By Justin T. Carreno – April 23, 2020
The Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department (CVFD) dates back to 1898 where it operated out of strategically stationed sheds containing firefighting equipment. It wasn’t until in 1915 that a plot of land in the Cherrydale neighborhood of the Washington, DC suburb of Arlington County (then Alexandria County), Virginia was identified to build a proper central firehouse. Three years later, in 1918, preparations were completed to break ground to start building the fire station.
However, little did anyone know that 1918 would also bring with it the most severe influenza pandemic in recent history. What became known as the “Spanish Flu” lasted through 1919 resulting in the deaths of at least an estimated 50 million worldwide (more deaths than in WWI), including an estimated 675,000 deaths in the United States.
By late September the flu raced through Northern Virginia. On October 1, 1918 Alexandria County (renamed Arlington County in 1920) closed 6 schools to slow the spread of the virus, including Fort Myer Heights, Clarendon, Barcroft, Columbia Pike, Ballston, and the site of the new fire station, Cherrydale. Two days later, there were 50 new cases reported for just that single day in the county, a record high. Arlington’s population was approximately 16,000, and by the end of the pandemic 54 Arlingtonians died from the flu compared to only 4 the year before and 11 the following year.
Despite the threat of the flu pandemic, CVFD charged on, broke ground for the fire station, began construction, and finally laid the cornerstone the next year on November 10, 1919. Actual construction of the large two-story brick building took a little less than two years, using all volunteer labor and all donated materials, finally being fully operational by 1921. The CVFD firehouse was the first such structure to be erected in Arlington County, housing the county’s first officially organized fire department, and stands today as the oldest operating firehouse in Northern Virginia.
Today CVFD is prepared to support Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. In 1918, the department was strictly a fire suppression organization. Since then, we have grown in capability and our operational volunteers are fully cross-trained as firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs). As EMTs, our volunteers are capable of assisting ACFD with response to the full range of medical emergencies, including those related to today’s pandemic.
Justin T. Carreno is a volunteer firefighter/EMT and serves as Historian for the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department in Arlington, Virginia.
- “Arlington and the First World War” by Mark Benbow in the 2017 edition of the Arlington Historical magazine
- Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.va2069.photos
- Virginia Department of Historic Resources
- “Fire Fighting in Arlington County” by Leslie L. Shelton
- Arlington HIstorical Society Crepe Upon the Doors – Epidemics in Arlington County virtual exhibit
- “The Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department: A History” by Kathy Holt-Springston
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)