Learning to share isn't easy for Balto. Co. police, fire departments

December 06, 1990|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

Like young brothers forced to share a bedroom, Baltimore County's police and fire agencies are struggling to resolve their petty differences over their joint occupancy of the county's new public safety building.

The police complain that fire officers grabbed all the best underground parking spaces because they moved in first. Fire officials counter that their police brethren have a fixation about security and are trying to push them out of the few underground spaces they are using.

Fire officials said they were startled when police officials told them a special escape door was needed for their chief's ninth-floor office as standard police practice.

"We just looked around when that was said," said Fire Chief Paul H. Reincke, who retires tomorrow. "After all, they have guns. We don't have any guns."

After years of talk about the need for new police and fire headquarters in the county, and abandonment of a plan to turn the former Loch Raven Elementary into a police building, then-County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen last year decided the county should buy the former Blue Cross-Blue Shield building for a new joint headquarters. The health insurance firm moved to new quarters in Owings Mills.

Some people praised the idea, because the cost of buying and renovating the mirrored, 11-story building was $25 million, compared with an earlier estimate of $36 million to build a new police building alone. The site, in the 700 block of East Joppa Road, also has the potential for a second building.

While the plan may have been considered a master stroke by some, the shared-space arrangements have proved stickier.

Frank C. Robey Jr., the county administrative officer, said the thought was that having the top echelons of the police and fire departments share one floor would set an example of cooperation. The ninth floor has a huge conference room and kitchen which could be used by both staffs and could not be duplicated on other floors, he said.

So much for cooperation. The police say they don't want to share the ninth-floor executive floor and would still like their own building.

Despite firefighters' comments to the contrary, Police Chief Cornelius J. Behan said escape isn't the purpose of the special door he ordered in his office. He merely wanted a second entrance so he wouldn't have to walk through his office lobby. He explained that he must traverse a conference room to enter his current office and sometimes interrupts meetings by walking through.

Fire and police representatives are trying to work out who gets the choice parking spots. Police Col. Michael D. Gambrill said those talks are at impasse over 37 spaces.

There's even a committee to decide on the display and placement of the two department seals at the public entrance to the building, Gambrill said.

Behan, for his part, makes no bones about his position on sharing the ninth floor with the fire chief. "I have been against it from the beginning. I don't think the fire department thinks it's good," he said recently. "We should have a headquarters distinct from one another."

The chief is equally adamant about the need for security.

"The fire department philosophy is to keep doors open," Behan said. "To keep burglars out, the police philosophy is to keep doors closed."

Reincke says, in contrast, that he's very pleased to share the building, and the ninth floor.

"I supported the decision to have a combined headquarters. This looked great and it is great. I don't see any problem," he said. Reincke noted, however, that he believes that "the police goal is to take over the building."

Top county fire officials have begun moving into their new offices on the ninth floor. Work is to start soon on the police offices, which won't be occupied for several months.

Both departments at least agree that the new building is much better than their old quarters.

The police have complained for years about their 1961 one-story headquarters at Kenilworth Drive and Bosley Avenue. They are using a portable trailer on the parking lot for more office space now. Plans are to convert that building to a Towson precinct station house after the new headquarters is completed.

Fire headquarters for years operated in a small part of the Towson fire station complex on York Road at Bosley Avenue and partially moved to the former Lutherville Elementary farther north on York Road a few years ago.

The larger police staff will occupy most of the new Joppa Road building. The police will have all the floors under nine, except for sharing a sixth-floor cafeteria with firefighters and part of the lobby.

Current plans call for the fire department to occupy half the ninth floor and all of the 10th floor. The 11th floor is for data processing, and is already equipped for that purpose.

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