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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Washington Navy Yard

For those who follow the fire service in and around the nations capital, the Naval District Washington Fire Department (NDW FD) is the city’s largest federal fire department operating within the city from three stations from as many federal facilities. To clarify, since October 3, 2003, this agency has been titled the Naval District Washington Regional Fire Department as it has assimilated various other naval facility departments in the outlying counties. These however continue to use their respective numbering systems as per each county. Back to the original if you will NDW FD within the capital city. In 1996, the DC Fire &; EMS Department assigns the NDW unique numbers for off-base response (Engines 41-43, Truck 21). These in 2001 are adopted by the NDW as their appropriate station unit designations. Station 1 or 41 is the NDW Headquarters located at Bolling Air Force Base in Anacostia. Home to a rescue engine, tower and foam units plus reserves this prior to 1980 was a separate department assimilated under the NDW FD after the original Station 1 at Anacostia Naval Air Station closes. Station 2 or 42 is at the Washington Navy Yard on the western bank of the Anacostia River. This is the oldest componant of the NDW FD operating a single engine company. Station 3 or 43 is farther south at the Naval Research Lab home to a rescue engine and haz-mat unit.

So what of this unique department and its history? There are as I have discovered some variances in actually when fire protection began especially at the Washington Navy Yard.

The  is the nations first deeded to the US Navy in September 1799. It lays  along the Eastern Branch of the Potomac River (now Anacostia River) on the south side of the proposed new nations capital. The buildings and ships in August 1814 are purposely set afire as the British are bound for Washington ultimately setting the rest of the city and yard ablaze. After the city and the Navy Yard are rebuilt however the mission at the yard changes. In May 1815, the Washington Navy Yard changes from a basic naval base to a shipbuilding and ship-fitting facility adding civilian employees. More shops sheds and wharves follow the greatest added in 1823. It is about which time it seems mechanized fire protection begins there as well. This department or brigade is probably manned by enlisted men aided by volunteer civilian workers.

The earliest record of this is found in John G. Sharp’s, History of the Washington Navy Yard’s Civilian Work Force 1799-1912 found on the site Navy Yard History. Under the section “Daily Station Log” on page 11 it is on the cold and windblown morning of Thursday January 18, 1827, fire erupts in Alexandria overwhelming its three volunteer fire companies. As the blaze spreads, outside help is called bringing companies from Washington City and the sole Georgetown company. The Navy Yard is called about noon sending their two “suction engines” via boat across the river to the then sister city of Washington (Alexandria and what later became Arlington County were part of the federal Territory of Columbia until 1840). The Great Fire of Alexandria destroys some 40 buildings but is quickly stopped with the out of town companies including the Navy Yard engines released by 3 pm.

The next mention of the Navy Yard fire protection comes from 100 Years of Glory, the 1972 Yearbook of the District of Columbia Fire Department. On the late morning of September 24, 1877, fire erupts in the attic of the large 4-story US Patent Office today’s National Portrait Gallery bound by West 7th and 9th as well as North “F” and “G” Streets (today all in NW). As described this apparently is the first big test for the young DCFD. Within ten minutes of arrival of the Box Alarm, a General Alarm follows bringing the entire 5 engine and 1 truck DCFD plus the Navy Yard. As the fire rages out of control, this becomes a day long battle as companies are also called from Baltimore some fighting a nearby stable fire ignited by embers from the original fire. In 1878 it is believed the Navy Yard adds its first steamer an Amoskeage.

In 1906, the Navy Yard brigade moves to its second and current firehouse in Building 122 near the 8th Street SE Gate. In 1918, the nation embroiled in Word War I a permanent runway and hangars come to Anacostia Flats that is named Anacostia Field a combined Navy and Army facility. While not confirmed it is believed their crash fire brigade likely began then. Just south, the aviation section of the Signal Corps opens an adjacent facility called Bolling Field that also begins its crash fire brigade.

As seen in photos of William Killen’s Navy and Marine Corps Fire Apparatus, the Navy Yard in the early 1920s is motorized running with an American LaFrance triple an Ahrens Fox triple piston pumper plus a hose wagon of unknown make. The Washington Naval Research Lab opens July 2, 1923, along the Potomac River on the far south end of the city. The mission of this facility is the production of communications equipment, directional finding devices high frequency radio and underwater sound propagation and sonar nets. Again it is believed a fire brigade is begun then its firehouse in Building 72. In 1933, the Bolling Field crash brigade moves to its current multi-bay firehouse in Building 5.

In 1940, the Navy Yard becomes a civilian staffed fire department. In 1942, Anacostia Field expands and is re-named a Anacostia Naval Air Station a training base for Naval aviation. It is home of Navy flight test operations, the US Naval Receiving Station Anacostia and the US Naval Station Anacostia Annex that includes training schools, laboratories and barracks for the Navy Yard. A secondary airfield also opens to the north in Beltsville Maryland. During this period it is believed the crash fire brigades at both Anacostia Naval Air Station and adjacent Bolling Field move away from enlisted personnel becoming civilian departments. In 1943, the Anacostia Naval Air Station brigade assigns a No 2 engine company to an adjacent weapons arsenal.

In late 1945, other changes come as World War II ends the nation and its allies the victors. The Anacostia Naval Air Station brigade No 2 Engine at the weapons arsenal is deactivated. The mission of the Naval Research Lab expands into areas of applied research while in December the Navy Yard becomes known as the Navy Gun Factory. In 1948, Bolling Field becomes Bolling Air Force Base under the new military agency. The next year, the Navy Gun Factory becomes the Naval Weapons Plant that along with the Naval Research Lab are placed under a civilian director.

In the mid to late 1950s the Anacostia Naval Air Station FD, Navy Yard / Weapons Plant / Gun Factory FD and Naval Research Lab FD are all placed under the new Naval District of Washington Fire Department. About this period helicopter flights begin from the White House and as a result, one of the Navy's early “MB-5” crash trucks is loaned to the DCFD housed with Engine 16 Truck 3 on 13th Street NW. In 1962, fixed wing aircraft flights end at Bolling Air Force Base and Anacostia Naval Air Station as operations move east to the new Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs Maryland. In July, the Washington Navy Yard Annex opens at the Weapons Plant / Gun Factory. On July 1, 1964, the Weapons Plant / Gun Factory again becomes titled the Washington Navy Yard with most of its old facilities and factories to be turned into office space. In 1978, vehicle extrication capabilities are added with jaws placed on Engine 2’s new Seagrave “MB” 1000-gpm at Navy Yard Station 2. In September 1980, the NDW FD adds its first ladder truck to the more accommodating Station 1 at Bolling Air Force Base. Truck 1 as designated is a “Cincinnati” canopy cab-forward built by Truck Cab Manufacturers on a Spartan chassis with Pierreville body and 100-foot Thibault rear mount aerial ladder.

In 1990, the NDW enters the Hazardous Materials (Haz-Mat) business adding early summer as its response vehicle a two-door new Pierce “Dash” with 16-foot walk-in body placed at Station 3 (43) at the Naval Research Lab. In 1994 or 1995, the NDW FD adds two new KME “Renegade” triples. Engine 1-1 at Bolling AFB adjacent to Interstate 295 is equipped as a “rescue engine” while the other for Engine 2-1 at the Navy Yard has jaws for extrication duty. Engine 2-1’s displaced extrication piece moves to Engine 3-1 at the Naval Research Lab. That year Truck 1 undergoes a glider rebuild by Fire Apparatus Unlimited. It returns the frame and ladder all that are retained as it has a new aluminum four-door Duplex cab and new body. In 1998, Engine 3-1 at Naval Research Lab receives a new E-One “Cyclone II” rescue engine. In 2003, Truck 21 gets replaced by Tower 21 a tandem rear axle, four-door new ’02 Piece “Dash” 100-foot rear mount tower quint with 2000-gpm pump.

Anyone who has more info to share on this topic is encouraged to post a reply. For your very own History of Washington DC and its Fire Protection or Washington DC Fire Apparatus History that includes the NDW FD and other federal departments plus various other works see the appropriate link for Rusty’s Rosters.

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