The Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department (Company 12) was a World War II baby. It was born on May 5, 1942 as the Forestville Volunteer Fire Department, an auxiliary to the McLean Volunteer Fire Department.
On this day the Forestville Volunteer Fire Department was incorporated to serve
the citizens of Forestville and Fairfax County.
Buildings and Grounds
The first fire house was
a small cape cod style barn that sat approximately where the Shell gas station
currently sits in town. This was a good first building, but was too small and
more room was needed.
On March 5, 1941, the Governor's Committee for Fire Protection, Mobilization, and Director of Fire Marshals had written the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. The Committee noted constant fire department response to wartime bombings in England and recommended, because of Virginia's coastal location, the immediate purchase of additional fire fighting equipment. In partial response, the GFVFD was founded with 29 dues-paying members. Its first equipment was a 1942 Chevrolet truck, with 500 gallon tank and front-mounted 500 gallon-per minute pump.
On August 1, 1942, land for the first fire house on the site of the current Great Falls Tavern was donated to the
Forrestville Volunteer Fire Department. The first fire house was a
two-bay, Cape Cod type, with brick front and cinder block walls that was
originally an auto repair garage. The name was changed to Great Falls
Volunteer Fire Department (GFVFD) in November, 1955.
In 1959, the Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department acquired land at 9916 Georgetown Pike from the Fairfax County School
Board. In 1961, the previous fire station was completed. The facility was originally constructed only to house emergency
apparatus. For many years a bank shared the building, residing in the room that was to become the men's bunk room. At that
time, volunteers from Great Falls responded from their homes and businesses. When a call came in, volunteers drove to the
station, got their gear on, jumped on the rig and raced off. In 1966, a full time staff was hired and sleeping and living
quarters were added to the building. Eventually, a kitchen, women's dormitory, day room and offices were squeezed into the
building. It didn't help that
the fire house caught on fire! A new building was needed.
The previous station and the current
station is home to
some 21 men and women from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department who staff the
station 24 hours per day.
In 2001, it was apparent that the station
was becoming increasingly cramped, antiquated, and expensive to maintain. The Great Falls VFD hired architectural and
engineering firms with the goal of designing and building a new, larger facility. After extensive input from the volunteers,
career staff, and members of the community, the architects designed a building that met the operational needs of the department
and fit in with the semi-rural flavor of Great Falls. The leadership of the department began a fundraising campaign to raise
money to construct the new station. After years of trying, it became apparent that the department was not going to be able to
raise the necessary funds, as costs increased year after year. In 2005, the department began working on an agreement with
the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors whereby the GFVFD would donate the land where the station is located to Fairfax
County and the county would build a new facility with space for volunteer meeting rooms, offices, and other facilities.
In March 2007, this agreement was ratified by both parties, with a not to exceed cost of $12 million. In November 2007,
Fairfax County voters overwhelmingly supported a referendum that authorized the selling of bonds for the new station and other
emergency facilities in the county. Fairfax County hired an architect to design the station, which was largely based on the
earlier design commissioned by the volunteers.
The current firehouse was occupied
in October, 2010.
On 17 November 2011, the new station
was officially opened for operation. The new station is significantly larger than the old station and
is certified as a LEEDS Gold green building, the first Fairfax County government building
to be so certified.
The Bell that sits out front of the station is not a fire bell, as has been reported. It is from the school house that was originally on the property before the previous fire house was built. The Bell was kept and placed on a pedestal in front of the previous station as a reminder of the history of the site that our fire house now sits. As an item of historical significance to the town, the Bell was refurbished and placed, once again, outside the new station when construction was completed.
On the 5th of May, 2013, over 70+ years later, we celebrate our 71st year...now as the
Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department. With thousands of hours a year in
volunteer hours, fully staffed 24x7x365 by career staff, a new
environmentally-friendly and world class station....we are still going strong
after all these years!
There were 29 charter members of the Department. Postwar membership exceeded 100; usually there 30 to 40 active members. As the paid ranks grew, volunteer membership diminished. However, over the past four years, active membership has steadily increased. Currently there are 20 operational members and 20 administrative members.
Early training was neither as available nor as comprehensive as today's. First it consisted primarily of fire suppression drills at the station or at a local stream. Beginning in the 1950's, standard and advanced first aid courses became available. The County Training Center (now the Training Academy) opened in 1965, staffed by the career service. Thereafter, the availability and quality of training improved. Volunteers who could not attend distant training schools went to the Training Center. There is currently considerable in-station training. Operational volunteers must undergo the same training and meet the same standards and qualifications as career personnel.
Paid Service at Great Falls
The first career fire fighter,
D. L. Tucker (Tucker), (pictured to the left here), reported for duty on July 1, 1949. The second
career fire fighter C. E. Allen (Buddy), reported on July 1, 1955. By 1967, the paid force had grown to eight men. Paid men worked the day shift until 1966, with volunteers providing fire and rescue service at night
and weekends. Since 1966, the paid service has been assigned 24 hour coverage with supplemental volunteer coverage. The first paid captain was assigned as station commander on May 6, 1971. The paid men who have served this department are remembered for their cooperation with the volunteers. A number of them have helped with building improvements and fund raising efforts. Currently, there are 22 career fire fighters on duty at Great Falls, 24 hours per day, 7 days a week.
Emergency Reporting and Response
The earliest procedure for reporting emergencies served a rural response area with no street names and a population small enough to permit the firemen to know many of the response area residents.
An emergency was reported to the telephone operator on a party line. The operator had the phone number of one volunteer who always had someone at home to take the calls. Upon receipt of an emergency call, the volunteer, or a member of his family, activated the siren in his yard.
In 1950, the first radios were installed in fire trucks in the county and a radio was installed in each fire house. Responses early in the history of the department were dependent on indefinite descriptions of emergency locations. Prime reference points were road numbers, such as Routes 193, 602, 681 and 682. The assignment of street names and house numbers in 1965 was an aid to prompt response, but other problems persisted. There was failure to post house numbers and certain numbers were illogically assigned. Rapid area growth provided an increasing number of new street names to be learned.
In 1958, twelve select tone radios were installed in volunteers homes. Volunteers were equipped with firefighting gear to be carried in their cars so they could respond to an emergency from home or the fire house. Gradually, more radios were added to improve the response.
Fire Fighting Vehicles
The first pumper, a 1942 Chevrolet, was one of five such pumpers which the County bought and distributed to new fire departments. Until 1955, the department did not use pumps above the 500-gallon-per-minute rating. In addition to a standard fire engine, Great Falls, as a semi-rural area, had a Dodge Power Wagon and Jeep, (light weight, four-wheel drive vehicles), which are more effective for fighting brush fires than the heavier, less maneuverable pumpers. We also have a tanker with a 2000 gallon capacity, a necessity because of the lack of municipal water in much of Great Falls, particularly the area north of Georgetown Pike.
Because we service a semi-rural area with dirt roads and driveways, the volunteers helped to purchase a 4-wheel drive ambulance. Our fire station services the Potomac River, so we have two boats and two boat support vehicles to tow them.
Fund Raising History
A carnival, held annually, except for one year since 1944, was the main source of revenue until 1988. The first department-sponsored parade, a feature of the 1955 carnival, was probably the first parade held in Great Falls. Parades featured fire equipment from the County and from Maryland, a drill team from the Third Infantry, U.S. Army, and various marching units. Georgetown Pike was closed from the fire house to the Great Falls Grange during parades. The last parade was held in 1992, on the 50th anniversary of the fire station. In addition, it was also the last time that fireworks were allowed at the village green, due to the growth in the vicinity. Dinners, dances and fund drives were also early sources of revenue. For several years, the McLean Horse Show Association held shows at the Madeira School for the benefit of the McLean and Great Falls Fire Departments. Many Great Falls residents have made regular donations since the department was organized.
In 1998, a new cell tower was erected on our property and leased as an additional source of revenue, and to allow a better location for the county emergency communications equipment. The September, 2001 fundraising letter informed the community of the need for a new fire station and the opportunity to contribute to our newly established building fund.
A rescue squad was organized in October 1951. The first ambulance, a 1941 Cadillac, had been purchased in June 1951. The squad was a separate organization, subordinate to the fire department, and operated by its own officers. As a separate organization, the squad had to develop its own sources of revenue to support its operations. For the first 14 years of squad history, ambulances transported patients to Arlington Hospital, the closest one, with some trips to Washington hospitals.
With the opening of Fairfax Hospital in 1962, patient transportation and access to an emergency room was simplified. Further simplification came with the opening of Access, in Reston, in 1977. The volunteer rescue squad duty crew slept in the fire house and received reports of emergencies from February 1963 through March 1966. After that time the career staff provided full time coverage supplemented by volunteers. On January 3, 1966, the squad merged with the fire department.
The Station as it is now
The Station as it is now
The Station as it is now