Station 19 Chief Earl Curtis has seen a lot in his years, especially in Lorton, where he has lived since 1928. Some Lorton locals know Chief Curtis as the Volunteer Fire Chief at the Lorton Fire Station on Armistead Road. Some know he helped build the station. Still more may just know him from Bingo at the hall. Others may have stored a boat in the back of the station. But not many have heard Chief Curtis's whole story.
Curtis was born in the Ballston area of Virginia and at the age of three, he moved with his family to settle in Lorton.
"We grew up as poor people, no one had a whole lot," said Curtis.
His father worked as a property caretaker for a "big house on Gunston Road" as he recalled that was owned by a "Mr. Miller of New York." It's where the Pohick Bay Golf Course is today.
Curtis vividly remembers that his family stayed on the property rent free in exchange for his father's work and upkeep of the home. He recalls that when he was about eight years old, "My father got mad one time because Mr. Miller said 'starting the first of the month you have to pay $10 a month."
Curtis's father said "No, we are not paying nuthin!" Soon after, Curtis' father packed up the family to move. "We left at midnight and started renting a [another] place that was $15 per month," laughed Curtis.
Shortly thereafter his father took work as a carpenter, and later on started raising goldfish. His family would buy the fish from a store outside of Frederick Maryland, and then raise them in their own pond. Curtis often helped his father sell thousands of goldfish to local five-and- ten stores. "We had big nets…and would have to count them all," said Curtis. Unsurprisingly, Curtis' favorite subject in school was math.
When Curtis graduated from high school in June of 1942, he went straight into the Army and served for three years during WWII. He doesn't talk too much about his time in combat, but mentioned that he was stationed in Kansas, and then was transferred to Arkansas. He went on to serve n Europe. In 1945, when the Army asked for volunteers to go to Japan, he volunteered. He was sent back to the US for a 30-day furlough, but was shortly discharged when the atomic bomb was dropped and the war ended. After he came home Curtis took a job delivering papers for the Washington Post. He also worked a second job as a Fairfax County school bus driver.
It was during the 1950s that a few community folks, including Curtis, decided that a fire station was important for the growing Lorton community. After several meetings, and much effort and coordination, they were able to get enough community support to proceed with building the station. Through local donations from construction companies to concrete, the group was able to get the station erected from the generosity of the local community.
According to Curtis, the owners of the old Helm Store (now where the 7-11 stands on Route 1) donated the land where the station is built. The station purchased their first piece of fire equipment shortly thereafter, an old white fire truck. In 1954 there were about 30 volunteers who helped at the station. In 1953-54, Company 11 (Penn Daw in Huntington area of Alexandria) sponsored the Volunteer Fire Department effort in Lorton and trained the volunteers on fire safety and first aid. Company 9 in Mt. Vernon also assisted with training. The station number"19" for the Lorton Fire Station comes from the fact that the station was the 19th Company introduced into the County.
Back in 1954, a fire station wasn't just for holding fire trucks. Saturday night dances were a popular way to have an evening out, and the Fire Hall brought in great talent. Curtis remembers performances by Jimmy Dean and Grandpa Jones, among others. But the highlight came in 1956, when Patsy Cline sang at the Hall's New Year's Eve celebration.
Things have changed over the years and the station hasn't held a dance in a while. Although Curtis said renting the Hall again in the near future for private events is a possibility.
Until then, Curtis urges the community to donate money or play bingo at the fire hall on Mondays and Fridays. The Volunteer Fire Department owns the building, all the equipment and the land that Station 19 occupies.
The station is home to many "career" firefighters, who are employed by the county and often work 24-hour shifts. There are over 100 volunteers registered on paper, but only about 30 are active, mostly with administrative duties at the Station. Karen Thomas is fully qualified as a volunteer firefighter with Company 19. According to Curtis, "She volunteers her time and rides with the career firefighters. You would never know the difference between her and a career firefighter."
Since Curtis had heart surgery in 1985, he is no longer out in the field fighting fires or offering EMT support. But he still handles much of the administrative tasks at the station. He retired after more than 40 years with the Washington Post and nearly 52 years as a bus driver, but has continued to stay very active with the Volunteer Fire Department. Last year, he recorded around 1000 hours at the station.
In his spare time, he enjoys packing up with his wife and taking their motor home cross country. One of his favorite places is Yellowstone National Park. He also enjoys spending time with family. He has a son and a daughter, two granddaughters, one grandson, and two great granddaughters. Curtis enjoys pressing his luck at a casino now and then, but hasn't won enough to pay for the $491,000 purchase of the last fire truck.