Alarm goes out for fire funds Westminster station says survival at stake in $1.5 million campaign

June 17, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

In its most ambitious fund-raising effort to date, Westminster Fire Department has launched a $1.5 million capital campaign to finance a new fire station at a larger site.

The volunteer fire company has outgrown the century-old domed building in downtown Westminster and is planning a new station at 28 John St., the former Smith and Reifsnider Lumber and Home Center. But organizers say more is at stake than a new building.

The survival of the 175-year-old volunteer Fire Department depends on a successful fund-raising campaign, said James E. Bangerd III, president of the Westminster fire company.

"We're looking at it as a referendum on whether the volunteer system is going to continue or not," Bangerd said. "We survive purely on the goodwill of the citizens."

During the next six weeks, about 100 fund-raising committee volunteers will be contacting local business leaders to solicit donations.

The committee is seeking contributions at three levels: $1,500 to $10,000, $10,000 to $25,000 and gifts above $25,000. Donors may pledge over a five-year period.

The campaign chairman is Thomas K. Ferguson, president and chief executive officer of Carroll County Bank and Trust Co.

The steering committee division chairs are: William E. Gavin, director of administration of Random House Inc.; Virginia W. Smith, president of Union National Bank; and Steve Stewart, manager of Leggett.

"The Fire Department is absolutely critical to the health of our community," Ferguson said. "They need help, they're our only Fire Department and what in the world would we do if we had to go to a fully paid department?

"The campaign is only going to be successful if the community recognizes the importance of the Fire Department and the services the volunteers provide to us," Ferguson said.

In a separate fund-raising activity, the Westminster volunteers are sponsoring Country Fest on July 7 at Westminster High School. Country music performers such as Patty Loveless and Diamond Rio are on the program.

As a volunteer organization, Westminster Fire Department is accustomed to relying on fund-raisers to buy equipment and cover operating costs. But the department's capital campaign is on an entirely different scale.

Ferguson said the company hired a professional fund-raising coordinator to oversee the day-to-day campaign and help plan fund-raising activities.

"By far this is the largest campaign the Fire Department has ever undertaken," Ferguson said.

Westminster fire company officials estimate that the cost of moving to a new site and building a larger facility could be as much as $3.2 million.

Money from the sale of the Fire Department's three-story Main Street building will go toward the $1.8 million cost of the 3-acre John Street site.

The building with a distinctive clock and bell tower is listed at $750,000. It has been expanded twice to house larger pieces of firefighting equipment and accommodate community gatherings.

The fire company decided to move because the Main Street facility offered no room for expansion and traffic congestion in downtown Westminster hampers firefighters' responses to emergency calls.

The John Street site, while still central to the Westminster fire district, is in an area of less traffic and provides ample parking. Plans for the new fire station call for more room for larger pieces of fire equipment, meeting rooms that can be used for training classes and a new air handling system to reduce exposure to diesel fumes and carbon monoxide.

Bangerd estimates that it will be two years before the new fire station is completed.

Pub Date: 6/17/96

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