Where there's smoke. . .? Volunteer fire protection resources strained by burgeoning growth.

September 05, 1996

FIRE PROTECTION concerns are the latest challenge to growth in southern Carroll County. Not enough water pressure and supply. Not enough volunteer fire fighters to handle the increasing number of emergency calls, according to fire officials.

Fire and emergency services top the list of adequate public facilities standards, a key factor for approval of projects by the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission.

So when the Sykesville-Freedom District Volunteer Fire Department says it cannot certify plans for a new medical arts complex for Carroll County General Hospital in Eldersburg, that appears to be a major stumbling block.

Volunteer firemen took 15 minutes just to open one of two hydrants that would serve the complex, on a recent test; then, the hydrant did not deliver adequate water pressure.

But the county utilities bureau, which is supposed to inspect and service all 650 hydrants twice a year, disputes that negative assessment. The hydrant is maintained and delivers required pressure, which is why the county certified the new development, the bureau insists.

Meanwhile, the planning body is split over the differing opinions. County Commissioner Richard T. Yates, typically a growth-control advocate, argues that denying development approval could result in a court order for Carroll to build adequate facilities for the project. (Of course, the same court action could be taken if approval is given, and the public facilities are later shown to be inadequate.)

The volunteer fire department's frustration is not confined to water supply questions. The rapid growth in South Carroll -- a 20 percent population increase in five years -- has strained the department's staffing and response capabilities. "We cannot guarantee a response," declares Bobby Ray Chesney, the deputy chief.

Carroll's changing work force, with more commuters and employers less supportive of volunteer fire duties, also makes it harder to fill weekday and overnight shifts. All but two of the county's 14 volunteer fire units now have some paid emergency medical technicians, a trend that will accelerate. Emergency calls to the Sykesville station rose 20 percent last year.

Growth is straining the resources of volunteer fire companies, which face major changes in providing their essential protection.

Pub Date: 9/05/96

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