Penn Daw Fire Department: Chester Chinn
In the early 40's when Penn Daw Fire Department was first organized, it was more or less the center of attraction. We had the community civic meetings, V.F.W. meets and other organizations at the fire house. We also had fund raising activities going on like turkey shoots, dances, bingo, fund drives, and carnivals. Before the Dixie Pig was there, the fire department used to hold carnivals there on the corner.
Most of the equipment we had was army surplus. A '49 Chevrolet command car we converted into the first ambulance we had. A '36 Indiana pumper was also surplus. This is where we got our start. It wasn't until 1951 that we bought our first custom piece of fire apparatus, a 1951 Mac with a 750 gallon pump and a 500 gallon water tank on it.
At that time we didn't have any fire hydrants out in this area. Fires that we went to, we had to carry our own water or draft water from a creek, swimming pool, or something. It wasn't until the late 50's that we got our water supply from fire hydrants. When I first came to work for Penn Daw, we had two hydrants, down at the Penn Daw Hotel and at the Belle Haven Country Club. If we had a fire in Engleside, in Hybla Valley, or Groveton, we had to carry water from one of those hydrants, whichever was the closest.
In those days we didn't have the training or the equipment we have now. We had no breathing apparatus. You had to go in and just hold your handkerchief over your nose and inhale the smoke. Now we have Scott Air Packs, self-contained breathing apparatus that we can put on our back and go in. Most of the fire was fought from the outside at that time. Now all the fire fighting is done from within the building.
The volunteers did all this. We didn't hire nobody to do this because we didn't have the money. We had one of the most active volunteer departments in the county. It stayed this way from 1944 up until about 1965. It was at that time the volunteers started dropping off. We had so much activity going on in the station that a volunteer couldn't work a full time job and be a volunteer, too.
Our cannon is a memorial to the veterans of World War II from the Groveton area, dedicated by the V.F.W. The reason we moved from down on the highway was because the state widened Number 1 highway and it make it kinda hard getting onto the highway. That's when we decided to buy this piece of land here, a little better than an acre of ground for $25,000. The building itself was $203,000. At the same time we were buying a new ambulance. The volunteers decided, "OK, let's make a deal with Fairfax County. We'll give 'em the building and all the assets, providing they supply us with 26 additional paid men." We knew the volunteers were fading out. It's worked out real well.
I was on the plane crash in Washington National Airport when the Bolivian pilot crashed the plane and killed 55 people. At the time it was one of the worst disasters in this country. I was on the scene of the collapse of the Skyline Center. I was the first chief officer there and I ran the scene for about 17 days, working 12-14 hours a day until we got all the bodies out. We had an apartment house up here in Groveton on Eastside Drive and Number 1 highway where three or four kids burned up and the mother. At that time we had no water so we lost the whole building. We were unable to get anybody out of it. By the time we got there it was pretty well involved in fire.
In the volunteer departments the chiefs are elected by popular votes of the membership. I work for Fairfax County and now it's strictly through competitive exams. All the way up.
We have three shifts, A, B, and C. One shift works days, one works nights and the other's off. They work a 10 hour day, and a 14 hour night. Right now we have 33 men working at this station. That's 11 on a shift. Out of the station we run an engine company which consists of 2 (l,000 gallon per minute) pumpers, a 100 foot ladder truck which is a tiller (driven from the front and back), a heavy duty squad truck, two ambulances, and a jeep. We do all the water rescue from Alexandria to Fort Belvoir on the Potomac. We have two boats, one big boat and one little boat. We get a lot of calls, water rescue, especially when summer storms come up and sail boats turn over. We go out and pick people up.
The Penn Daw Station is still leading the balance of the county in total calls. They run more calls than any other station. We have 25 other stations and this is the busiest station in Fairfax County.