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WASHINGTON, DC FIRE DEPARTMENT





 

I had picked up a bid to teach the new six-day “Analysis of Arson Management” class at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD and I thought that this would be a great time to return to Washington, DC to do a little buffing in our Nation’s Capital. DCFD Chief Dennis Rubin was kind enough to set me up with to do a ride-along with the Firefighting Deputy Chief on the night of February 8th, 2008. In my typical fashion, fire activity in DC came to a screeching halt. I have to thank DFC Tim Gerhart and his aide Sergeant Eddie Lehan for their hospitality and the crews of Engine Company Two and Rescue Squad One for a fine firehouse meal. After waiting for the big one, I hit the rack for a few hours before taking off to Emmitsburg on Saturday the 9th.





 

The plan was to try to hit the Capital a few nights during the week to chase a few jobs, but the joys of traveling in February became evident and winter weather prevented that portion of the trip. Prior to my traveling I had managed to get back in touch with two of DC’s more prominent buffs, Vito Maggiolo and Chris Oliphant. I had met these guys many years ago on another buff trip that included a trip from Washington to Camden, NJ for Devil’s Night. Chris is now working as a Firefighter/EMT for DCFD and Vito continues his career as a Producer at CNN’s DC Bureau. After finishing up the class at the NFA, I was on my way back to DC to hook up with these folks.


 

Chris had picked me up at my hotel on the night of February 15th and with scanner and camera in hand, we were off. While fire activity that night was slow, I got a great tour of the city and was able to scout of a number of areas that I wanted to photograph in the daylight. The architecture of Washington’s Firehouses is extremely varied, and I had the opportunity to photograph a few of what I thought were aesthetically pleasing over the next two days. After our nocturnal tour of the District, it was back to my room for a few hours of sleep. I had started shooting firehouse photos on Saturday the 16th and put the Street Pilot® and Trunk Tracker® to use in chasing a few Box Alarms that turned out to be uneventful.


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For over 100 years, DCFD has been protecting the city’s waterfront. Placed in service on December 8, 1905, Engine 19, then located at 7th and Water Streets, SW, was designated as the Fireboat Company. After a fire at a brick plant that threatened the Washington Navy Yard, Congress helped the District obtain a 100-foot firefighting boat, capable of pumping 6,000 gallons of water per minute. The “Firefighter” was in service until 1946 when the Fireboat Company was moved to its current location, 550 Water Street, SW with a new boat that was also named the “Firefighter.” That boat remained in service until 1978. The DCFD fireboat company has evolved into a modern marine-based fire and rescue unit, maintaining several vessels, including the 70-foot John H. Glenn, Jr. which was originally built for the FDNY in 1962 and purchased by the DCFD in 1977.


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I found it interesting that DCFD’s Fire Alarm Boxes and Gamewell System had been had been placed out of service back in the 1970’s, but the stanchions for the boxes still remain in place. Washington, DC, installed its fire alarm telegraph system in 1864. The system initially had twenty-five fire alarm boxes. By 1881 the system had expanded to eighty boxes and incorporated about 200 miles of telegraph wires. In 1926 the District utilized 1500 neighborhood fire alarm boxes. The telegraph fire alarm system remained in operation until 1976, when emergency 9-1-1 telephone service was established.


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These old “pedestals” are reminiscent of the skeletal remains of the heyday of telegraph fire alarm reporting in Washington, DC. In a few areas local artists have decorated the now-defunct boxes; however I did find a stanchion that still contained its boxes in front of the John Adams Building of the Library of Congress on 2nd Street, SE. Chris picked me back up that evening and we were immediately off to Rockville, MD for a Second Alarm fire in a multiuse commercial building located at 4980 Wyaconda Road. While most of the fire had been extinguished by the time we arrived, the trip provided the opportunity for some apparatus and general scene shots.



 

We worked our way back to the city for a late dinner in Georgetown. While we were chasing a Box Alarm for an explosion in the North East, at approximately 0048 hours (now February 17th) Communications transmitted a Box Alarm for 3594 Hayes Street, NE on a report of a fire at the Mayfair Terrace apartment complex.


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First arriving units encountered smoke and fire in the second and third floors of an occupied apartment building and requested that the Working Fire Assignment be filled out. Due to previous water supply problems in this area of the District, the Firefighting Deputy Chief (Chief Gerhart) requested that three additional Water Supply Engines be added to the Working Fire Assignment.


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As the fire started to extend through the cockloft and penetrated the roof, the Incident Commander requested that a Second Alarm be struck. DCFD units mounted an extremely aggressive interior attack and had the bulk of the fire knocked down within the first 30 minutes of the incident. A large diameter hose lay was put into place to augment the area’s water system, but the line was not charged. Units continued to work the scene, assisting fire investigators and overhauling the damaged apartments.


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A Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Bus was called for to provide a warm refuge for the displaced residents. The Friendship Fire Association also responded with their Canteen and Firefighter Rehab units. While most of the First Alarm Companies started clearing the scene by 0430 hours, an Engine remained at the apartment building for a fire watch. The cause of the fire is under investigation at this time. The hard-hitting actions of DCFD’s firefighters kept this fire from extending throughout the building and contained what had the potential of becoming a major incident. I made to back to my room in the wee hours of the morning for a nap before starting over.


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I finished up photographing the firehouses on Sunday morning and took some time to kick back in the afternoon just monitoring the radio at the hotel. Chris and I hooked up for dinner and we managed to miss a fire across town when we sat down to eat. While we were at the fire on Hayes Street earlier that morning I had the opportunity to see another long-time DCFD Buff, Elliot Goodman. He had been kind enough to invite me to tour the DC Unified Communications Center, so after dinner I headed in that direction.


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Elliot has been working communications for DCFD since I can remember. I had first met him at one of the Firehouse Expos in the early eighties through Tom Ernst. He is currently a Watch Commander at the District’s Unified Communications Center, working the night shift. I had a great tour of an extreme large and high-tech 9-1-1 facility. About this time my tired light lit up and it was time for some sleep before getting on the airplane the morning of February 18th. All in all, it was a great trip, with the opportunity for a little fire photography and the renewal of old friendships.