Report seeks 5 fire stations

Increase needed to serve population surge, it states

Source of funding unclear

Fire officials oppose idea to reduce staffs to four

Anne Arundel

August 09, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County should build five fire stations within the next three years, and at least 14 more during the next decade, to serve a fast-growing population, according to a consultant's report released yesterday.

Exactly where money to build those emergency facilities would come from is unclear.

"That's a difficult question to answer," said Matt Diehl, a spokesman for County Executive Janet S. Owens. Construction costs alone could total $100 million. "We are all looking for ways to make this happen, but five stations in three years could be difficult."

Besides the new fire stations -- including one each for the Annapolis Neck peninsula, Gambrills, Millersville, Severn and West Severna Park -- the report recommends a reduction in staff at some fire stations from five to four firefighters, a suggestion that upset some local fire officials.

"I do not believe that the people who wrote the report have a good working knowledge of [national fire department staffing standards]," Fire Chief Roger C. Simonds Sr. said yesterday. "I don't think that can be done."

Although Simonds said he was pleased with some aspects of the survey -- including kudos for providing separate bathrooms for female firefighters -- he said he has "numerous questions." He referred to the document, which cost about $100,000, as a base from which to build his capital budgets for the next several years.

"Is it economically feasible to build five firehouses in three years?" he said. "No, I don't think it is economically feasible, but we need to take the recommendations and put them into some sort of long-term plan."

Simonds said he hopes to sit down with Owens soon to map out that plan.

The survey, delivered to the county a month late because of editing errors and missing data, includes a review of needs at the county's 29 fire stations, some of which are owned by volunteer fire companies.

And while a majority of those firehouses were found to need only basic improvements, a consultant determined that stations in Brooklyn Park and Lake Shore need extensive renovation or even replacement in order to be efficient.

A new firehouse is in the works for Brooklyn Park. And the ground floor of the Lake Shore fire station, which was sagging into the basement, was recently fortified, said Fire Department Division Chief John M. Scholz.

Scholz said the report also spotlights fire stations in Marley, Deale and Jacobsville for major maintenance work.

The consultant's staffing suggestions were questioned by Scholz and his boss. Whereas a majority of county fire stations employ five firefighters each, the report states that Simonds should reassign some so that every firehouse has at least four firefighters.

"That operation model doesn't work here," said Simonds, who explained that fire stations in more populated areas such as the northern part of the county need more firefighters and emergency medical service professionals.

Simonds said a recommendation that firefighters cut response time by changing into their gear at the scene rather than at the station was a bad idea. The county's average response time for fire and medical emergencies is 1.44 minutes. Consultants advised that it should be a minute or less. Simonds disagreed.

"I believe our customers, the taxpayers, expect us to arrive at an incident ready to take action," he said.

The county executive requested the survey by Reston, Va.-based MAXIMUS a year ago when an in-house job was characterized as flawed by some, including many residents in the Annapolis Neck area who have been begging for a firehouse of their own for two decades.

When told that an independent report recommended a fire station for the area, Arundel-on-the-Bay resident Milton E. Harrod said he would hold out for a commitment from Owens.

"When I say `commitment,' I mean money," said Harrod, a retired firefighter who has worked with Council Member Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a Democrat from Annapolis, to get funding for the new fire station. The county bought land for the fire station in 1979.

Samorajczyk said that after more than 20 years, it's time the county did something with the land. "We are ready to roll," she said.

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