In 1925, fires destroyed two large Bethesda homes. A group of civic-minded citizens, led by Walter Tuckerman, started a fire department. Horse drawn equipment from the [old firehouse in Bethesda, Maryland] District of Columbia was inadequate. Meetings were held, money was donated, and plans formulated for the founding of the Bethesda Fire Department. On the Fourth of July 1925, six residents met and each donated $1,000 toward the beginning of a fire department. Many more planning meetings and money raising affairs were held. The leaders found that not only was there interest in having a one in Bethesda, but many capable young men were willing to serve in the new fire department.
At a mass meeting on May 24, 1926, a plan was approved to create the Bethesda Fire Board and establish the Bethesda Fire Department, Inc., a non-stock Maryland not-for-profit company. Each person who contributed $1,000 could have a seat on the board. Each existing citizens association would have a seat on the board, and for every $1,000 contributed, the citizens associations could have an additional member.
Tuckerman, President of the Bank of Bethesda, donated a parcel of land at 7620 Georgetown Road for a fire station. The fire station was dedicated in December 1926 and later named Fire Station 5. The company bought two 1926 American LaFrance pumpers that were put in service. One of them still turns out for community celebrations. Bethesda Fire became the third active fire company in Montgomery County after Silver Spring’s and Rockville’s.
From its founding until June 30, 1939, the department was manned by volunteers. On July 1, 1939, Bethesda Fire Department became a fully paid company with Angelo J. Bargagni as its first Fire Chief. With continuing growth in the area, more fire protection became necessary. In October 1957, Fire Station 20 was put into service on the corner of Cedar Lane and Old Georgetown Road. Between 1960 and 1974 Bethesda also operated Station 22 at 7108 Bradley Boulevard, but that station was closed when Fire Station 26 was put into service on Democracy Boulevard next to Interstate 270.
Bethesda Fire Department’s Station No. 6 was opened in 1969 at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Bradley Boulevard. The original Bethesda Fire’s Station 5 on Old Georgetown Road was closed and eventually torn down to make way for the extension of Woodmont Avenue.
After all these years, the basic purposes of the Bethesda Fire have evolved. In 1988, when Montgomery County professionalized paid fire service County wide, Bethesda Fire Department, Inc., remained responsible for the care and improvements of its three fire stations, 6, 20 and 26. This often included the purchase of special fire fighting equipment and accommodations for the career staff manning the fire stations. Bethesda Fire also took on more community service tasks, especially education regarding fire safety.