David B. Gratz - Marking 25 years since his passing on November 5, 1998 at age 69; honoring his life and contributions
By Administrative Brooke Thompson
October 24, 2023

On November 5th, we will observe the 25th anniversary of the passing of Chief David B. Gratz. His significant contribution to the fire services and fire protection disciplines still resonates today. The purpose of this message is to encourage all active and retired firefighters, regardless of where they are, to take a moment and reflect on his legacy. Let's remember his vision and dedication to duty.

This message provides an overview of the lifelong contributions of an individual to fire and life safety. It includes a group of 10 photos from the 1950s to the 1990s, and while many others that showcase his national and international work are available, they are not included here due to their large number. Additionally, the Washington Post Obituary from 1998 and some other insights are provided further below.

David B. Gratz

June 15, 1929 – November 5, 1998

Fire and Rescue Official, The Washington Post (11/8/1998)

David B. Gratz, 69, a former Silver Spring fire chief who retired in 1977 after four years as director of Montgomery County's Fire and Rescue Services, died of leukemia Nov. 5 at his home in Silver Spring.

Mr. Gratz, who began his career as a volunteer firefighter in Silver Spring, was supervisor of career personnel at the Silver Spring fire station in the 1950s and Silver Spring fire chief from 1961 to 1973. During his tenure as director of Fire and Rescue Services, he consolidated several agencies overseeing fire prevention, training of fire and rescue personnel and communications, and he instituted a countywide paramedic system.

After Mr. Gratz's retirement in 1977, the National Fire Protection Association selected him to coordinate its international activities. He did field work as a fire protection technical adviser and directed the association's projects in Kuwait, Thailand, Malaysia, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Mexico, among other places. He also helped establish a Fire Science Department at Montgomery College.

Mr. Gratz, who was born in Louisville, came to Washington in the 1940s. He graduated from American University, where he also received a master's degree in public administration, and he did doctoral work at the University of Maryland.

He received the Maryland Distinguished Citizenship Award and the International Association of Fire Chiefs Presidents Award.

Survivors include his wife, Willa K. Little-Gratz of Silver Spring; two children, David W. Gratz of Tierra Verde, Fla., and Cathy Brodsky of Bethesda; four grandchildren; and a great-grandson, Edward ‘Ted' Rivinus, Foreign Service Officer.


Chief Gratz began his journey in fire services as a volunteer with Silver Spring in the mid-1940s, located adjacent to Washington, DC. He held numerous positions in the department, as well as in his home county, the state of Maryland, and nationally and internationally. His impact on the world of fire safety, emergency services training, and education was enormous, and most people would agree with this.

From 1961 to 1973, he served as the chief of the SSVFD/SSFD, which was a full-service combination department. Afterward, he moved to take on his Montgomery County post. He dedicatedly served in several leadership positions with the IAFC for several decades and was the president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs in 1975-1976. In the early 1960s, he chaired several Maryland Governor's Fire Prevention Conferences, which originated in response to the "1947 President's Conference on Fire Prevention." These annual educational gatherings in Maryland continue to this day and are now known as Mid-Atlantic Life Safety Conferences.

Included is a photograph of Chief Gratz that can be found on page 26 of the 1973 historic document titled "America Burning: The Report of the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control." Another picture presented here displays a bronze plaque situated at the front entrance of the main Underwriter's Laboratories fire testing building in Northbrook, Illinois. This building was named in honor of Chief Gratz's 25 years of service on their Board.

For almost six decades, Chief Gratz served on numerous committees, boards, and commissions at the local, regional, state, and national levels. He promoted many advances in the fields of emergency medical services, firefighting, and fire protection disciplines, leaving behind a remarkable legacy. He was known by several nicknames, but "our Chief" probably best sums up his contributions. We salute you, "DBG", for your impact on the thousands who served alongside you, as well as those who continue to carry on your legacy.


Feissner November 10, 2023 at 4:19 PM
thank You for acknowledging chief Gratz. may he continue to rest in Peace ...