Fire officials call for water supply access

Proposal would require sources near new homes

`Very legitimate concerns'

Drought, lack of hydrants exacerbate problem

April 28, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Every time the alarm sounds at the Winfield fire station, the same question nags at Chief Greg Dods.

"As soon as you get the call, all that is going through your head is: Where are we going to get water?" Dods said. "Right now, you can go two miles from this station and have no water."

Dods and other fire officials are urging the county to adopt tougher regulations that would force developers to provide a permanent source of water for all new subdivisions. The sources could be an underground tank or an easily accessible pond that could be tapped in an emergency. They are also pushing for sprinkler systems in new homes.

Firefighters have drafted "Water Requirements for Residential Firefighting in Rural/Suburban Areas," which is under review by the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission. The board could recommend adoption or rejection of the plan to the county commissioners, who have final authority.

"They have done a nice job revising the ordinance," said Scott Campbell, the county's fire protection engineer. "They have very legitimate concerns and their requests are most appropriate."

Two factors have aggravated the situation. South Carroll, from Eldersburg to Mount Airy, has seen a boom in new housing the past few years, with its population nearly tripling since the 1980s.

Adding to the crisis is the persistent drought in Central Maryland. Many ponds are down to as much as half their normal capacity. The newest pond on Gillis Falls Road, which should be about 10 feet deep at its center, is less than 5 feet.

Most of the firefighters' requests would bring regulations for residential construction in line with what is in place for commercial developments, which must provide water sources.

The revisions are reasonable and possible, said Leon Fleming, emergency services liaison between the fire companies and county government. Fleming helped write the draft.

"We are trying to stay one step ahead and add to the water supply," Dods said. "You can't play catch-up with emergency services. We have to sell this to the county. We have to keep pushing."

Dods, a volunteer firefighter for 24 years and chief of this rural company for the past three years, is aware of the location and capacity of every pond and swimming pool, and knows which are the easiest to access. The Winfield fire company serves an area that is home to about 14,000 people, and two elementary and high schools.

He knows to the tenth of a mile where he can find a fire hydrant or an underground water tank. He knows to the gallon how much water his equipment can carry. And he worries that water is too far, too hard to reach and too scarce.

Changes to the long-standing fire protection ordinance could add to the cost of a new home, but each request is worthwhile, fire officials said. The new regulations would have developers provide a water source that is capable of supplying 500 gallons a minute for a minimum of one hour, with access roads sturdy enough to support a 72,000- pound vehicle.

"We want developers to provide water for emergency services, and we will keep pushing for that," said Doug Alexander, deputy chief of Mount Airy Fire Department and member of the rural water supply committee for the Carroll County Fire Chiefs Association. "We want to give firefighters the best chance to save lives and property. At least, with enough water, we can keep a fire from spreading.

"Right now there is no rule that developers must provide water for emergency services and we are pushing for that," he said. "We need to stop re-creating this problem."

Winfield fronts on Liberty Road next to South Carroll High School. Its area is about five square miles, nearly all of it rural with scattered new developments. The station often relies on its "water on wheels," Dods said. It is the only one of Carroll's 14 volunteer fire companies to own a 3,500-gallon tanker. The truck also carries a portable tank of the same capacity, which can be filled repeatedly, if water is available. Most of the other Carroll stations have 1,000-gallon trucks.

"We can shuttle tankers to a fire scene quickly and refill them in a small amount of time, if we have a water source near," Alexander said.

Mount Airy, home to about 6,100 residents, has seen a boom in construction of luxury homes the past few years. Several new subdivisions include costly residences that are as large as 6,600 square feet. But this pricey real estate has no hydrants and few of the houses are equipped with sprinkler systems, Alexander said.

"Are we going to have to tell people in these larger homes that we don't have the water to protect their property?" Alexander said.

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