Penn Daw Fire Department: Harrison Rouse
QUESTION: What year did you start the Penn Daw Fire Department?
Well, we started it somewhere back in 1939 to 1940. The closest fire department was in the city of Alexandria and the closest one in the county was out in Franconia. We had some house fires but mostly field fires. Every spring when people would start cleaning up they would light fires and they'd get away from them.
They'd rake up the yards and try to burn all that trash up, then the wind would catch a bunch of it and blow it over into a field and the first thing you'd know the whole field would be on fire. I've seen practically half of that Hybla Valley field on fire. Sometimes we'd fight those things all night long.
You couldn't even get the truck back in some of those fields. It'd be too rough. So we'd have to walk back to the truck, fill jt up, go back out there, squirt some water on it. When we first started we only had one fire truck and then we got a trailer from the Civil Defense that had a big pump on it, but it didn't carry any water and if we wasn't near a pond, it wasn't any good. The truck that we had carried 500 gallons of water and we put out most fires with that.
QUESTION: Was the fire department volunteer?
Strictly volunteer, we had no paid men whatsoever.
At one time we had about 130 men on the roll. Of course, we never got that many at every fire. But it took that many to work the fire department. We had some men that would fight fires and we had some men that helped raise money, like run the bingo games or run the horseshows that we used to have and the carnivals. When we first started we didn't get anything from the county. We had to get the money together to build the building and buy the truck.
QUESTION: What kind of fund raisers did you have?
The biggest ones we'd have would be the carnivals. We'd have a carnival that would run for about a week. It used to run up on the fields on the top of the hill from the old fire station. This is where Memco and Beacon Mall are now. Of course when we were running them then that field was a big airport.
QUESTION: What was the worst fire you ever fought?
I guess the biggest one, was where there was another airport down at Hybla Valley and the hanger caught fire. It was a couple hundred feet long and was on fire from one end to the other. That was about the hottest fire but there was no people in that. The worst fire I remember, was the small house down in Gum Springs. Three little children were in the house. Evidently something happened and the house caught fire and burnt all three of the little children up. It was the worst because we had to go in there and get those little children out.
QUESTION: Where did you go to school?
My first school was in a one room church. All the grades were in one room. There was only two or three in one grade. One teacher would teach first to this grade over here then she'd get them to studying and go to the next one. So that year by year you already knew what was going to be in your next grade cause you'd sit there and listen to it. This was good in a way because it wasn't just something brand new when you went in to that next grade.
After fourth grade out here, and the fifth and sixth grades, I went up to what's called Snowden school up on Fort Hunt Road. We had to ride the old electric train that ran from Mount Vernon to Alexandria. In the seventh grade I went to an Alexandrian school.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about Dyke Marsh?
When I was a kid the old electric train ran right down just about where the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway is now. Right where you could see that sort of channel come in right close to the road, there was an old house boat and this old fella, we used to call him "Cigarette Dodson," lived down in that house boat. He trapped and fished and made a regular living. Then when they put the boulevard down thru there they bought the land and they wouldn't give him right of way to park his car or to get across to his place so he had to move.
QUESTION: How did they call you to come to a fire?
In those days when you called in a fire you called the operator and told her you had a fire. She'd take the address and when she rang our phone in the firehouse it set a siren off and it rang until somebody ran in and answered the phone. We had some men that lived right across the street from the firehouse, then after we put a few additions on we put a little bunk room up there and we had a lot of single men that lived right at the firehouse. Of course, when the phone rang and the siren went off they'd jump off, answer the phone and write up on the board where the fire was. And being so close to it they'd get the first truck and go right on out. Then all the other volunteers would come in and it'd be on the board where the first truck had gone so we'd get in the second and third.
QUESTION: What did you do when you weren't a volunteer?
I was working for the C & P Telephone Company most of the time up until World War II. Then I went with Trans World Airlines and stayed with them for about four years. Then after the war was over I went back to the telephone company and then came here to Mt. Vernon. I've been here 29 years, and I do repairs and so forth to everything on the place, the buildings, the furniture in the buildings, the equipment that it takes to keep the grass mowed and keep the grounds up.