In the early morning hours of June 1, 1930, fire broke out in Moxley family home on Tulane Avenue in the Town of Glen Echo, Maryland, near where the Irish Inn at Glen Echo now stands. William Moxley, who had only one arm and worked as a night watchman at the adjacent Glen Echo Park, escaped the fire by leaping from a window. But his wife and five children, George (15), Linda (11), Gordon (8), Eileen (5), and Bessie (3), all perished in the smoke and flames.
By the time fire and rescue personnel arrived, the home was already substantially destroyed. The event was covered on the Associated Press and United Press wire services and was reported in newspapers as far away as Indianapolis, Ind., El Paso, Tex., Helena, Mont., and San Bernardino, Cal.
The community was stirred to action by the tragedy, and soon thereafter, Glen Echo Fire Department was founded. On April 21, 1933, Conduit Road Fire Board, Inc. was chartered by an Act of the Maryland Legislature to oversee the operations of the department. Land in the middle of Vassar Circle in the Town of Glen Echo that had originally been reserved for a monument was instead used to construct a firehouse, built using WPA funds, and it opened in 1935.
During World War II, GEFD took part in the local civil defense effort, and the firehouse was used as quarters for military personnel responsible for protection of the Washington Aqueduct. The Korean conflict saw the firehouse used as barracks for personnel manning a local anti-aircraft battery located on Seven Locks Road.
Around this time, the Maryland Rating Bureau surveyed GEFD’s “first due” area of responsibility (roughly bounded by the Potomac River, Wilson Lane, River Road, and Western Avenue), and the Bureau made recommendations to improve the community’s fire defenses. The findings, along with new housing construction and population growth, led to a decision to relocate the firehouse to a more central location.
In 1954, Glen Echo Fire Department moved to its present home on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Sangamore Road. Dedication ceremonies took place on August 7, 1954 with the Honorable Theodore R. McKeldin, Governor of Maryland, in attendance.
The move to the new, more expansive firehouse allowed the department to acquire additional apparatus and expand its paid staff. The old Vassar Circle firehouse became home to Glen Echo Baptist Church. Two silver maple trees were planted on the property and are dedicated to the memory of two GEFD volunteer personnel: Harry Dean, who died in the service of the United States in World War II, and Sonny Bolton, a casualty of the Korean conflict.
Conduit Road Fire Board continued to respond to the need for improved fire defenses, and in 1963, the Board requested a resurvey of GEFD’s capabilities. The Department was awarded a “B” rating, making it one of only three departments holding this fire insurance rating in the entire state, and resulting in a lower insurance cost for residents. This was a significant achievement that other departments envied, and was accomplished through the combined efforts of the Board, volunteers, and paid personnel.
In 1979, Glen Echo Fire Department made history when it hired Pamela Foltz, the first female firefighter in the county. At the time, GEFD had no shower or locker room facilities for women, but it quickly constructed them in order to accommodate Pam, who was allowed to pick the tile color scheme for the newly-renovated space (she chose pink and beige).
In response to deaths and injuries on the Potomac River, Glen Echo Fire Department founded a river rescue program that evolved to include an air boat and other sophisticated water rescue equipment. GEFD later initiated an off-road rescue program using a John Deere “Gator” 6-wheel-drive vehicle to respond to hiking, biking, and other emergencies along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal tow path and the Capital Crescent Trail.
In 2008, Glen Echo Fire Department raised funds from the community to upgrade its ambulance to “medic” status with IV drugs, a defibrillator, and related gear so that the department’s paramedics could treat cardiac, stroke, and trauma patients. In 2015, GEFD was one of the first departments in Montgomery County to deploy an advanced life support SUV “chase car” to allow for faster, more efficient use of paramedics over a wider geographic area. Also in 2015, Glen Echo was among the first fire departments to purchase a LUCAS automated CPR device to provide more precise CPR to heart attack patients.
Today, Glen Echo Fire Department continues to meet its obligation to provide the best possible fire and emergency medical protection.