Alexandria, Va. — Richard S. “Buddy” Hammersley, Jr., former volunteer, paid firefighter, fire chief, and life member of the Franconia Volunteer Fire Department, passed away on Sunday, Nov. 24, at his home in Woodstock, Va. He was 85.
“Buddy steered Franconia’s transition from a developing, all-volunteer fire station, to an organization that was a social and activities center for the Franconia community, to today’s combination career-volunteer fire department that operates in partnership with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue,” said Franconia VFD president Deborah Volker.
“Although he is no longer with us, his legacy lives on with Franconia’s strong volunteer membership and a well-prepared fire and rescue response force that has continuously served Northern Virginia for 80 years,” she said.
Hammersley, Jr., joined Franconia VFD in 1945, when the department was only a dozen years old. Over the next 40 years, he witnessed and participated in some of the most significant events in the department’s history.
As a junior volunteer, he was among the rescue party on Oct. 11, 1946, that responded to a U.S. Army Air Force B-25 bomber that had crashed in Alexandria while attempting to land at Andrews Air Force Base.
In 1959, Hammersley, Jr., served as the third paid firefighter at Franconia, making $300 a month at a time when the overwhelming majority of firefighters in Fairfax County were volunteers. He resigned shortly after as one of the “paid men,” as they were called, to return to his job as a bricklayer because of the lucrative opportunities as a business owner, but he remained a dedicated Franconia volunteer fireman.
On July 18, 1965, while responding to a large warehouse fire in Springfield, he was injured on duty, suffering cuts on his head and face when the open-cab fire engine he was driving crashed into electrical wires and debris from an earlier road accident. He recovered and returned back to volunteer service.
When the fire department outgrew its old quarters, Volker said it was Hammersley who donated his time, expertise, and sweat to help build an addition for the station, which has been the home of Fire Station 5 since 1968.
“Buddy embodied the spirit of a community-minded generation who saw a need to band together to protect our neighborhoods and selflessly volunteered to take on the task,” said Chief Tim Fleming, the current Franconia VFD fire chief.
“His generosity and commitment toward the expansion allowed us to focus our funds toward the purchase of new fire and rescue equipment to improve our fire and rescue response capabilities,” said Fleming.
In addition to facility improvements, Hammersley, Jr., also participated in various community outreach projects through the years, helping out with the annual carnivals, parades, contests, and turkey shoots that connected the fire department with the community it served. He devoted countless hours organizing these activities, said Fleming.
Hammersley, Jr., was elected fire chief of the department and led Franconia for seven years, from 1971 to 1976, and from 1982 to 1983. Under his leadership, the department continued its guardianship over the local area, responding quickly to emergencies, raising funds to modernize equipment, and training a new generation of volunteer first responders.
“Buddy helped to figuratively and literally build the majority of the Franconia Fire Department and his dedication will forever be etched into our fire house,” Fleming said. “His death was the passing of a Franconia icon and those who were lucky to have served with him will miss him greatly.”
Hammersley, Jr., was born on Aug. 1, 1928, in Franconia, in the southern part of Fairfax County, south of Alexandria city. He graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1945, and worked as a brick mason for more than 50 years.
His father, Richard Hammersley, Sr., was the bricklayer for the original Franconia firehouse that was constructed in 1937, and a young Hammersley, Jr., was part of a group of children of founding members who helped haul cinderblocks, wood, and other materials for the first fire station. He again volunteered his construction talents in the 1960s as the department expanded to its current facility.
He was interviewed in 2012 for Volume VII of the Franconia Museum book series entitled “Franconia Remembers: The Franconia Volunteer Fire Department.”
“(He) came in from the Shenandoah Valley to make sure the bricks of history were laid properly, just as he had the real bricks for the expansion of the present firehouse,” authors Carl Sell and Jim Cox noted in the book’s introduction.
“Chief Hammersley was a major contributor to our resource effort,” Sell recalled.
In addition to his parents, Richard Sydney and Helen Cornnell Hammersley, Hammersley, Jr., was preceded in death by his wife of 56 years, Mary Ann Brill Hammersley, a former president of the Franconia’s Ladies’ Auxiliary.
Hammersley, Jr., is survived by his daughter, Gayle A. Hammersley of Toms Brook; two sons, retired firefighter Richard S. Hammersley, III, of Fort Valley, and former firefighter Thomas M. Hammersley of Woodstock; five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren; and a sister, Helen Louise Enzian of Mt. Airy, Md.
Services were held in Strasburg on Nov. 27, and he was interred at Riverview Cemetery. A Franconia VFD fire engine was on hand to pay tribute to the great man.
Information about the book “Franconia Remembers: The Franconia Volunteer Fire Department” may be found at www.franconiamuseum.org.
Franconia VFD is a partner in the Fairfax County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association and is part of the County’s Fire and Rescue Department. Learn more about the Franconia Volunteer Fire Department at www.franconiavfd.org. (1/4/2014)