In the fall of 1947, Burke residents began to put together a local volunteer fire company. At that time, the nearest departments to the Burke area were located in Annandale and the Town of Fairfax (later renamed the City of Fairfax). Their respective response areas extended from the county borders along the Occoquan River in the south and to what is now Centreville in the west. This was a sparsely populated area principally populated by family farms and large tracks of forests. The Burke Volunteer Fire Department was incorporated on January 29, 1948, with nonprofit status granted by the Commonwealth of Virginia just a few days later. Burke VFD assumed responsibility for an area of 91 square miles and a population of about 9,000 residents. By 1949 the department had 47 active volunteers, and responded to 26 calls in that year, as compared to 3,432 responses in 2014.
The department’s first piece of firefighting apparatus was a 1932 Ford fire truck that was purchased from the Annandale Volunteer Fire Department for $500 by the Burke Communities Civic Association. The truck was a government surplus vehicle from the War Department. This pumper became affectionately known as “Old Red.” In the spring of 1950, the BVFD bought a new “ton and a half” Ford fire truck. “Old Red” became a reserve pumper.
In the spring of 1948, the Burke community raised enough money to build its first fire station. This small building remained in use for almost 50 years, including serving for many of those years as the Burke Post Office. When the new Burke Post Office was built, it became the home of the Burke Lawn Mower Shop. The building was razed 1997 when the new fire station was built.
As Fairfax County grew, more volunteer fire companies were established throughout the county, in the towns of Vienna, Clifton, Herndon, and the growing areas of Lorton and Great Falls, McLean. This required more coordination of a responses and the establishment of a numbering system. The Burke Volunteer Fire Department was assigned the number “14” and soon became known as Company 14. Contrary to popular myth, the numbers were not assigned from oldest department to newest, though it is fairly close. According to lore, numbers were assigned based on when the applications arrived at the courthouse, which is why McLean Volunteer Fire Department is Company 1. They were not the first fire department in the county (it was probably the Fairfax Volunteer Fire Department), but rather the first department to show up at the courthouse to get a number assignment.
In 1954, Fairfax County began hiring full time “firemen” (as they were called) assigning one to each of the then 17 volunteer stations. These were we known as the “paid men”. At the time there were no women in either the career or volunteer ranks. The full time firefighters generally worked during the daytime, Monday through Friday, serving primarily as the fire truck driver and operator. In the early days, only some of the fire departments had ambulances for medical response. In some areas, there were separate organizations called “rescue squads” that only provided medical service and responded to vehicle accidents. These two systems merged into departments providing both fire and emergency medical response; which is the system today. As the county grew into a commuter community and demand for services grew, the all-volunteer system was not able to meet the mandate for immediate response and more full time firefighters were needed, both in the daytime and at night. Today, each of the county’s 38 fire stations have full time career firefighters working 24/7.
The Burke Volunteer Fire Department celebrated its 15th anniversary in 1963. At that time the department had 47 active “operational” members (56 total members) including the three paid firefighters. The station had four fire engines and one ambulance protecting a community of approximately 40 square miles. That year the department was in the planning stages for building a new fire station. Much of it was built by the members themselves, who possessed bricklaying, carpentry and other skills. The new building was dedicated on November 3, 1963. Over the years, improvements were made, and second story was added in the late 70’s to add a much needed bunkroom, showers and meeting rooms for the growing volunteer and career members.
By 1965, the Burke VFRD had five fire trucks and one carry-all ambulance: a 1950 Chevrolet Pumper, a 1952 Ford Pumper, a 1960 Dodge Pumper (Brush Truck), a 1963 Ford Pumper, a Rescue Boat, a 1964 Chevrolet Ambulance and a 1965 Jeep. This equipment was manned by four career firefighters and 58 volunteers. The first due area population had increased to 18,000 people. In 1966, the department purchased a new Cadillac Ambulance, and in 1967 the station bought a 1966 Seagrave pumper. By 1969, a second Seagrave pumper was purchased and there were now 7 career firefighters assigned to the station, including a station captain. 1969 was also the year Hurricane Camille struck the area. This was a major storm that caused extensive flooding in the low lying Burke area including Guinea Road, what is now Burke Centre and areas surrounding Burke Lake, many requiring evacuations and water rescues.
By 1971, the BVFD saw its call volume increase to more than 1,000 emergency responses a year. These emergencies included vehicle accidents, structure fires, brush fires, water rescue and emergency medical calls. By 1974, the Burke VFD was responding to more than 1,300 calls per year. The department covered 31 square miles and 12,000 homes. The career staff had grown to 15, and the department began offering Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) training to the community. The station owned 2 ambulances, 2 Seagrave pumpers, 1 Jeep, 1 boat and several miscellaneous vehicles.
By 1981, the fire and police departments, roads and schools were all feeling overburdened with the growth of the Burke Centre community. What had been envisioned by county planners as a community of 8,000 by 1990 had become a community of approximately 27,000 and was still growing. The Burke Volunteer Fire Department was faced with meeting tremendous new demands as all this growth occurred.
In 1987, units from the BVFD station ran 2,245 calls. Volunteer members contributed more than 22,000 hours of service to the community on a volunteer basis. Some of this was in the form of comprehensive CPR training that was provided to the community at no cost. In addition, the BVFD became actively involved with numerous Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs in our community, providing training on topics such as first aid, search and rescue, fire safety and fire prevention.
By 1989, the Burke Volunteer Fire Department was the largest volunteer fire department in Fairfax County. The department owned 7 vehicles, including: 2 fire engines, 3 ambulances, 1 heavy rescue squad, 1 brush truck, 1 heavy duty pickup to tow the Cave-In Trailer, 1 Boat, 1 4wd Utility Vehicle and 1 chief’s car. The 70 Burke volunteers and 30 County career staff answered more than 2,200 emergency calls for an 11 square mile area with a population of 47,000.
In 1991, the members at the BVFD recorded an unprecedented 30,690 hours of service, compared to 15,000 hours only ten years earlier. Also in 1991, the Burke VFD proposed and gained approval to purchase – new; a hybrid vehicle that combined the functions of a pumper and an aerial ladder truck, referred to as a “Quint.” The quint concept was a unique operational platform that successfully provided immediate multiple fire and rescue capability to the Burke area, which had been somewhat lacking, particularly for the functions of a ladder truck. This successful implementation was another example of the innovative and forward thinking and enduring leadership of the Burke VFD and its volunteer and career members.
By 1992 The Burke Volunteer Fire Department realized that its mission had grown to encompass much more than just firefighting. The Department was providing advanced emergency medical care, specialized trench and high angle rescue response, auto accident disentanglement, just to name a few of the types of calls the Department responded to. A formal request was submitted to State Corporation Commission in Richmond changing the name from the Burke Volunteer Fire Department to the Burke Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department—thus recognizing our expanded mission space.
As the mid-90’s approached, and the Burke area became more populated, Company 14 became busier with responses for emergency medial calls, traffic accidents, brush fires, building cave-ins and construction accidents. The additional staff and bigger vehicles along with a very active volunteer force as well as the addition of female career and volunteers, was well beyond what the building constructed in 1963 was designed to support. The department was in the process of planning a major renovation and expansion when on January 10th, 1997, an electrical short in one of the fire trucks started a fire in the vehicle in the early morning hours. The fire was discovered by on duty personnel in the fire station. The fire forced the 11 career and volunteer members sleeping in station to evacuate the building and helplessly watch from across the street as the fire consumed the vehicles and a portion of the building until help arrived from nearby West Springfield, Fairfax City and other stations. The blaze caused significant damage to the building and the 4 fire trucks and 2 ambulances parked inside. In spite of the major loss of both the building and the apparatus, the combined efforts and resources of Fairfax County and the Burke VFRD quickly restored capability that allowed services continue to be provided to the Burke community. Temporary living facilities and a large high semi-permanent structure was erected on-sight to house the personnel and loaned vehicles, while the damaged vehicles were being repaired or replaced.
It was also decided that rather than repairing or rebuilding the existing fire station, replacing the structure with a new building designed for current and future use was the best long term solution. With the help of the local community, Springfield Supervisor Elaine McConnell, Braddock Supervisor Sharon Bulova, the Board of Supervisors and Chairwomen Kate Hanley and Springfield Planning Commissioner and Chairmen Peter Murphy, the Burke Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department was able to design and build a modern, fire station and meeting hall complex on the site of the old fire station. Operations began out of this advanced-design facility on December 4th, 2001.
In 2014, the BVFRD had 100 active members that contributed a total of 31,003 hours. The station answered 3,432 calls. As has been the trend nationwide, Emergency Medical responses made up two-thirds of the calls.
Today, the Burke Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department carries on the proud tradition started by those first brave volunteers in 1948. Although the station, our equipment, and the fire and medical technology has changed significantly over those nearly 67 years, the pride and professionalism of the volunteer and career personnel and tireless dedication to our mission of providing the highest quality service to the citizens of our community remain stronger than ever.
Learn more about BVFRD and the people behind Station 14 in this video, “Sparking Community,” produced by Member Alisha Sunde.