When a smoky three-alarm fire broke out at the historic Lansburgh department store in Northwest in January 1986, the Friendship Fire Association was on hand to serve refreshments to about 100 firefighters.
"This was one of the biggest fires we covered in the last two years," said Vito Maggiolo, president of the nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to assisting firefighters in the District. "We were on the scene for 3 1/2 hours. Most of us were tuned in to our scanners. We were notified at 10:20 p.m. and 12 of our members arrived in 20 minutes. We served nine gallons of coffee, 23 hot soups, 38 packs of hot chocolate, 150 cans of cola and 116 granola bars from our canteen truck."
The Friendship Fire Association has aided the D.C. Fire Department at multiple alarm fires since 1940. In 1986, the group responded to 50 calls.
Fire Chief Theodore R. Coleman said of the group: "I have been with the D.C. Fire Department for the last 28 years, and I can truly say that the Friendship Fire Association is a blessing and most of the firefighters will attest to that. No matter how cold or hot it is, they always respond. The organization is a tremendous asset and it is great for morale."
The group has 45 active members. Maggiolo, a longtime fire buff, is an assignment editor for Cable News Network. He said that "at least six of our guys are at each call. When we are at a fire, we wear red helmets and obsolete fire gear provided by the Fire Department."
Andrew Horn, 75, has been a member of the group for 15 years. He said the worst fire he has seen since joining the association occurred in 1979 at Kann's department store on Seventh Street and Indiana Avenue NW.
"The whole block was on fire . . . . Twenty-one engine trucks and 12 truck companies were fighting the fire," he said.
Horn, a retired Navy Department design engineer who has been a fire buff since 1918, has vivid memories of a 1929 fire at the White House.
"The fire at the west end of the White House was intense. It broke out in the annex and lasted all night because the area was congested with large file cabinets and office equipment. My older brother Mark, who had introduced me to fire-buffing, was an auxiliary member of the Fire Department. He received a fire pass, which got us on the fire grounds," Horn recalled. "During this time period, radios were not out yet and the Fire Department used a telegraph service to alert the fire engine companies. We assisted them that night by serving refreshments."
"Firefighters are really a good bunch of guys," said Maggiolo, 35, a native of the Bronx, N.Y. "My father died when I was a youngster and many of the firefighters served as father figures and role models to me. Our group makes an important contribution to society by aiding the Fire Department."
The Friendship Fire Association operates on contributions and membership dues.
In 1972, the organization purchased a canteen truck, which is sometimes called "Car 5," for $10,000. The truck consists of a mobile field kitchen, refrigerator and coffee maker. Coleman requested a new canteen truck for the organization in the fire department's fiscal 1988 budget.
"Our guys listen to their radios all the time. I have two scanners in my home and one in my car," said Coleman Reed Tuckson, a past president of the organization and a retired assistant dean of dentistry at Howard University. "When there is a large fire in the city, we automatically go out."
Tuckson is the father of D.C. Public Health Commissioner Reed V. Tuckson.
The Friendship Fire Association runs a museum of firefighting artifacts and memorabilia at 4930 Connecticut Ave. NW at Engine Co. 31. Among the items on display is a collection of fire badges from every state, as well as badges from Argentina, Denmark, Trinidad and Switzerland.