FiremensMemorial01

The Firemen Monument in Glenwood Cemetery

Benjamin C. Grenup was a member of the volunteer Columbia Fire Company #1, which is now known as District of Columbia Fire Department Engine Company #3.  On May 6, 1856, while en route to a fire at Shreeve’s Stable on 7th Street in northwest D.C., he was killed in the line of duty.  In those days, the water wagons carrying the hoses and firefighting equipment were pulled by the firemen themselves rather than by horses. Greenup was killed when the wagon he was pulling down Pennsylvania Avenue on the way to a blaze collided with a lamppost, crushing him underneath its wheels.  Grenup’s death is considered by many to be the first firefighter killed in the line of duty in D.C., and he is honored as such at D.C.’s fire training academy at Blue Plains.

Grenup was buried at the Historic Glenwood Cemetery, which is located at 2219 Lincoln Road (MAP) in northeast D.C.  At his gravesite, a monument was erected in his memory by the members of his fire company.  He was only 24 years old at the time of his death and, according to the inscription on his monument, “A truer, nobler, trustier heart, more loving or more loyal, never beat within a human breast.”

The Benjamin C. Grenup Memorial is located within the cemetery in a triangular plot bordered by an iron fence with bright red fire hydrants at each corner.  The central marble obelisk is on top of a square base with three relief carvings on it which were sculpted by Charles Rousseau.  The relief on the west side of the base depicts a fire hose and two nozzles, while the one on the east side is a relief of a fire axe, torch and spanner wrench tied together with a rope.  But it is the relief on the south side that stands out.  It graphically depicts Grenup at the time of his death, being run over by the fire water wagon, while his fellow firefighters are attempting to stop the wagon or are reacting to the horrific accident.

The Benjamin C. Grenup Memorial eventually came to be considered as a monument to more than just Grenup, but to all firefighters killed while serving the city.  The National Fallen Firefighters Association includes the monument in Glenwood Cemetery on its list of states and other territories which have built memorials that pay tribute to firefighters who have made the supreme sacrifice in service to their communities.  And at regular intervals, a D.C. fire engine bearing new recruits moves reverently through the gates of Glenwood Cemetery to pay their respects and visit the monument.

However, in recent years, some have come to believe that there were, if fact, firefighters who were killed in the line of duty prior to Grenup’s death in 1856.  This began in 2010, when a retired D.C. firefighter named Jimmy Lloyd came across a 1911 book by Washington Evening Star reporter James Croggon, which mentions a firefighter named John G. Anderson who was killed on March 11, 1856, almost two months before Greenup.  In descriptions of Anderson’s death and funeral, wording is used, including “as such a casualty has not occurred for a long time, there will doubtless be a general turnout of the Fire Department” and “the usual badge of mourning,” which would seem to indicate even earlier deaths.  So we may never know for certain whom was the first D.C. fireman killed in the line of duty.

Regardless of the dispute of the history of the first fireman killed in D.C., the Benjamin C. Grenup Memorial continues to symbolically serve as a monument to all fallen D.C. firefighters, and is worth a visit.

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