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Cabin John Turns 75

Volunteer fire department celebrates three-quarters of a century with gala awards night.

The Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department had worked closely with the county in the week before its 75th anniversary gala April 22. Fire and rescue vehicles were repositioned neighboring departments helped out so that all but a few of the department’s volunteer and career rescuers were able to attend.

But even the most careful planning couldn’t eliminate the need for Cabin John volunteers in local emergencies. “Things change rapidly and some folks who were looking forward to being there had to leave,” said Steve Miller, the department’s assistant chief.

As heavy storms rolled through the area, the department’s swift water rescue team — the only one in the county — sprung into action on the Potomac in upper Montgomery County.

“Most of them ended up leaving right away due to the heavy storms,” Miller said.

SATURDAY’S EVENT was a celebration of an entity whose work is never done.

When Miller joined the department in 1971, it had just acquired its Falls Road site, Station 30.

“It was a very slow station. It had a couple pumpers and a brush truck,” he said. “We could go easily for a week without an incident.”

Now the Falls Road station and the department‘s current main site, Station 10 on River Road, receive six to ten calls per day, responding not only to medical calls and occasional fires (Miller said that fires have declined drastically in the past 30 years thanks to sprinklers and better construction), but also to cliff and river rescues, highway accidents, and assistance calls from neighboring

counties.

The department has morphed from all-volunteer to a combination of volunteer and career rescuers, but has remained committed to being a local institution. The majority of its volunteers live in service area, Miller said.

“Local groups tend to be very supportive of us and we try to return that by supporting them when they have their functions,” as well as by participating in community events like neighborhood Fourth of July parades and Potomac Day, Miller said. “We are a part of the community and we take pride in being part of the community.”

MARYLAND GOV. Robert Ehrlich Jr. and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (a former Bethesda resident and lawn cutting partner to Seavey growing up) spoke at the event, and following the governors’ speeches, current and past rescuers received awards.

Former members came from as far away as South Carolina and Pennsylvania.

“A lot of our members have moved on to other areas,” Miller said. “They got their basic emergency medical training with us at Cabin John and several of them moved on to be doctors. We have several firefighters that moved on to professional positions … most of them in important positions, leadership roles, so we’re very proud of that.”

Jeffrey Stern is one such person. He grew up in Potomac, attended the Landon School in Bethesda, and joined the department in 1987 at age 18.

He is now Deputy Coordinator of Emergency of Services for Arlington County, Va. Last year he was a finalist for a White House Fellowship, one of the nation’s top honors for public servants.

“They did a really good job of paying tribute to the history of the department back to the founders of the department,” Stern said. “They honored many members of those founding families that have grandchildren and great-grandchildren that are still in the department.”

DEPARTMENT MEMBERS said that it is that continuity — not just the department’s age — that made the anniversary special.

Miller joined in 1971 after graduating from Winston Churchill High School. His daughter Holly, who graduated from Churchill last year, is now in the department. Chief Jim Seavey Sr. has two children in the department as well.

“A lot of the young folks, it was great for them to see the tradition and the history,” Miller said. “It was a good learning experience for them.”

DEPARTMENT HISTORY

* From www.cjpvfd.org:

On the 19th day of March, 1930, the Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department was incorporated to "control, prevent, limit and combat damage by fire..." Since 1930 we have grown into a large, professional volunteer department that takes pride in serving our community. The Bethesda, Potomac, and Cabin John areas have rapidly grown, and we have responded to our area's needs by improving and expanding our emergency service.

The Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department was organized in 1930 by Mr. Charles E. Benson and ten other founding members. The group's first meetings were held in a room over Mr. Benson's store. Later, as the department grew, meetings were moved to the auditorium of the Clara Barton School.

The first fire apparatus purchased by the department was a Ford Model T pickup truck equipped with a 100 gallon portable pump. This vehicle was stored in a shed owned by Mr. Carper at the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and 77th Street. In 1930, construction began on the original fire house. The structure was built on property donated to the department by the Touhey family of Cabin John at the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Seven Locks Road. The first meeting was held at the new station in 1932, and this station was occupied until our present quarters on River Road was opened in 1984.

The growth and development of the Potomac area during the 1960s made it apparent that further fire protection services were needed. In 1967, the department placed an engine in service in a garage on the site of the present Potomac Veterinarian Hospital in Potomac Village. Volunteers bunked in an adjoining house donated by members of the community.

In 1970, Station 30 was opened at its present site at 9404 Falls Road.

Our service has changed greatly since 1930. Today, in addition to fire prevention, education, and suppression activities, we also are the primary care providers of emergency medical services, river rescue services, and heavy rescue. The unique nature of our area gives us many diverse operations, ranging from rescues along the Potomac River and C&O Canal to high-rise fire protection in downtown Bethesda. Interstate 495 and the Clara Barton Parkway provide accidents that may range from routine fender benders to large hazardous materials incidents, such as the Interstate 270 Tanker Fire in the fall of 1992.

Despite all of these changes, one thing has remained constant; the proud service of the members of our department to our community. That single fact binds our members today to the founders of our department in 1930.

Between both stations, Cabin John Park VFD usually operates 2 engines, 1 rescue squad, 1 ambulance, 1 medic unit, 2 brush trucks, 2 boat supports, 6 boats, 1 tanker, 2 utilities, and 3 command vehicles. Engine 102 and Ambulance 108 are reserve pieces. Cabin John also owns a 1930 Brockway.

The Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department has a commitment to the community it serves. Situated in Montgomery County, Md. northwest of Washington, D.C., the members and officers of the Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department strive to provide the best and most efficient fire, rescue, and emergency medical care possible. Operating in conjunction with the Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service, Cabin John's broad response area ranges from high-rise apartment and office buildings in Bethesda to the Washington, D.C. Capital Beltway and from the Potomac River to the horse farms of rural Montgomery County. In addition to its primary fire and EMS responsibilities to the local community, Cabin John also provides rescue, evacuation, and recovery services for water-related incidents across Montgomery County.

In 1997, the Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Commission designated Cabin John as the home of the River Rescue and Tactical Services Team (RRATS). RRATS responds on all incidents in Montgomery County involving moving or swiftwater. RRATS has a primary responsibility not only to the citizens of Cabin John, but also to the 810,000 citizens of Montgomery County.

Called Strike Teams, the water rescue personnel from Stations 10 and 30 are the first due boats along the Potomac River from the D.C. line to Seneca (an approximate 12-mile span). The Strike Teams also assist with responses beyond these areas, including mutual aid assignments to neighboring counties and Washington, D.C. Though located in the southern end of Montgomery County, Cabin John has a prime location providing access to the Washington Metropolitan Area. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Metrobus and Montgomery County's Ride-On buses have stops in front of Station 10 and close to Station 30. Station 10 is located ½ mile from the Capital Beltway providing rapid access to points north, east and south. The Beltway provides the only route to Virginia in the Southern end of the county via the American Legion Memorial Bridge, which lies in Cabin John's first-due area.