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Protecting America's First Home

Life inside Station 24 at Woodlawn.

Within the shadow one of the nation's most historic residences is Fairfax County's first fire station built with county funds.

Dedicated 30 years ago this past October, Station 24 at Woodlawn, within five minutes of the Mount Vernon Estate, was the first to be financed by a bond issue. The prior 23 stations were all existing volunteer company stations.

"We've had only one addition to this building since it opened in October 1971," Captain John Cousin, the 18-year veteran, who heads the station at 8701 Lukens Lane, explained.

Today, Station 24 is home to 33 members of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. They rotate through three 24 hour shifts, seven days a week, staffing an Engine Company, Ladder Company and a Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Unit.

But the piece of equipment Cousin was most proud of was the new tower ladder truck with its 95 foot extension and "cherry picker" type platform. It enables firefighters to better attack blazes and rescue potential victims.

"It's a much more rapid and safer means of rescue and gets our people to the source of the blaze much quicker," Cousin explained. "People no longer will have to be guided or carried down a long extension ladder. We can offer curb service."

The hose can shoot 2,000 gallons of water a minute which stops the fire much quicker, according to Cousin. "We are able to hit every window in a 120-foot long building from one position with this new equipment," he emphasized.

In addition to Washington's home, Station 24 also has Woodlawn Plantation within its jurisdiction. "Both are high target sites, not only for fire emergencies but also for medical treatment and transport emergencies," Cousin noted.

"During the tourist season we get a lot of medical emergency calls. We can maintain a six minute response time," he said. "Our EMS unit always has two paramedics."

A GREAT COUNTY RESOURCE

Dan Schmeidt, County Fire and Rescue Public Information Officer, further explained, "In addition to the paramedics assigned to EMS we also have a paramedic on every engine. Not every department has that. It's a great resource for the county."

Cousin pointed out every Fairfax County engine carries a total of four personnel. The extra person is a paramedic. "There are 350 paramedics in the department countywide," Schmeidt added.

"Last year we responded to 4,567 fire and medic calls," Cousin, who has been chief at Woodlawn for the past two years, noted. "This station is responsible for one of the most populated areas in the county."

It can also lay claim to being the home of a second generation firefighter, Richard Bright, who's father is assigned to Lorton's Station 19. "I was an electrician for 10 years but my dad got me interested in becoming a firefighter," Bright explained.

MORE FUN AND TIME OFF

Having spent the first four years of his new career at Station 24, Bright finds, "The most interesting part of this assignment is servicing the Mount Vernon Estate." Jokingly he noted, "Being a firefighter is more fun and you have more time off than being an electrician."

Cousin explained, "The Mount Vernon Estate has its own fire engine, 24 hour security and a state-of-the art fire suppression system." According to Bright it is "a halon system that sprays a carbon dioxide-like substance from the ceiling which is capable of smothering a fire without damaging the home's contents."

Station 24 works hand-in-glove with both Alexandria and Fort Belvoir departments. "During the Sept. 11 situation we were running calls for Alexandria while they were engaged at the Pentagon," Cousin said. In the case of Fort Belvoir both companies regularly cover for one another.

Schmeidt said that this station, like others throughout the county, is involved in a variety of fire safety education programs. One such endeavor is teaching candle safety.

"We have developed a three by five card that lists the do's and don't's on how to use candles," Schmeidt emphasized. "We provide them to all businesses that sell candles to give to their customers."

Another major concern of Cousin's was the safety of pedestrians on Route 1. "Pedestrian deaths have been increasing at an alarming rate along Route 1," he said. "Our Department of Transportation does not build roads with pedestrians in mind."

Those accidents have accounted for an ever increasing number of EMS responses from Station 24 and its paramedic personnel. Cousin drives Route 1 from his home to the station. "I come in early, before dawn. I'm always nervous about someone stepping onto the highway," he said.