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, on what is believed to be the site where the Irish Inn at Glen Echo now stands. Investigators theorized that the fire began when an iron — which Mrs. Moxley had borrowed from a neighbor to press her children’s clothes for church the following morning, and which was known to have an unreliable on/off switch — overheated and ignited nearby materials. 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 second floor window, intending to catch his wife and children as they followed him and jumped to safety.
But Mr. Moxley, who had already been badly burned while searching for his children in the house, was further injured when he broke the glass window pane and when he landed on the ground. By the time he had recovered from his fall, his wife Sarah Katherine Glover (Katie) Moxley (34), and his five children, George (15), Linda (11), Gordon (8), Eileen (5), and Bessie (3), all perished in the smoke and flames.
When fire and rescue personnel eventually arrived from Bethesda, Kensington, and Washington, DC, the home was already substantially destroyed and the only task remaining was to recover the bodies. Three of the children were found in a bedroom at the rear of the home, and Mrs. Moxley was found near the window from which Mr. Moxley had jumped, with two of her children huddled at her side. (The Moxley family is buried in Montgomery United Methodist Church Cemetery in Damascus, Maryland.)
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. The town’s fire department, which had been loosely organized in 1916 and consisted of several cart-mounted hose reels, was upgraded and formally organized in 1931. 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 PWA (Public Works Administration) funds, and it opened in 1935. A cornerstone with a time capsule was included in the building, and it was opened, at the location of the fire, on June 2, 2018, eighty-eight years and one day after the Moxley family tragedy. (After Glen Echo Fire Department vacated the original 1935 firehouse in 1954, the building was sold to Glen Echo Baptist Church, which occupied it until 2012 before donating it to National Community Church. In 2014, National Community Church sold the property to a developer, and the firehouse was demolished on April 3, 2018 so the land could be subdivided and private homes could be built.)
During World War II, GEFD took part in the local civil defense effort, and the Vassar Circle 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 relocated 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 larger firehouse allowed the department to purchase more 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 new firehouse 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, in particular at the Little Falls Dam — often referred to as the “Drowning Machine” — 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.