DC firefighters honor 5 members who died over a century ago

Box 139 was painted black to memorialize the five firefighters who were killed in 1896. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)
The five firefighters were honored by today’s members of their companies. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)
Box 139 was painted black to memorialize the five firefighters who were killed in 1896. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

May 18, 1896, saw the deadliest fire in history for D.C.’s fire department, and 126 years later, the city’s fire department honored the brave men who died during rescue attempts.

A red-and-black firebox — number 139 — stands at the corner of 9th Street and Pennsylvania Ave in Northwest.

“Just prior to 8:10 in the evening, the alarm of a fire from Firebox 139 was received” more than a century ago, said Deputy Chief Anthony Kelleher on Wednesday.

Five members of the department were killed by collapsing walls and flooring in what was known as the Commission House fire: Assistant Foreman George Kettler, Private Joseph Mulhall, Assistant Foreman George Giles and Private Daniel Conway.

In total, 22 structures suffered damage or total destruction that day.

Members of D.C.’s Engine Companies 8, 9 and Truck Company No. 2, the companies where those firefighters served, attended the dedication of the Line Of Duty Death (LODD) Memorial Box.

“So the call boxes back in the 1800s and throughout almost the 1960s used telegraphs to send alarms to the fire alarm headquarters,” said Kelleher.

With modern technology, they’re a reminder of the past, and “over the last couple of decades, to honor our line of duty deaths, the members that have given the ultimate sacrifice to our city and service, we’ve dedicated the one that was closest to the incident … to pay tribute to them,” said Kelleher.

The usual red box is “painted black to signify that was a fatal fire that occurred there,” Kelleher said.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of fire and emergency services in the District, and the department is using the anniversary as a way to remember the past.

“’We never forget.’ You hear it in the department all the time, because that’s what we don’t want to do — forget anybody that has sacrificed our life and service for the city,” Kelleher said.

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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