First Arriving Network
Powered by the First Arriving Network, Reaching 1M+ First Responders Worldwide

25-years-ago today: DC’s firefighters, EMTs & medics steal the spotlight away from the turmoil & controversy gripping the department.

Do you want to sell a rig? Click HERE to find out how with

Read 1988 column about the fire by The Washington Post’s William Raspberry

911 calls & dispatch here

(Note: Thanks to retired Deputy Chief Demetrios “Jim” Vlassopoulos for providing additional archival material for this story.)

Does this sound familiar? The fire department in the Nation’s Capital appearing on local TV news almost nightly. Ambulance delays related to the deaths of patients, equipment problems, serious morale issues and a controversial fire chief under attack. That was the scene a quarter-century-ago as the convention of the International Association of Fire Chiefs was headed to Washington, DC in August. The controversy in the department even extended to that convention with cries of racism after the picture of the host chief, T.R. Coleman, did not make the cover of Fire Chief Magazine, as had been the custom. Things were ugly.

But then something happened that, for a moment, lifted the department above the politics and the problems. The event put the focus where it belonged, on the men and women who every day fight the fires and save the lives.

It was exactly 25-years-ago this (Friday) morning that the late Channel 9 videographer Sheldon Levy, working his usual overnight shift, pulled up in front of 409 Missouri Avenue, NW as firefighters, EMTs and paramedics went to work at a row house fire. Sheldon’s remarkable video brought into the homes of the people in the Washington area a very different image of the DC Fire Department than they had been seeing in the previous weeks and months. The story of the Missouri Avenue fire was spread far and wide thanks to the TV show “Rescue 911″ which also used Sheldon’s video (see video below).

Four lifeless bodies were brought out of that house. Three children and an adult. Four people, all in arrest. As we know, the odds of survival in that situation are not good. But remarkably two of the children survived. One of them was Jackie Cutler, now Jackie Kotei.

Today, Channel 9 reporter Scott Broom talked with Jackie Kotei. They met at Jackie’s place of employment, the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services. It’s where Jackie helps get the message out about the work of the department and assists in spreading the word about fire safety.

I was the reporter for Channel 9 on that story in 1988. In 2008, aware the 20th anniversary was coming up, I tried to do what Scott Broom did today and track down the family. I called the house and talked with Jackie’s grandfather who has since passed away. He didn’t want to go on TV, but remembered talking with me in 1988 and suggested I call his daughter at work. I spoke with Jackie’s mom a few minutes later. She told me I really need to talk to her daughter Jackie who, at the time, was working as a TV reporter in Hagerstown, Maryland. For some reason Jackie and I never connected and I never did the anniversary story. But a funny thing happened about three years later.

I was leaving a planning committee meeting in Emmitsburg for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s Memorial Weekend, heading for my hotel in Gettysburg when my cell phone rang. The young women on the other end of the line said that she worked for Howard County and that Chief Bill Goddard suggested she call me for information about the streaming of the Memorial Weekend telecasts. Bill Goddard and I are old friends from PGFD and he had told me at the meeting a woman who worked for him might call. As the conversation about Memorial Weekend wrapped up the women said Chief Goddard thought that since I had worked in television in DC I might be able to help her with another matter. She was looking for video of a fire at her childhood home. My first thought was, what’s the likelihood of finding that?

As the conversation went on, the details started sounding familiar. I interrupted her at some point and asked, “Was this Missouri Avenue?” She responded, “Yes, are you familiar with the fire?” I have to admit it took me a moment to compose myself.

Jackie and I finally got to meet a few weeks after that conversation when she attended the 2011 Memorial Service in Emmitsburg with her mom. We now communicate pretty regularly on various projects. I’m so happy her story has finally been told.

And the story should be a reminder for all of us, that despite all the bad news we’ve been sharing with you about the DC Fire & EMS Department in recent months, there are still firefighters, EMTs and paramedics doing their jobs every day prepared to make sure another little girl like Jackie Cutler survives, even when the odds are very much against her

Click here to follow on Facebook (hit “like”)

Comments - Add Yours

  • 19262007

    Thank you Dave.

  • Jake

    Here is the link to the Rescue 911 footage:

    Judging by the video’s description, it appears that Ms. Kotei herself uploaded it.

  • Steve Souder

    Steve Souder says:

    Sheldon’s great reporting captured so well what occurs in DC and elsewhere routinely…..Firefighters and EMTs/Paramedics saving lives in the middle of the night with little public or public official awareness. Who would have thought 25 years ago that today Jackie Cutler would be helping to tell that story.

    I recall the fire well…..Thanks for posting this report.

    Steve Souder, DCFD retired

  • A concerned taxpayer

    Another reason why despite what some who dislike riding ambo’s, ems is a noble calling.

    • Jake Speed

      Yep, but spelling isn’t, apparently.

  • Fire21

    The big news-getter is the controversy within the dept, but the REAL news is the job that the personnel do every day saving lives and homes and businesses. Thank God for those moments that news reporters are able to capture the efforts and successes of the dedicated members of America’s fire and rescue services. Carry on, American Fire Service, you’re getting the job done!

  • David S.


  • SFC

    Thanks for sharing a great story.

  • Eastside Pride

    Thank You Dave!!!! What a great way to start a shift on a beautiful Saturday morning!

  • Demetrios Vlassopoulos

    Thank you and thank Scott Broom and WUSA TV Channel 9 for putting this story together. The true professionalism of the members of the DC Fire Department were spotlighted at this fire as was their heroism. This story is equally compelling today, 25-years later, and it’s absolutely remarkable how Jackie Kotei is now the spokesperson for Howard County Fire-Rescue.
    DC Fire’s Communications Section, Emergency Ambulance Bureau members, and of course Firefighting Division members did their job that morning 25-years ago. These members responded to the calls for help with great rapidity and competency then, as the members do now, and this coverage displays how we serve without an air of “indifference”.
    Irrespective of how our members are currently being portrayed by the fire chief and deputy mayor for public safety and justice, they perform acts such as the ones we saw at 409 Missouri Avenue, 25-years ago, every day. Regardless of where our members live or what backgrounds they come from, the citizens who live and the workers and visitors who travel to our Nation’s Capital are protected by our fire and EMS providers with great zeal, aptitude, and dedication.
    Thank you again for not forgetting and in the editorial words of the late Washington Post’s William Raspberry about this particular incident 25-years ago, “A lot of Washingtonians were thinking the same thing about their Fire Department this week. Even though their racial problems are not completely resolved, and although there are continuing problems with the ambulance service, it’s still a good feeling to know that you have them when they are needed.”
    Demetrios “Jim” Vlassopoulos

    • dave statter

      Thank you Jim. I had forgotten about Rasberry’s words.

      • Demetrios Vlassopoulos

        Dave, if you are interested I have his whole commentary as well as wave files of the 911 calls, the vocal dispatch, and the Channel 1 and Channel 2 foreground audio.

        • dave statter

          Absolutely, but I am still waiting for the copy of that VHS tape you promised me with Rich’s editorials and my stories. Hope you are well.

          • Demetrios Vlassopoulos

            Let’s go offline. Email direct and I’ll get you all that stuff.

          • dave statter

            Of course.

        • Rick Bender

          Chief Vlassopoulos as you well know I was also on the scene that night and would greatly appreciate if you could forward those items to me as well. Thank you in advance.

          Rick Bender

          • Jason “spike” Batz

            Ricky Bender – old school legend!!


    Proof, once again, that what gets done at the pointy end (or dirty end) is what really matters, more so than what gets done by someone posing in front of a mirror.

  • doobis

    Thanks for sharing such a powerful incident/story.

  • Mobella

    I find it tragic that the current administration does more to squash any good news or heroic deeds by the firefighters in order to pursue his agenda. It sickens me that firefighters risk their lives but are made to look bad by the administration. It sickens me even more that the administration regularly says things like “they only work 8 times a month” so as to make the firefighters look bad. One thing I recall about Alfred is that he would recognize the heroics of the firefighters and the PIO would put out good PR when great and heroic deeds took place. Under this administration the PIO does nothing/no reporting whatsoever on fires or heavy rescue. Once in a while an EMS incident (like a baby being born in the METRO station) finds its way into the media, but by no effort of the department. There were several significant rescues over the past year in DC fires. This sort of thing goes on regularly. Interesting that the last DC Police Awards Banquet was a huge event, I can’t remember when there was even the slightest acknowledgement of heroic deeds by firefighters during this administration, but it happens all the time… So tell us Ellerbe, do you ignore the good work of the firefighters because it may distract from your pathetic attempt at self glorification? Sickening.

    • dave statter

      Actually when Ray Alfred was a deputy chief in charge of PIO in the early 80s he would make sure the press got to talk with firefighters from the first in companies on major incidents, including a number of rescues at fires and a couple of fatal fires. I rememeber still being in radio at WTOP when he did that on a multi-fatal fire in the 1200 or 1300 block of 6th Street, NW.

  • Goldie

    Dave if you get the audio please share it.

  • Mr. Obvious

    My, we were all so young then

  • Anonymous

    First…Great comments Jimmy V.!

    Second…Hey Chief. How does it feel to know the victim of an incident 25 years ago is doing more to promote the good things the members of this dept. do then your doing? You just keep turning in money so you can get your bonuses and keep doing all you can to make the members look like they’re he cause of all the problems and we’ll keep doing what we do. Obviously people out there know and are willing to speak louder then you. Who knows…maybe you can give Ms. Kotei your famous “choices in life” speech and get this squashed or at least be able to have the last word?

    Mobella used the word “sickening”. I would agree!

  • JustSayin’

    Per Souperman’s lofty opinion…

    The “FD personnel” need to become the Jimmy Olsen in our little DC (comic book) drama …

    The naive office boy who idolizes Souperman as his role model and parent figure.

    So you “jimmys”, get busy.!!!!

    Because Souperman don’t consider you as “Jakes”.!!!!!

  • Pingback: Decision time for Vincent Gray

  • Jim F.


    That fire on 6th st. N.W was at 1111 6 street, N.W. A very cold Febuary night in I believe was 1984. We sadly lost seven.

    • dave statter

      I was still at WTOP radio and I recall it being very cold. Thanks for the info.