Before the Metro, automated teller machines and stop lights, back when Vienna consisted of patches of rolling farmland, Vienna councilman Leon Freeman decided that in order to fight fires, assembling the neighbors to establish a bucket brigade wasn't enough. So Freeman organized the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department in 1903, the same year that the first telephone was installed at a Vienna home.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department. For 100 years, volunteer and professional firefighters and emergency medical technicians have responded to thousands of calls and extinguished hundreds of fires.
In addition to being the first volunteer fire department established in the county, the company also was among the first to recruit women and establish quarters and facilities for both men and women.
To celebrate the anniversary, the department has planned a gala to be held on May 31, at the Hyatt Fair Lakes in Fairfax, Va. United States Fire Administrator R. David Paulison will be the guest speaker, and the Madison High School jazz band will provide musical entertainment.
Over the years, volunteers and professionals have witnessed numerous accidents and fires. Vienna resident Sam Savia, a life member of the fire department, intends to share the more amusing stories at the gala. Savia, who in November will be a member for 62 years, joined the fire department in 1941 when he was 15. They needed more volunteers because the members were being drafted to serve in World War II. His younger brother joined the following year.
"When you grow up with something, you have a lot of knowledge," Savia said, explaining his expertise.
Savia said that the fire department was all volunteer until 1950, when the county paid a custodian to maintain the equipment. Now the department consists of volunteers and professionals with the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department.
Fellow life member Tom Bonner started volunteering in 1961 with Vienna residents Ed Purcell and Jerry Miller after Savia approached them at a bingo game at the Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church. To get into the action, Bonner recalled, the volunteers would have to spend a night, usually a Friday night, down at the firehouse. If they were at home and they heard the siren call, by the time they would reach the firehouse, they would be used for backup.
"If you were down at the firehouse, you had a good chance of getting to the fire on the first or second truck," Bonner said.
Some memories of answered calls stick out in Bonner's mind, like using a pillow to stop the bleeding of a battered woman or witnessing a man on fire after he had been smoking in bed. But some of the memories were more pleasant, like the camaraderie among the members or the training with "Doc" Plummer, who was so named because he delivered so many babies when responding to calls.
"You were relying on each one to back you up, so you all would get out of the fire safely," Bonner said, when asked about the department's camaraderie.
The next step for the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, according to Savia, is to bring its current firehouse into code and to construct more space for storage and living quarters. The department is seeking $2.5 million to make these changes.
"We have always been able to maintain the newest equipment that was available," Savia said.