MOUNT AIRY — Volunteers often face more peril exiting the 65-year-old station here than they do in firefighting.
When the siren blares, they grab their gear. Before racing to an emergency, they frequently must extricate an engine blocked in by another piece of equipment and grapple with narrow doors in the aging building.
With construction of a new station and its six drive-through baysset to begin next week, firefighters can soon put those perils behind them.
The department will break ground at 2 p.m. Sunday for a $1.6 million facility on North Main Street.
"We hope to start movingdirt the day after the ceremony," said Doug Alexander, a paid firefighter in Montgomery County and volunteer chairman of the new fire station committee. "Weather permitting, we should move in by July."
Chief Gary Hubble calls the move "a big step in our history" for the department's 250 volunteers -- about 75 of whom are active.
"We have been extremely cramped, and won't know what to do with the extra space," he said.
The cramped quarters were uncomfortable and unsafe,said Alexander, a 25-year veteran volunteer here. About 18 inches ofspace on either side of the engines leaves operators little room to maneuver. Volunteers jokingly said the station needs a large shoe horn and a little grease to solve its problems.
"We have such narrow spaces to turn out our gear, it's hard to keep track of everything," said Doug Alexander. "And maybe it's only by seconds, but it slows usdown."
The department fortunately has never had a personal injury, he said, but has lost equipment.
"When a heavy engine runs over equipment, it's gone for good," he said.
With each new equipment purchase, the house, built in 1926, has been modified. Its doors have been raised several times to accommodate the eight pieces of modern equipment the department now owns.
In 1989, the department purchased 5.3 acres at 702 N. Main St. for $300,000. Members visited several other stations in the area, before deciding on a 27,200-square-foot facility, three times the size of the old one.
With new bays, each spacious enough for two engines, volunteers can say goodbye to parking problems. A sixth bay will be used for maintenance.
"The bays can house any type engine our community has now or could ever need," said Alexander. "An exhaust removal system also will be installed to maintain a healthy atmosphere."
Since the building campaign began inApril, volunteers have raised $100,000, said Jim Linton, treasurer. The department also has secured a low-interest loan from the county.
"We haven't got the confirmation on the exact amount yet, but we are 99 percent certain of the money," said Linton.
The depressed economy has worked in the project's favor and resulted in keen competition and "fantastic" prices from subcontractors, said Alexander.
Janet Kipe, assistant treasurer, is planning more fund-raising events.
"This is the first time we have ever been involved in raising so much money," she said. "With the groundbreaking, people will see that it's really happening."
Local artist Lisa Hammond Paolini has donated a sketch of the old fire station, prints of which sell for $10. Or, for a $500 donation, residents can buy a personalized brick in thenew firehouse.
The community is invited to the groundbreaking andto the reception which will follow at the Fireman's Activities Building at Twin Arch Road and Route 27.