For the 10th year in a row the 100 block of South Alfred took a giant step backward in time last Saturday as antique fire-fighting equipment caught the eye and imagination of children and adults alike.
Alexandria's Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association celebrated its 230th anniversary with both vintage and modern apparatus on display plus entertainment, crafts, educational activities and refreshments. Children received free fire helmets and balloons and were able to become "co-passengers" inside City fire trucks.
Held at the historic Friendship Firehouse, 107 S. Alfred St., erected in 1855, this year's festival celebrated the role firefighters have played throughout history — including the central role played by Alexandria firefighters at The Pentagon on 9/11.
"This year's event is featuring more historical equipment than in previous years," said William Kehoe at the outset Saturday morning while overseeing last minute arrangements. Accentuating that fact was a fully restored 1890's hose reel situated in front of the historic firehouse.
"They made these in the mid- to late-1800s," said Charlie Cadle, a volunteer firefighter from Annapolis, Md., and owner of the large wheeled reel with red, white and blue carnations attached to the pull bar.
"This one probably came from a fairly wealthy community because it has more amenities than most, such as three nozzles and two lanterns," Cadle said. "I found it in a flea market in Gordonville, Va."
Cadle admitted to having restored several wheel hoses, but, "This one is my favorite," he said. The wheel hose was a large wheeled, hand-pulled cart that transported the hose and nozzles in the era of horse drawn and man-pulled fire equipment.
"I've been a volunteer firefighter for 50 years. My great grandfather founded the rescue hose company in Annapolis in 1879. I also serve as the City of Annapolis volunteer historian," Cadle said.
At the opposite end of the age spectrum was 11-month-old Nicholas Schwalb, who was being introduced to the wonders of antique firefighting equipment in Friendship's museum by his parents Kevin and Janet Schwalb of Alexandria. "This is our first time at this event," Kevin said.
"I wasn't aware this museum was even here. It's really great," he said.
ONE OF THE BIG draws during the event was a white fire truck/pumper owned by the McKeown family of Woodbridge. It had originally been owned by Caldwell Fire Department Number One in Caldwell, Ohio.
A 1947 Ford American, the truck originally sold for $10,000, according to Patty McKeown. "We found it in a field in West Virginia. The whole family made it a project to restore it," she said.
"During the restoration process we discovered the name Caldwell on the door jam. I started calling every Caldwell in the country to locate its original owners. When I finally reached Caldwell, Ohio, I talked to the man who made the original purchase. He was delighted we had found it," McKeown said.
"When I asked him why it was white he explained, ‘It was our first fire truck and when we took it to get painted the shop asked us what color we wanted. We told him we didn't care if he painted it white. So that's what he did,’" she said.
"It's fully functional, including the pumping equipment on the front. If it had to, it could fight a fire right now," McKeown said.
BUT THE TRUCK that caught the fancy of seven-year-old Malcolm Wanzer was a modern vehicle from present day Alexandria Fire Department. Sitting high in the driver's seat, wearing his "firefighter helmet," Malcolm sported a large grin as he grabbed the wheel.
The present Friendship Firehouse was remodeled in 1871 and restored to its original condition in 1992. The first floor Engine Room showcases historic fire-fighting equipment, including hand-drawn fire engines, leather water buckets, axes, and sections of early rubber hose.
The second floor features exhibits highlighting Friendship's long history. Known as George Washington's Fire Company, it was Alexandria's first fire company, established in 1774, followed by Sun in 1775 and Relief in 1788.
On Jan. 27, 1796 representatives of the three companies met to adopt articles of mutual cooperation. Article six of that covenant stated, "The members of the several companies pledge themselves to each other, that they will assist a member of either of them, whose property may be in danger from fire, in preference to persons who are members of neither."