- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

It would be hard to find a firefighter or paramedic in the District who doesn't know Jon Mullen, though he isn't a D.C. firefighter.The Gaithersburg resident runs the unofficial Web site for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, posting day-to-day news on incidents involving fire and emergency medical services, firefighter schedules, crew photos and a message board. He has done so for the past two years, and the site has become required reading for firefighters and firefighting enthusiasts.
The Web-site connection to the department is more than just a hobby to Mr. Mullen. It's a living tribute to a man he speaks of with obvious love, respect and admiration his father.
"My dad was extremely proud to be a D.C. firefighter. He loved the department. He had an excellent career," says Mr. Mullen, owner and executive vice president of Marine Air Supply, an electronics firm in Frederick, Md.
Mr. Mullen, 42, is the son of retired D.C. fire Lt. Jon "Moon" Mullen, who retired in 1975 after 25 years in the department.
"I always wanted to follow in his footsteps," Mr. Mullen says, but a career as a firefighter wasn't in the cards for him.
After high school, he applied to departments in the District and Montgomery County. While waiting for calls, he began what has become a career in the electronics business, although he served as a volunteer firefighter with the Wheaton Rescue Squad from 1978 to 1986.
A chance discovery of a one-page Web site run by D.C. firefighter Dave Purcell in 1996 got him involved with the department. The site was the first incarnation of dcfd.com, created before the Internet was a household word.
"My dad came over, and I said, 'Hey. look at this,'" Mr. Mullen says. "He looked at it and said, 'With everything D.C.'s got in terms of fire equipment and apparatus, can you imagine what you could really do with a Web site for D.C.?'"
Mr. Mullen visited the site every so often, but after a few years, Mr. Purcell left the department, and the site was no longer updated. Mr. Mullen says his father suggested he become involved with it.
"With your knowledge of computers, you ought to give them a hand," he recalls his father telling him.
Mr. Mullen says he had never worked on a Web site before then, but in August 2000, he got a little advice, bought a computer program and soon obtained the rights to the site.
In the early days, Mr. Mullen put in about four hours a day redesigning the site and adding features. These days, he spends one to three hours updating the message board and posting the latest news. The bulk of it he does from his home at night.
"It's updated daily," he says. "We try to keep it fresh."
He says he has lost track of how many pages are on the ever-expanding site, which includes a history of the department, historic photos, a link to live radio dispatch, a fire journal but no commercial advertisements.
Some of the most popular features on the site, he says, began accidentally.
Pictures of apparatus were posted on the site, but as the department acquired new vehicles, Mr. Mullen started going to stations and updating the pictures.
While he was taking pictures of Engine 17, Mr. Mullen offhandedly suggested that the on-duty crew pose for one. He posted the picture on the Web site as an afterthought under the banner, "Crew Photo of the Week."
He didn't know the idea would catch on with the firefighters.
"Since then it's become a huge thing. Everybody wants to be featured in Crew Photo of the Week," he says. "We're still in the process of going around and getting everybody."
He travels to random stations each week to photograph crews and receives good-natured ribbing from those who feel their picture doesn't appear often enough.
When he was photographing Engine 14 leaving the station on a run, he accidentally discovered that his digital camera has the capability of taking three to four seconds of footage. Now he has started posting digital video clips on the site as well and has gotten feedback from firefighting enthusiasts as far away as Arizona and California, complimenting the addition.
"It was kind if an accident that we found that feature," he says.
Mr. Mullen accepts suggestions from firefighters about what to post and has added a calendar-year work schedule for their benefit.
"Everyone is very supportive of the site," he says. "I get nothing but positive reaction from the firefighters." He says some of the earliest positive feedback came from Engine Co. 16, which he calls his "home away from home."
"They were the first to come around and say, 'How can we help you?'"
Lt. Sean Egan, stationed at Engine Co. 16, says firefighters appreciate Mr. Mullen's work.
"Jon's been extremely creative in picking up the ball and rolling with it," Lt. Egan says. He says it's good for morale to have a site where firefighters can get "an additional slap on the back for the 99 percent of the time we go out there and do a good job."
In addition to boosting morale, Lt. Egan says the site helps members who have left the department or retired keep in touch. In fact, Mr. Mullen was named an honorary member of the Retired Firefighters Association after allowing the group to post information on a page of his site.
"I just think overall the project has been extremely positive," Lt. Egan says. "The fire department is one big family, and Jon's been able to take this to a higher level with the Internet and allow the family worldwide to keep informed. Guys who've retired and moved out from the job want to see what's going on."
Department spokesman Alan Etter agrees.
"There are extraordinary things that happen in this department every day," Mr. Etter says. A frequent contributor of fire stories himself, Mr. Etter says private Web sites are a "prime vehicle to get our message out."
If there's been one criticism of the site, Mr. Mullen says, it's about the message board. Despite the fact that contributors are warned on the site to keep their comments constructive, he says he still receives e-mails from department personnel who just want to complain.
"It's not a [complaint] board," he says. "I don't put up the guys fighting with one another. We're about being positive about the department."


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