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Arrival video: Two-alarm fire destroys home of well known Washington, DC activists Dorothy Brizill & Gary Imhoff.

UPDATE: The early video of the fire taken by a neighbor has been removed from YouTube. News video has been added.

UPDATE to the UPDATE: Video has been re-posted. Click here.

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Photos from Prince of Petworth website

Note: As a reporter I had many conversations with Dorothy Brizill and was the recipient of a lot of good information that she uncovered about the DC government, including its fire department. My thoughts are with Dorothy and her husband Gary Imhoff through this difficult time.

On this page are three video clips of the early stages of the fire at 1337 Girard Street in Northwest Washington, DC posted to YouTube by jrowedc.

Mark Segraves, WTOP Radio:

The home of D.C. activist Dorothy Brizill and her husband burned down Friday afternoon. 

The Columbia Heights home was destroyed around 4:30 p.m. in a fire in the 1300 block of Girard Street. Nobody was home at the time.

Firefighters are still dealing with a gas leak. 

One firefighter received minor burns to his legs, and was transported to an area hospital.

Brizill and her husband, Gary Imhoff, founded D.C. Watch, a D.C. government watchdog group.

Benjamin R. Freed,

The fire was first reported about 4:45 p.m. Over 80 firefighters, two engines and one truck were dispatched to combat the two-alarm blaze, according to D.C. Fire and EMS. Only one injury has been reported—a firefighter who suffered from smoke inhalation.

Though we’re still awaiting details on the cause of the fire, the house has been a target of neighborhood curiosity and complaints. The house—built in 1870—came under the watchful eye of the D.C. Board for the Condemnation of Insanitary Buildings in 2007, according to a 2008 City Paper article. In 2002, the structure was put on the list of vacant and abandoned properties. There’s nothing yet indicating that today’s fire and any past problems are related.

Mike DeBonis & Clarence Williams, Washington Post:

Brizill and Imhoff, under the name D.C. Watch, have been deeply engaged as local government watchdogs for more than two decades. Notably, Brizill in 2002 raised questions about ballot petitions submitted by former Mayor Anthony A. Williams, which led the Board of Elections and Ethics to strike his name from the Democratic primary ballot. Williams ended up winning as a write-in candidate. More recently, Brizill raised concerns about the voting record of a top aide to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), leading to her resignation.

Their home, built in 1870, has garnered the attention of city authorities in the past decade for its sometimes dilapidated condition.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Seasoned Vet

    A real fire dept that lays out when they see they have a fire. Good job!

    • dave statter

      Actually they and most everyone else around here lays out even they don’t have a fire. It has long been that way. It was that way when I was in PG in the 70s. If you didn’t, you had better have a damn good excuse and even that wouldn’t be good enough. Depending on your chief, you might even consider laying out on EMS calls just to be on the safe side :).


  • Scott

    We’ve always left it up to the C.O. to make the decision to lay in, but we are really blessed to have more than enough help on most any fire around here. Actually the running joke is, we stomp the fire out with all the boots in the house!
    Looked to be like they were gonna be there for a while in this one!
    Good lookin fire, I like the attitudes of the guy filming…This stuff is cool & I wanna watch. Good luck to the cops keeping people from be interested & having a new excuse to use their smart phones.

  • Shack

    Holy Spaceballs! “May The Schwartz Be With You”, that’s what the guy filming was saying, it really wasn’t profanity laden like you think with words like “$%!+ balls”. :)

    Does anyone know if they made an interior attack and then decided to go defensive or defensive from the get go, just curious? I didn’t pay close attention or pause it, but I thought I did see lines running into the house at one point.

    • Anonymous

      Yes the initial attack was interior. The crews were making some progress but the volume of fire and the limited space to advance was too much. The IC made the decision to pull the guys out after some time, and it was a good call by a good Chief. The front of the house collapsed not too much after they went defensive. The first due engine laid a supply line and also took another hydrant out front, as well as the third due company laying duals to them. 3″ worked out great because DCFD could get other apparatus to the front of the building without having to shut down LDH to do so.

  • Elwood

    “Over 80 firefighters, two engines and one truck…”

    That’s some serious manpower right there! Where do they keep enough air packs for 26,6 guys on each rig? :)

    • Mr618

      I had the same question, until my brother suggested that they had stripped out all the hose and tools to make room for packs.

  • Dickey

    Videos don’t work now. Neither does the other link.

  • Commenter

    Hows that single 3″ supply line and 1.5″ attack line working out for you, DCFEMS?

  • Anonymous

    Wonder if the “out spoken” city watch dog will have any kind words for the firefighters.

    • dave statter

      While I can’t speak on her enire body of work, I can tell you as fact that Ms. Brizill has uncovered documents and found out important information on a number of stories that would be looked at as being pro-firefighter.


  • BH

    The cops push the crowd from the front of the building, where they WERE safe, right into a cloud of smoke at the end of the block.

    Morons with badges- your tax dollars at work.

  • There

    @Commenter- The first in Engine Company had their own hydrant in-front of the building AND laid a supply line in from the closest intersection. I know, I was there…. Luckily we have people like you sitting in the comfort of your own home to critique us. Thank you for the concern…. Have fun watching a bunch of videos today.

  • Commenter

    Well, If they had put more water on the fire quickly, it would have gone out sooner.

    Difficult with 3″ supply and 1.5″ attack. Can’t fault response times. The gpm didn’t match the btus, etc etc.

    “yah I’m a DC Fireman. We’re the busiest in the country.”. For EMS. That’s why your name is FEMS and you’re really not that good at putting out fires anymore.

    Shoulda laid LDH, used big handlines, and probably should have blitzed it from the outside, before making a quick search.

    This ain’t tournament fishing. You don’t get credit for using light tackle.

    • pipeman

      You’re a clown buddy. Just keyboard tough

  • Joe Dirt

    Really interesting that all the videos have disappeared.

    I’m also happy that no firefighters died in a building that should have been condemned years ago.

  • Eric

    @There…were you really there, or were you “there down the block”? After checking out Google street view, which is pretty current, I cant find any hyrdrant right infront of the fire building for the first-due.

  • Eric

    Scratch that, wrong block. Although I didnt notice in the videos, the first-due engine hook up to that.

  • Mark S. Baker

    Because I was there I will tell all of you monday quarter backs that after entry was made and an initial attack proved there was an excessively fire heavy load, the Battalion Fire Chief in charge of this fire ground operation made the best decision any Chief could have! Back out, go defensive and Heavy Duty! Had That Chief not made that decision we would be planing funerals for the next several weeks! I was in front when the building collasped and you can’t imagine the feeling, praying, hoping all of our folks where out of that building. Everyone who responded to that fire did there JOB as professionals and did it exceptionally well! They all are owed kudos for protecting both exposure that ended up with just very minor damage. If anyone is concerned all three Fire Fighters that where injured on that Fire Grund have gone home to their families! AMEN!

  • Commenter

    If its a good job when you put out a bread and butter room and contents, and it’s a good job when you make a swimming pool, just what the heck does your “good job” mean?

    DCFemmes under laid (1×3″), under pulled(125 gpm), over ventilated(uncoordinated), and the results were a smoldering pile of rubble. Yes, it was a challenging building. No, you weren’t up to the challenge.

    Good job? Hardly. Only by the chief who had the sense to pull his ineffective men out of a losing situation.

  • Another DCFD Member

    @Commenter If you knew anything about us then you would know that the regular engine companies don’t carry LDH. The water supply engines carry it. And they aren’t dispatched on the initial alarm. Now you might find one or two using them as a reserve while their frontline piece is in the shop. And just out of curiosity what dept do you work for???

  • Commenter

    Then let me quote Clint Eastwood’s character from Unforgiven: “Then he should’ve armed himself”. I don’t care what DC engines carry: they SHOULD carry LDH and 1.75″.

    I suspect that the modern DCFemmes is only slightly less capable than the old DCFD, but now instead of stories told by two hatters out in the counties, now we have video proof.

    • pipeman

      I really would like to know what dept you work for. Bring it on hoss, we will crush you.

    • Gil

      Sounds like somebody has the case of the should of’s.

    • DCFDmember

      DCFD engines should not carry LDH. With our tight streets once that is charged that would create more problems than it solves. Also, water supply wasn’t an issue. They were able to effectively support all of their lines well even when they went heavy duty. A 2nd alarm was called and when that occurs the DCFD sends 3 water supply engines which all carry 5″ hose. Thus, they had LDH available on the scene if needed. I’m not sure if they deployed any of the water supply engines, but they were there if needed on the 2nd alarm.

      1.75 is good, but it can be overrated too. So many departments only flow their 1.75 at 150 gpm, and there isn’t too much of a difference between that and a 1.5 flowing 125 gpm. If you flow very high amounts thru 1.75 it becomes much more difficult to advance thus that offsets some of it’s benefits by having a much greater flow. If it was a commercial establishment with large open areas a higher flow line would have it’s benefits, but in a multi story residential building which is highly compartmentalized 125 gpm is usually enough as you are extinguishing the fire in parts and not as a whole. When you break down the parts you will see it usually doesn’t take a high flow rate for each part. By having a more versatile line like the DCFD uses it makes it easier to move to the different compartmentalized areas along with moving up/down stairs.

  • confused

    Also, I hate to break it to you but when you sleeve your own hydrant you aren’t using 3″. Or maybe you forgot that part mr commenter? And you pretty much gave away your hand with the two-hatter statement.

  • oldhead

    Brave DC Firemen,
    Relax, Brave Commenter is just getting your panties in a bunch, I think he’s funny. An idiot, but funny. It was a great job. Let’s see what we had: a very large single family dwelling over 100 years old with exposures, numerous boarded up windows giving the appearance of a vacant/abandoned building, Colliers Mansion conditions inside, engine companies laid out coming in unlike many depts. nation-wide, interior attack attempted, companies backed out, exterior operations commenced seamlessly after accountability of interior crews ascertained, building then collapses, no one killed, exposures saved, incident handled in about an hour and a half with minimum crews left on scene into the night to complete extinguishment of the rubble pile. Sometimes you lose the building but if you save everything else around it it’s a good day. And I’ll be the first to admit that on the rare occasion DCFD goes exterior heavy duty is when we generally eff it up, we don’t do it that often. Listening to the radio traffic that day was impressive, erryone did their jobs and handled their $*?@. Despite what commenter says.

  • JustSayin”

    “Commenter” said, ” …you (DCFEMS) weren’t up to the challenge.”

    And “Another DCFC Member” validates this statement.!!!

    DCFEMS came to a big fire without big hose.. And this is a common practice.!!!

    Sounds like ya got more problems that just the current Patch.!!

  • Tommy D

    I thought we were all supposed to be brothers and sisters??? Why is everyone so quick to be hateful and negative? Having websites like these are not designed to tear us apart but to help us learn from the triumphs or mistakes of others like never before. Instead of negatively attacking DCFD for the tactics employed or equipment used why dont we ask why and have the members explain?? And to DCFD bros, why stoop to the level of those attacking you by wanting to know what department they work for and bragging about how you will crush them?? This is pretty embarrassing to hear the things that everyone is saying. Why would I want to put any videos of my department up when I know that it will not be perfect in so we will just be slammed for not doing it “by the book” or just like the best of the best do it. Now instead of sharing a video that you can learn from you miss out. Let us be constructive and not destructive. We all have the same mission no matter what city we work for and we all want to go home at the end of the shift. Last but certainly not least, let us not forget that we as firefighters must do the best we can with our current equipment and situation at hand. I am not sure how all of your departments work, but there are plenty of things mine would benefit from having or using properly but due to whatever reason you can think of, we dont have or dont know how to use and thus you make the best of what you have until someone with enough sense or swagger can get it changed.

  • Commenter

    If doesn’t matter what dept I work for or with, or even if I’m not a firefighter. Maybe my department is worse, maybe better. Maybe exactly the same. Doesn’t matter.

    Point #1. First engine laid a single small 3″ supply line into a block with 100 year old boarded up buildings and close exposures (thanks old head). Should be carrying 5″ hose. At least put dual 3″ in the street. That the company got lucky and found their own hydrant doesn’t change that. Neither does whatever dept I choose to claim.

    • Gil

      When I go back to work I will pick up some 5″ hose on the way in then you will be happy. And the wagon driver on that shift has more knowledge about firefighting and the city than most people that I know. If he had two hydrants that’s not by luck.

    • DCFDmember

      “That the company got lucky and found their own hydrant…”

      Are you sure about that? DCFD wagon drivers are very, very, very knowledgeable about their district and there is a good chance the wagon driver knew he had a hydrant in the middle of the block too.

  • Tommy D

    No one wants to comment on the fact that there was a firefighter riding on the tailboard of engine 4 while laying the supply???

  • oldhead

    All DCFD engines run with 3″ supply line. Only the water supply companies, one per battalion, run with 5″. I guess ideally EVERYONE EVERYWHERE should have 5 or 6 inch supply line and 1 3/4 or 2 inch attack lines, but we work with what we got and generally do damn good work with it. Do we screw up? Sure do, EVERYONE does. Should the first in engine have laid dual lines coming in? Maybe, but none of us saw what he saw and an interior attack must have looked do-able, I’m not gonna question his decision. The point is all firegrounds are fluid, constantly evolving incidents, and on this fire an interior attack was started, it was stopped and smoothly evolved to an exterior firefight. FDNY doesn’t run with preconnected attack lines, you gonna slam them for that? Last I heard, they’re pretty good at putting fires out. LOTS of FD’s don’t lay out coming in and that includes major metropolitan departments. We can slam FD operations all day long, but each FD generally uses the equipment and tactics that work for them. A fire this size held to two alarms, exposures saved with minimum damage, no one killed, and the majority of companies getting cleared within an hour and a half?! That’s damn good work anywhere. Period. The comments on this site? Pure entertainment.

  • JustSayin”

    old-dead said,

    ” … but each FD generally uses the equipment and tactics that work for them.”

    It worked great .. the building went to the ground.!!!

    NOW.. back to the REAL issue in this “FD” .. the past/current PATCH.!!!

    Good Grief.!!!!!!

  • Commenter

    Yay! We held damage to the city block of origin, with only minor injuries! We’re awesome! It ‘works for us’! Don’t dare tell us different!

    • DCFDmember

      No, the fire was held to a building of origin, and this being a building with an exposure connected to it on Side B. For the amount of fire in a building of this size to not have the fire extend into an attached exposure is a good job by the members at the incident.

      • Commenter

        Sure looks like daylight on side B when I look at on google street view.

        Also, reading comprehension: “damage” isn’t the same as “Fire”

        • DCFDmember

          In the video the building attached to the fire building is to the left of it, thus that would be side B (if you consider the front side A and work clockwise around the fire building). Side D (to the right) is where there was a space between the fire building and the next building.

          • DCFDmember

            Also, when using Google Street View you need to have the correct address. The correct address is 1337.

  • BFC

    If DCFEMS only carries 3″ you can’t fault them for using what they have. I also don’t see the issue with dropping a single 3″ to get the operation started… 9 times out of 10 all you have to do is pull the other line back a block at the most to get another line going. Definitely the right decision to pull the Brothers out. I was always taught to leave the front for the Ladder Company but the Engine (in this case) was able to put the deck gun in service efficiently from that position. Who knows maybe that is what they teach their chauffeurs because it works for them. Tommy D is right we are supposed to be brothers. We shouldn’t be so quick to criticize each other. That said, I have witness much unwarranted elitism and conceit on the part of DCFEMS members on this site and others. They are the first to put down their suburban Brothers for tactics they don’t understand or haven’t cared enough to have a conversation about. It would be nice for the DCFEMS Brothers to realize that all of us fight the same animal and that just because you happened to get a job in a small city (Baltimore is the closest big city)doesn’t make you any more a firefighter than someone who works in BFE… It would also be nice for all of us to recognize that most departments have procedures based on the types of structures in their jurisdictions and other factors unique to their location (such as the FDNY not having pre-connected lines). I like the videos because we can learn so much from them. Comments should be made with Brotherly love in mind.

  • Commenter

    Gotta love the “9 times out of 10″ firefighters. If you only got the order right 9 times out of 10 at McDonalds, you’d be fired. Why is 9/10 good enough when people’s lives & their property are on the line.

    A single 3″ line on hydrant pressure might support a handline attack — which clearly wasn’t good enough here. You need to use one of those ‘thinking man’s tactics’ they use in podunk places like Chicago, IL or NY, NY, and get fast, big water on the fire — 600 gpm +, 10 seconds each window. Not gonna support that with a single 3″.

    • Gil

      The line didnt get charged untill E-9 got there. It was not from hydrant pressure.

  • oldhead

    Hahaha commenter, you’re funny. And you’re still an idiot. I guess you saw the whole operation from a single video of the first in engine and you can base everything on 6 minutes of video. Please, please, come teach me, I seek enlightenment.

  • DCFDmember

    Commenter, the other poster didn’t mean they did anything wrong with his 9 out of 10 statement. In DC there is usually a hydrant at the end of each block, and often one in the middle of the block. Thus, most (or 9 out of 10) times if you only lay a single 3″ line it is not very difficult or time consuming to hand jack a second supply line to the hydrant if it is needed Most DCFD layouts are fairly short, thus often you aren’t hand jacking more line to a hydrant than you would if pulling a standard pre connected hose line.

    The DCFD pumps all of it’s 3″ supply lines. Thus, only during the early part of an incident is a 3″ supply line working only off of hydrant pressure. As soon as the 3rd due engine arrived they would have been pumping E-4’s supply line. Though, the hydrant pressure would have easily supported at least two hand lines, and once it was pumped (which wouldn’t have been long into the incident) it would be able to support more.

    Pulling up and just starting to flow 600 gpm thru each window almost guarantees you’ll be burning down the building most often. That gives you no chance at making a good stop on the fire if it isn’t as extensive as it may initially appear, and it also gives you no chance to initiate a quick search and maybe find a victim.

  • mark

    You guys need to leave commenter to his own stupidity. He is only bringing you down to his level and beating you with experience.

    Besides, no one touched the comment he made about this being a room and contents. Obviously this jack wagon is a troll extraordinaire, no point in arguing with a box of rocks, either.

  • Commenter

    mark, you lack reading comprehension: “If its a good job when you put out a bread and butter room and contents, and it’s a good job when you make a swimming pool, just what the heck does your “good job” mean?”

    See that little 2 letter word at the beginning? “IF”. It makes the first phrase a hypothetical. It refers to DCFemmes patting themselves on the back for putting out ‘easy’ fires. The second phrase, about making a swimming pool, refers to this event, where the DCFemmes were not able to put out the fire until they knocked it down into it’s own basement and filled that basement with water. Despite this apparent failure, the DCFemmes insist that they did a good job here, as well.

    While I only have a few good videos to look at, I point out three things that the DCFemmes could have done better: they could have brought more water from the hydrant, they could have put more water on the fire, and they could have ventilated in a manner that did not increase the size of the fire.

    As for starting to flow 600 gpm through each window: no, not at every building. It’s a valid tactic, supported by years of experience in much bigger cities than DC: Chicago and New York. However, it requires more poise, judgement and intelligence than simply taking the inch-and-a-half through the front door.

    It’s the first line, stupid. Wise words to live by. You hear it in FDNY. 1.5″ ensured this building was a loss.

    It probably would have been a loss with a 300-500 gpm line. There were at least two floors of fire, and apparently cluttered conditions inside. A 4 man engine simply couldn’t move a 2.5″ hose fast enough. Maybe if two companies cooperated…but that’s not the DCFemmes way.

    Knocking the fire from the outside is a valid practice (see Chicago’s experience, and the experience of every suburban department that uses a ‘transitional’ attack). It’s not for every fire, but that’s why fire departments cultivate fire officers.