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Bethesda & Chevy Chase, MD
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The Birth of a Tradition
What began as a one-ambulance department operating out of a tiny garage in Upper Northwest Washington, D.C., has evolved into one of the best-trained, best-equipped rescue squads in the nation. A tradition of “Answering the Call” was born that continues to this day, as we provide compassionate, life-saving services to the community.
In 1937, area resident Don Dunnington recognized the dire need for ambulance service in Chevy Chase. With generous donations from the community, Dunnington and a small group of co-founders organized the “Chevy Chase First-Aid Corps.” Operating at first with one ambulance from a tiny garage at 38th Street & Military Road, N.W., the group handled emergency calls, routine transports, and first aid coverage at public events. Staffing was ensured by picking up firemen or policemen on the way to the calls. After a three-year interruption during World War II, the group reformed in 1945 as the Bethesda-Chevy Chase First Aid Corps and began operations using an ambulance donated by the Bethesda Civitan Club. The Corps later acquired a rescue truck to provide rescue service at fires and vehicle collisions, soon to be followed by the acquisition of additional ambulances.
International Fame–and a Transformation
By 1946 the organization–now renamed the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad–began to capture national and international attention. Extensive media coverage resulted from a number of sensational calls, and articles on the Squad and its stellar training, dedication, and volunteer spirit appeared in major publications. “Whenever lives are at stake, Maryland’s volunteer squad of young citizens roars to the rescue, ready for any emergency,” proclaimed a 1949 issue of Coronet, a national magazine. In 1950 the U.S. Department of State produced a film about the Squad entitled "Wisconsin 1000 Rescue Squad," named after the Squad’s 24-hour emergency telephone number. The State Department eventually printed the film in ten different languages and circulated it around the world.
In 1978, current and former members of the Rescue Squad founded the Alumni Association of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad to preserve the Squad’s history, to support the operations of the Rescue Squad, and to perpetuate the bonds of friendship among long-time Squad members. Another group within the Squad, the Ladies Auxiliary, continued to operate its mobile kitchen at fires and disasters and to assist in fundraising efforts.
Reflecting its growing size and increasing capabilities, the Rescue Squad has had many homes, starting at the 38th Street and Military Road location, then (in succession) a garage in the basement of the old Jelleff’s Department Store, a station on Fairmont Avenue, a station on Auburn Avenue, and its present headquarters at Battery Lane and Old Georgetown Road. To provide expanded service to the community, the Rescue Squad also operates an ambulance from the Democracy Boulevard station of the Bethesda Fire Department.
A Point of Light
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush visited the Rescue Squad to help celebrate its 50th anniversary of volunteer service to the community. In declaring the Rescue Squad a "point of light," he drew upon more than 200 years of American history and paid tribute to the Squad as an exemplar of civic virtue: "Young kids and retirees, executives and laborers--each of you, to quote the Squad's original motto, has 'answered the call.' . . . [I]n 1990, with firefighters and EMS personnel today one million strong, I salute you, as does your community. . . . You save lives and you walk the path of engagement in the lives of those in need." (Click here to read the full text of the President's speech.)
Striving for Excellence
Not content to rest on its laurels, the Rescue Squad has ensured its continued success by maintaining a strong corps of volunteers and staff, anticipating changes in community needs, and adopting new training and medical practices. Along the way, the Rescue Squad has continued to acquire new equipment, thanks to the generous support of its community. The Rescue Squad has progressed from Cadillac ambulances to the present Freightliner chassis; transitioned from rescue squads with personnel riding on the back-step (the old GMCs and Kenworths) to fully enclosed cabs of today; acquired state-of-the art rescue tools such as thermal imaging systems; created a confined space rescue team and a bicycle emergency response team; and designed and acquired a mobile cascade system.
Emergency Medical Services is an area in which the Rescue Squad has consistently excelled. The Squad, which was the first department in the State to operate a medic unit, was also one of the first in the County to utilize 12-lead ECGs and the first in the County to equip all of its ambulances with automated external defibrillators. The Rescue Squad continues to obtain state-of-the-art medical equipment and training for its members, who have responded by consistently finishing at the top of their training classes.
Carrying on a Legacy
It is the Rescue Squad’s heavy reliance on volunteers that has defined its history and its character. The obligations that the Squad places on its members are legendary and have no doubt contributed to the Squad’s status as one of the nation’s strongest volunteer fire/rescue departments. The fact that research scientists, lawyers, college and graduate school students, government officials, small business owners, school teachers, corporate executives, and others volunteer with the Rescue Squad is both a reflection of the community the Squad serves and a tribute to the Squad’s reputation for excellence.
Today the Rescue Squad carries on the legacy left by Don Dunnington and his co-founders by providing no-cost emergency fire, rescue, and ambulance services to the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area, as well as Upper Northwest Washington, D.C. The Rescue Squad’s fleet includes seven ambulance/medic units, two heavy rescue squads, two mobile air units for refilling firefighters' breathing apparatus at fires, and various command and utility vehicles. The Squad’s 150 professionally-trained volunteers, a daytime staff, and two Montgomery County Paramedics respond to 26 calls for help every day. The Squad derives almost all of its operating funds from generous community donations and occasional state and federal grants.
Despite the growth in population of its service area, the Rescue Squad has constantly improved its services to meet the challenges it encounters. In responding to almost 10,000 emergency calls per year, the Squad’s dedicated volunteers and staff let nothing get in the way of “Answering the Call.”