Fire space up for review

Sykesville station's $1.5 million expansion plan to be heard today

January 27, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Space is so tight at Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Department that volunteers can barely maneuver around the seven trucks parked only inches apart in four equipment bays -- a squeeze that has prompted a $1.5 million expansion plan up for county review today.

"We have one ambulance going out the back and the other out the front, sometimes at the same time," said Bobby Ray Chesney, chief of the 200-volunteer department, which serves the county's fastest growing area. "We have vehicles double-stacked inside, when everything ideally should be in its own place."

Today, the county's subdivision advisory committee will review plans to expand the 30-year-old building, which offers little room to store firefighting gear or for meetings, training, fund raising or resting between calls.

Like schools, roads and utilities in South Carroll, its fire station, one of the county's busiest, is struggling to keep up with growth. The advisory panel, one of the last steps in the development review process, is expected to act favorably on the proposal.

The department hopes to secure financing and break ground this spring. Construction will take about a year.

Plans call for two more equipment bays, both wider and higher than the four existing ones, and a two-story addition for offices, meeting areas, bunk rooms and a kitchen. Upgrades to the heating, air-conditioning and electrical systems also are sought.

The department serves Carroll's most populous area -- 28,000 people -- from a 30-year-old brick station on Route 32 at Freedom Avenue. Several of the county's 14 volunteer fire companies have recently expanded or are considering additions.

Sykesville is second only to Westminster in the annual number of calls it handles. Last year, it responded to nearly 2,300 ambulance, fire and rescue calls.

The building, built in 1972 on a 25-acre plot leased from Springfield Hospital Center, was remodeled 15 years ago. Another expansion is sorely needed, say the members.

"The bottom line is that we have outgrown our building," said Bob Althoff, president of the volunteer company. "Our equipment today is much bigger. We have no place to meet and no storage at all."

The average ladder truck is 35 feet long and must share a 55-foot bay with a smaller piece of equipment. When the duty officer's car, a 1998 Chevy Blazer, is not at a firefighter's home, it is parked outside the station.

"It is so crowded that equipment is parked only inches from each other," said Althoff. "We have an engine and ambulance back to back, and there is about an inch between the brush truck and a utility vehicle. It is difficult to walk around this stuff."

Or to move it out quickly during an emergency or for routine servicing, said Chesney.

The company will add two 75-foot-long bays to the Freedom Avenue side of the building. That should offer ample space for cost-saving maintenance work and for the rescue truck the department plans to buy in the next year.

The station needs room for its people, too. Turn-out gear -- hats, coats, pants and boots -- is usually hung on hooks for easy access. But at this crowded station, much of it is kept in gear bags stacked in a small area.

The monthly meeting draws about 50 people who often fill a room suited for 20. The paramedic staff has no office or lunch room. To maintain state-regulated training schedules, the building also needs more classroom space.

The activities hall is booked for most weekends and several evenings. The noise makes meeting nearby difficult, Althoff said.

To alleviate such complaints, a two-story addition facing the highway will house a lounge area and kitchen downstairs and separate bunk rooms for men and women and board meeting rooms upstairs.

Modernizing might be an incentive that would draw more members, said Althoff, a volunteer for 20 years. Although the county has long had property for a second station in South Carroll, Althoff said, "We will be the main body down here for at least another 10 years.

"We are looking at the big picture, planning for 25 to 30 years down the road," he said.

Faced with growing communities, several county fire companies are considering costly additions. Westminster built a $4 million station a year ago. Hampstead has purchased land near its Main Street station for a future expansion.

"The communities are growing around us, and there is a demand for more equipment and more hours," said John Korman, first vice president of the Carroll County Firemen's Association. "A lot of the companies are getting crowded and thinking about expansions. This county is just growing by leaps and bounds."

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