Century later, Westminster Fire Co. sounds alarm for new home

April 24, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

After nearly a century at 66 E. Main St., the Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Company needs more elbow room.

Company officials confirmed last week that the group, organized in 1823 and incorporated in 1879, is looking for land to build a new home. The fire company built the first section of its current building in 1895.

"We're trying to stay close to the city, but we need to find a place suitable for our needs," said former president Gary L. Hooper.

James E. Bangerd III, the company's current president, was unavailable for comment.

"We also need a little larger building," Mr. Hooper said. "The new ladder trucks are higher, and we're limited in what we can buy."

As the city has grown, downtown traffic has become more congested and parking scarce. That hampers the volunteer fire company's response times, he said.

"It's been a problem for about five to eight years, and it's gotten steadily worse," Mr. Hooper said. "I live off of Hook Road and, on average, it takes me five to 10 minutes to get from my house to the fire hall."

Plans to purchase nearby properties for parking and expansion have been unsuccessful, he said.

So, over the past year, building committee members have considered the former Farmer's Supply Co. building on Green at Liberty streets, the National Guard armory on Route 97 and a property on Key Street as possible sites for a new station, Mr. Hooper said.

But those sites -- particularly the Farmer's Supply and armory -- have access and parking problems.

"There are problems getting to the [Farmer's Supply] building and that's a busy intersection, making it difficult to get the equipment out," Mr. Hooper said. "There's not that much [available] land around town."

The fire company also wants a site that has room for expansion.

"We don't want to rush to get something that will hurt us in 10 years," Mr. Hooper said. "We're planning for the next 20 or 30 years.

"We need access not only for the equipment, but so the members can get in and have a safe entrance."

There's also the problem of what to do with the historic firehouse once the fire company moves out, he said. The building, which has been expanded twice since 1895, is owned by the company. The bell tower is owned and operated by the city, Mr. Hooper said.

Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown suggested last week that the building could be used for a multi-purpose arts center that would serve the entire county.

"It's a hard thing to sell," Mr. Hooper said. "Not many people have a use for an old fire station."

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