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Penny Ingles (photo by Michael Doyle)Arlington resident Penny Ingles needed a mid-life course correction.

So she picked up the javelin, of all things, and now the career firefighter who turns 40 on Friday is standing out, in more ways than one.

“It’s not every day you see a firefighter with javelin in hand,” Ingles acknowledged.

A captain with the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, currently serving as Metro’s fire department liaison, Ingles has been preparing for the U.S. Police & Fire Championships to be held June 18-25 in San Diego.

She aims to win.

Last year, months after she first started training with coach Daniel Colina, Ingles placed second in her age group at the World Police and Fire Games in Fairfax with a javelin throw of 16.25 meters. She likewise placed second in her uncrowded age group at the USA Track & Field Masters Outdoor Championships held in Jacksonville.

Ingles has successfully hefted other events, as well, including the hammer throw, shot put and various weight throws. Along the way, she’s lost weight, won medals and made herself over, several decades after competing on the Yorktown High School track and field team.

“This has been a tough road, being an adult learner,” Ingles said. “I will sometimes get discouraged because I am not throwing as far as I think I should. My coach has to remind me javelin takes years of practice to learn and master.”

Ingles started from scratch, as must others. Only 18 states currently allow javelin at the high school level, and Virginia is not among them. The fear of spears dropping down like errant drone strikes also complicated Ingles’ search for an Arlington practice field.

“‘You can’t be throwing that around here,'” Ingles said, recounting the typical response from various authorities.

For the sake of perspective, the qualifying distance for women’s javelin at this year’s U.S. Olympic Team try-outs is 54 meters. So far, Ingles’ personal best is about 18 meters. On the other hand, javelin is not strictly the prerogative of youth. Last year, a Long Beach, California police detective in her late 40s out-threw all other women competitors at the U.S. Police & Fire Championships.

Raw will counts.

“Penny is very competitive, oh my goodness,” said Colina, an Arlington resident who set a school javelin record at Keene State College in New Hampshire. “She’s someone who has high goals. Whether she has a 12, 15 or 18-hour shift, she’ll still come back and train.”

On a recent weeknight, Ingles arrived for her weekly session at Chinquapin Park next to T.C. Williams High School. Earlier that day, she had juggled myriad emergencies. A Metro worker had collapsed near the East Falls Church station. A wheelchair-bound person had fallen onto the train tracks. A few insignificant fires needed extinguishing.

After changing into her workout clothes, Ingles conferred with Colina. She is recovering from a foot injury, so must account for that. After some warmups, she laced her high-top spiked shoes and took up her javelin: A seven-foot, four-inch domesticated weapon that weighs 600 grams and places unusual demands.

“Javelin,” Ingles said, “is extremely technical.”

Throws, Corina explained, should be launched at a 37-degree angle, with adjustments for wind conditions. He reminded Ingles to keep the javelin “glued to the temple” as she prepared to toss. The run-up and launch itself is an exercise in controlled aggression, a test of core strength and flexibility. Injuries are but one quick twist away.

“The javelin throw in particular is such a violent motion, when you generate speed and then almost have to come to a sudden stop, and use your hips to drive forward again,” Colina noted.

Together, while the sun settled, Ingles and Colina advanced up and down the Chinquapin Park field: The firefighter throwing, the coach guiding, both perfecting their atypical craft.

“I like the fact that I compete with other people who are older than I,” Ingles said, “just really special older people who have the drive to do their best, not necessarily to win.”

Michael Doyle is a reporter in the Washington bureau of McClatchy newspapers. Follow him at @MichaelDoyle10.

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Volunteer Firefighter Binns (by Michael Doyle)

Arlington native Marvin Spencer Binns fought his first fire as a teenager. He liked it, a lot. For the next six decades, he kept plugging away.

“I’m a fireman,” Binns said not too long ago.

On Monday morning, the long-time president of the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department passed away following a lengthy illness. He was 80.

Until the end, Binns kept a two-way radio chattering in his room at The Carlin retirement home near Ballston. When he heard an emergency call originating from the 10-story complex, he would march downstairs to aid the arriving Arlington County Fire Department crews.

“I can’t put the gear on, and my knees are terrible,” Binns allowed, “but I can still go and do things.”

Binns’ remarkably durable volunteer career earned him a unique reputation. Tellingly, in a county where relations between volunteer and career firefighters have not always been harmonious, ACFD Honor Guard members stood watch in early March during a public viewing for Binns’ late wife, Betty.

“There are certain volunteer members over the years who have been accepted into the career family,” noted Capt. Randy Higgins, a career Arlington firefighter at Fire Station 2 who has known Binns for many years. “Marvin was always around, pitching in and helping out.”

Born in Arlington on March 20, 1935, Binns attended Washington-Lee High School and, later, vocational school in Manassas. By the time he was 16 or so, he was starting to hang out at the Cherrydale station, home to the county’s oldest volunteer fire organization.

The two-story, red-brick station dedicated in 1920 held multiple attractions for Binns. Some nights, he would just sit outside while music floated down from the weekly dances held in the upstairs social hall. Binns would also listen to the career and volunteer firemen chewing the fat while awaiting a summons.

Though Arlington County had initiated a career fire department in 1940, volunteers still responded to emergencies, sometimes informally. When he was 16 and still too young to join, Binns drove himself to Rosslyn on the bitterly cold night of Dec. 30, 1951 to pitch in on the fight against a devastating fire at the Murphy & Ames lumber yard.

“I went to a lot of fires,” Binns recalled, “and I wasn’t even a member of the fire department yet.”

When he turned 18, Binns paid $5 and formally joined the Cherrydale department. There was no particular school to attend; the learning was hands-on and experiential. At the training academy, officers would set fire to hay bales or old tires and the men would enter the burn house with only rudimentary protection.

“You couldn’t see a foot in front of you, it was so black,” Binns recalled.

Binns moved into the Cherrydale fire station for a time before he joined the Navy in 1957 and served as a baker aboard the USS Norfolk, a destroyer leader.

It wasn’t always sweetness and light. Tensions sometimes arose between the career guys and volunteers. The volunteer department sometimes struggled financially or administratively; the old fire station, some neighbors occasionally opined, could attract rowdies. Sometime in 1967, Cherrydale historian Kathryn Holt Springston recounted in her history of the Cherrydale department that Arlington officials received complaints that firefighters were whistling at women passing by.

“All were asked to stop such practices,” Springston reported.

Binns could spin a yarn; he had plenty of stories from his decades of service. The way the old siren would wail, summoning volunteers. The winter calls that would leave the firefighters covered in ice. The two dead sisters he helped carry out of the house near Washington Golf and Country Club; some bad, bad car accidents.

The incomparable fellowship.

“I wanted to protect the county,” Binns said; besides, he added, “to me, it was fun. I mean, I enjoyed it. You never knew when you got on the scene what you were going to find. Going down the road, in your mind, you’d be thinking what you were going to run into.”

Binns is survived by five children, 27 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren. A daughter pre-deceased him.

Photo and story by Michael Doyle, who is also a member of the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department. Editor’s note: the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department provides support services for the professional firefighters and EMTs in the Arlington County Fire Department.

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Female firefighters (via Arlington County)An innovative summer camp could spark new career ambitions among high school-aged girls in Arlington who feel up for a challenge. Long term, it could also help the Arlington County Fire Department meet its goal of recruiting more female firefighters.

The Girls’ Fire Camp, a free overnight camp scheduled for July 12-14, is designed to give girls aged 13 to 16 a taste of the firefighter’s life. Participants will work out, run drills and learn skills — all under the close supervision of ACFD staff. The department’s recruiting officer, Capt. Brandon D. Jones, described the camp as a “fun-filled weekend” in which high school students will “learn how to stay in great shape” while performing basic firefighting and emergency medical tasks.

“The department hopes to make a long-term connection with the participants,” Jones said. “After they attend this camp, some may be inspired to continue their ambition to become a Firefighter/EMT in the future.”

Female firefighters (via Arlington County)Though Arlington was the first fire department in the country to hire a female professional firefighter, in 1974, it has struggled like other departments nationwide to recruit women for the traditionally male profession.  Currently, females comprise about 9 percent of the 300-plus member Arlington department.  Nationwide, only about 6 percent of firefighters are women.

As recruiters get more creative in their quest for diversity, fire camps for high school girls have proliferated. Since the Tucson Fire Department joined with the neighboring Northwest Fire/Rescue District to open its inaugural Camp Fury  for girls in 2009, other jurisdictions have followed suit. The Ashland Fire Department in Massachusetts runs a Camp Bailout, the New Hampshire State Fire Academy runs a Camp Fully Involved and the Utica Fire Academy in New York offers the Phoenix Firecamp.

Female firefighters (via Arlington County)“The camp is a really great idea,” said Capt. Anne Marsh, an EMS supervisor and 15-year veteran of the Arlington department. “We want our department to represent the general population. So many people come into the fire department as part of a family legacy, and women have simply not had as many role models to follow.”

Campers will spend the two nights, with chaperones, at Marymount University. During the days, they will participate in activities that include physical training, a fire extinguisher class, hose drills and an aerial ladder demonstration. They will tour the Arlington fire stations and, treat of treats, dine with the on-duty crews.

“The idea is to put the possibility of becoming a firefighter on the front burner for them,” said Arlington firefighter/paramedic Jennifer Slade, a seven-year veteran of the department, “but we’re also trying to incorporate fun into it, so it’s not just learning.”

“Even if they don’t go into the field,” Slade added, “hopefully they will talk to their friends about how much fun they had.”

The camp is limited to 16 participants, who must fill out an application that includes an essay. Those interested can call 703-228-0098 or visit the camp’s web page for more information.

Photos via Arlington County. Michael Doyle is a journalist and Arlington resident. He is a member of the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department.

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Santa Claus is coming to Arlington County’s historic Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Station on Sunday, Dec. 19, bringing with him gift bags for children and good cheer for all. Santa’s appearance between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. marks the 80th time he has arrived courtesy of the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department, the oldest organization of its kind in Arlington County.

Santa’s appearance will be particularly meaningful this year, as the Arlington County Fire Department’s Engine Co. 3 is preparing to depart for new Lee Highway quarters in 2011. The Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Station at 3900 Lee Highway will remain as a community resource; it is listed on both the state and national historic landmark registries.

The Cherrydale station’s holiday celebration has changed over the years, even as it has grown in popularity. Up until 1960, Santa brought refurbished toys to give away. Following several years of a gift exchange, the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department in 1964began buying gifts for distribution. Typically, several hundred children show up for the afternoon festivities.

Organized in 1898, the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department includes members who are cross-trained as both firefighters and emergency medical technicians. The volunteer department owns and operates Light and Air 103, which provides emergency lighting, salvage and other services. The volunteers also own a general services vehicle called Utility 103.

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