Woodlawn's volunteer fire company has a problem cramped station house

January 19, 1993|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Staff Writer

The Woodlawn Volunteer Fire Company has a problem.

Its fire station is so cramped that the most serious injury to a firefighter in recent memory took place not at a fire, but in the men's dorm during an alarm. A volunteer sleeping on the top bunk accidentally jumped on his bunk mate below and dislocated the man's shoulder.

"The bell rings, everybody gets up, and BOOM!" said Capt. Jimmy Artis.

The close quarters of the 27-year-old building on Woodlawn Avenue affect more than the firefighters' comfort. Two of the five vehicles are blocked in because the building only has two bays.

Deep cracks run through the walls in most of the rooms, evidence of the building settling. The hose tower -- where water hoses are hung to dry after a fire -- is separating from the building. Women firefighters bunk in a storage room. The company says it needs a bigger building.

The problem, however, is who will pay for the $1 million construction cost. It won't be the county, whose contribution to volunteer fire companies only covers annual fuel costs. The county hasn't funded a volunteer fire station's construction project in more than two years, said Lou Hejl, the company's fund-raising campaign chairman.

So, the company is pinning its hopes on the Woodlawn community.

Already, $75,000 -- mostly from local businesses -- has been donated. Mr. Hejl, who is also director of human resources at Barre-National Inc., said his employer contributed $10,000, as did Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Mr. Hejl hopes to raise about $150,000 by May and begin construction. Planned fund-raisers include raffles and bus trips to out-of-town Orioles games.

Whatever the outcome, construction must begin before the expiration in October of zoning approval for a fire station on land the company owns about a half-block south of the present site.

Volunteer fire companies are a crucial part of the county's service network. Last year, Woodlawn went out on more than 1,800 emergency calls. Of the county's 33 volunteer fire departments, only Pikesville had more calls. The companies also help the county stretch its dollars. Each one saves the county between $1.5 million and $2 million annually, Mr. Hejl said.

At Woodlawn, the poorly equipped fire house means that firefighters don't spend much time there, and the building's condition may discourage volunteers from joining, Mr. Hejl said.

"There's a significant problem in attracting new volunteers," he said. About half the current total of about 75 volunteers are active.

A two-story, 11,000-square-foot fire station is planned for the company-owned property on Woodlawn Avenue.

It will be more than twice the size of the current station. Men's and women's dorm rooms will be larger, and firefighters will have dressing area separate from where the emergency vehicles are parked. Six vehicle bays will be drive-through. Trucks will have access to Woodlawn Avenue and Walnut Avenue.

"Obviously, this will make it much easier for us to respond" to emergency calls, Captain Artis said.

The second floor will house storage space, a kitchen, a lounge, administrative offices and a large room for activities ranging from volunteer training to community activities, like bingo, Mr. Hejl said.

"The demands on the volunteer fire company have changed dramatically," he said. When the company was founded in 1942, "it was just a one-truck company."

Mr. Hejl realizes that the surrounding community is not wealthy. Area businesses "are very reserved about contributions at this time," he said.

And, though volunteer fire companies are supported by contributions, he said, "There's constantly the problem of overcoming the community's impression that their taxes pay for this kind of thing. They don't."

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