Odd looking fire vehicle saved countless lives
August 11, 1994
By Pamela J. Cressey
The carriage once brought the hose from the Friendship Firehouse on South Alfred Street to fire scenes around town. It was manufactured on North Pitt Street and is ornamented with the portraits of firemen Benjamin Thomas and James Keene.
Two hundred and twenty years ago this month, the Friendship Fire Company was established in Alexandria. Starting in 1774, Friendship was the first voluntary fire company in town.
Last Saturday, we had the opportunity to visit the Friendship Firehouse and its unique collection. The special 220th birthday celebration also brought out our modern firefighters, equipment, and firedog mascot SCOUT. Preserved by the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association, the firehouse is now an agency of the City of the Alexandria. Friendship gives us a chance to step back in time and consider problems of historic urban life.
Alexandrians once lived in constant fear of fire. There were numerous conflagrations, and the citizens had to be ever ready to rush to the fire scene to help. As reported in the Alexandria Advertizer in 1787: "Last Monday about one o'clock, P.M. this town was alarmed by the cry of Fire which proved to be in the corner house of Mr. M'Knight's. . . but through the activity of the Fire Companies and Inhabitants it was soon extinguished."
Lynn Rozental, Director of the Lyceum, has written an informative article on the Friendship Collection and firefighting. Originally, citizens arranged themselves in double lines, to pass buckets of water between the fire and the water source.
One of the most significant objects in the Friendship Collection, which looks so old fashion today, was actually an advancement. The Friendship hose carriage helped save countless lives and property and was made in Alexandria on the 100 block of North Pitt Street in 1858.
The use of hoses for firefighting was a technological breakthrough. But the fabric hoses were heavy and had to be carried to the fire on men's backs. Carriages were built to haul 400 to 600 feet of hose to the fire scene.
The Friendship hose carriage is not simply a functional object. Painted bright red, it was ornamented with portraits of two martyred firemen, bells, and a stained glass lamp with a miniature fireman.
By 1890 Alexandria had a paid municipal fire department with two steam engines, one hook and ladder truck, and 3000 feet of hose. Today we have 16,800 feet of hose along with 8 fire engines and three ladder trucks. Due to the efficiency of our nearly 150 firefighting personnel and 40 paramedics we no longer fear the loss of our town when we hear the fire engine sirens.
Visit Friendship Firehouse, 107 South Alfred Street, Fridays and Saturdays (10-4),Sundays (1-4). Call 703-838-4994 for information.
Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.