, Oct. 19, 1964.

Capt. Archie Hughes, 33, was the officer in charge of Engine Co. 4 . He got his start as a volunteer firefighter, joined the paid department, advanced to the rank of fire lieutenant in 1957 and fire captain in 1961. His father and brother also served as volunteer firefighters.

Hughes died alone in the attic of a two-story brick house at 2362 N. Nelson St. Four other firefighters were injured in the effort to rescue their fallen comrade.

Fire marshal's account

Fire Marshal Leslie Shelton provided this account of the fire, as reported in the Oct. 20, 1964 edition of The Washington Star:

Mrs. Thomas Sanderson was in a first-floor family room with her son, Richard, 12, her daughter Jill, 8, and her mother, Mrs. Hilma Chardavoyne, a wheelchair invalid, when everyone smelled smoke about 7:45 p.m.

At first they thought a cigarette had been dropped in a chair. They searched chairs, the carpet, closets and examined the television. Finding nothing, Richard went outside and Mrs. Sanderson went to awaken her husband, who was sleeping in a first-floor bedroom. Richard saw smoke billowing from the roof and shouted a warning to the family.

Hughes was one of the first firefighters to enter the burning house. He climbed through a trap door into the attic, wearing protective breathing apparatus and his turnout gear. It simply wasn't enough to protect him from the flames and smoke. (Later accounts suggested Hughes may have removed some of his protective gear to fit into the attic.)

According to The Washington Star: When he failed to reappear after several minutes, his men attempted to go after him, but intense heat made the trap door unapproachable.

Rescue attempt thwarted

Other firemen chopped and tore at the shingled roof in an effort to reach Hughes. They succeeded in making an opening, but a burst of air through the hole caused the blaze to explode throughout the attic, making rescue impossible.

Hughes body was recovered about a half hour after the fire was quelled. The loss of a firefighter is always hard on the department, but in the case of Archie Hughes the loss was especially great because he was considered one of the department's up-and coming leaders, a dedicated firefighter and a decent human being.

"If he had lived I'm sure he would have made chief officer," the late James Fought, a retired battalion chief, said in an interview in the late 1990s. Fought was Hughes' first captain when he advanced to the ranks of the paid department and was assigned to Company 5, in what is now Crystal City.

Flags were flown at half mast across Arlington, and the Northern Virginia Board of Realtors, of which Mr. Sanderson was a member, established a fund to benefit Hughes' wife, Eldina, and their three children, who were aged 6 years, 21 months and 9 months in 1964, according to the Oct. 21 edition of The Washington Post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


UPDATED JAN. 20, 2015


It happened almost 33 years to the date of the twin disasters of Jan. 13, 1982 - the Air Florida crash at the 14th Street Bridge and Metrorail accident at Smithsonian station.

On Jan. 12, 2015, smoke from an arcing third rail filled a Metrorail tunnel at L'Enfant Plaza, killing a woman and sickening more than 80 others trapped aboard a stalled, rush-hour Yellow Line train bound for Virginia.

Passengers expressed anger at the pace of the rescue.

The reason:

The electrified third rail remained live until 3:50 p.m., 35 minutes after the train stalled in the tunnel, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board,
delaying firefighters from reaching the train.

Rescuers were also hindered by radio communications problems.

Timeline from Mayor's Office

3:18 p.m. — 911 call from construction worker near Ninth and Water streets SW, for smoke from ventilation shaft near where Metrorail Yellow Line tracks emerge above ground.
3:22 p.m. — WMATA call to District's 911 advising of smoke in L'Enfant Plaza station.
3:24 p.m. — WMATA calls back, elevating call, saying heavy smoke in station, passengers affected.
3:25 p.m. — Firetrucks arrive at Ninth and Water streets.
3:28 p.m. — D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services declares "Metro tunnel box alarm," begins rolling "about 10" pieces of equipment to L'Enfant Plaza.
3:31 p.m.— Firetrucks arrive at L'Enfant Plaza.
3:32 p.m. — Metropolitan Police Department arrives on scene.
3:32 p.m. — Another caller outside L'Enfant Plaza calls requesting ambulance.
3:33 p.m. — First word of train in tunnel: 911 call from "caller on train" who says he is on Yellow Line train in tunnel that is filling with smoke.
3:39 p.m. — Another 911 call from train, caller says on train with smoke.
3:42 p.m. — Another 911 call from outside station, from person having trouble breathing.
3:42 p.m. — Repeat 911 call from an earlier caller from train. Caller asks if help is on the way. Train stuck and filling with smoke, caller says.
3:43 p.m. — Another 911 call from train.
3:44 p.m. — Metro advises train stuck on track with passengers.
3:44 p.m. — District battalion chief advises Metro has shut off power to track with stranded train.
3:45 p.m. — Two more 911 calls from train, one from a man, another from a woman, asking if help is on the way.
3:46 p.m. — D.C. Fire and EMS calls second alarm, dispatches more trucks.
4:09 p.m. — Battalion chief advises that one passenger is having a seizure and CPR is being conducted on an adult female.
4:12 p.m. — A District paramedic outside the station advises she is en route to the train.
4:25 p.m. — D.C. Fire and EMS advises it is enroute to George Washington University Hospital with a patient, CPR still in progress.