A former Medford Township police chief died last night following a boating accident in National Harbor, Md., officials said today.

Steven McGarvey, 55, who served as chief from 1995 to 2000, fell off a boat during heavy rain and struck his head on the dock before landing in the water, said fire officials in Prince George's County, Md.

He was unconscious when firefighters pulled him from the water shortly after 9 p.m., about 25 minutes later, and pronounced dead at an area hospital.

McGarvey is the third former chief of the 44-member police department to die in the last year. The others were Edwin Wood 3d, 52, whose stint as chief ended in 2005, and Joseph Anthony, 64, who retired as chief in 1981. Wood died of cancer; the cause of Anthony's death was unavailable.

"Steve, throughout his career, was a hero to many people. He touched so many lives," said acting Chief Anthony Canale, a lifelong friend. "He was a cop's cop."

McGarvey served as an incident commander with the Burlington County Joint Tactical Team and was a member of the township police scuba team. In recent years, he worked selling yachts at MarineMax in Somers Point.

McGarvey joined the police department in 1973 as a patrolman. In 1978, he received kudos from the Federal Bureau of Investigation for his handling of a hostage situation during an attempted bank robbery at a Burlington County National Bank branch.

During the Sept. 2, 1978, incident, then-Sgt. McGarvey arrested two men, one of whom was wanted for homicide and bank robberies in Maryland, Canale said.

McGarvey, a lifelong resident of Medford, was a 1972 graduate of Shawnee High School. After his retirement, he and his wife, Joyce, briefly operated a day spa that offered personal fitness training and massages.

Being a police officer was McGarvey's whole life, said Township Manager Michael Achey. "He started out at 16 years old sweeping the police station and worked his way up to chief," said Achey, another close friend. Earlier in his career, McGarvey was an EMT.

After his police career, McGarvey's passion became boating, Achey said. At the time of his death, McGarvey was attending a boat show; he fell from a boat he was preparing to show to customers.

"He epitomized what it means to be a public servant," said former Medford mayor Scott Rudder. "Here's a guy who grew up in Medford Township and gave back to the community as a professional."

In addition to his wife, McGarvey is survived by his brother, James, a retired Medford Lakes police officer.

Services will be held at noon on Monday at Bradley & Stow Funeral Home, 127 Medford-Mt. Holly Rd., in Medford. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Junior Mechanics Cemetery in Tabernacle.

Memorial donations may be made to the Steven McGarvey Memorial Fund, Box 1542, Medford, N.J. 08055.

Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com.