County and city consider firehouse

Two might work together to build proposed station

Annapolis Neck

March 03, 2003|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County and Annapolis officials are discussing a partnership to build a fire station on the Annapolis Neck, a densely populated area where residents have waited more than two decades for a fire station, often complaining of slow emergency response times.

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said she would meet with county officials this week to discuss building a fire station by 2005.

"We are strapped [for cash] just like everyone else, but let's get it on the table and see where it goes," Moyer said last week. "I think we have a growing area, and when you have a growing area, you have to look at all the public safety demands."

At the county level, Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a Democrat who represents the Annapolis Neck area, has been pushing for a fire station since she was first elected in 1998.

"The time is now for us to do something to remedy this situation," said Samorajczyk. "Emergency calls from the county are overwhelming the city's system."

County officials bought land for a fire station on Bay Ridge Road at Arundel on the Bay Road in 1977. Since then, the project has been added to and removed from the budget at least nine times.

In the meantime, the Annapolis Fire Department has been providing fire service to the Annapolis Neck area on a contract basis. The county will give Annapolis about $585,000 in the budget year that ends June 30, and money is expected to be budgeted in the 2003-2004 fiscal cycle.

Residents complain that the response time to some areas of the Annapolis Neck is about 11 minutes, including the time it takes for a 911 dispatcher to take information from a caller to the time a Fire Department unit arrives on scene.

The county - which starts the clock when a Fire Department unit heads out to a call - says the average response time for the Annapolis Neck is about seven minutes, or roughly two minutes more than the national standard. The county average is about five minutes.

In Annapolis, where fire officials recently completed a report of their own, the average response time also is about five minutes.

Samorajczyk is poised to introduce an amendment to an Annapolis Neck long-range planning document that would block large-scale residential growth until the fire station is built. An amendment she introduced at a council meeting last week failed because it would have applied to all residential projects, not just major subdivisions.

"It's time for the county to step up to the plate because the city saying, `Look, we can't do it,'" she said.

A spokeswoman for County Executive Janet S. Owens said Friday that the firehouse issue is a "grave concern." But she declined to comment on when an Annapolis Neck station might be built. Money to build a fire station in Severn - the first fire station to be built in the county in 14 years - was included in 2001-2002 budget.

County Division Chief John M. Scholz said the Severn station is the only one set for construction. A February 2000 survey strongly recommended construction of that station based on census projections.

A consultant's report released last year stated that the county needed to build five stations, including the Annapolis Neck station, to meet current demand.

"There's a need for several fire stations," said Scholz, who added that the five stations have yet to be placed in order of priority.

Annapolis Fire Chief Edward P. Sherlock Jr. said about 45 percent of emergency aid calls to the city's Eastport station come from county residents, people who live in Annapolis Neck neighborhoods such as Hillsmere and Bay Ridge. As a result, paramedics from a city station on Forest Drive and a county station on Jennifer Road sometimes must cover for them, traveling longer distances to reach city residents.

"It certainly would help us if the county would put a firehouse on the Annapolis Neck," he said, adding that a recent re- port showed that the only area where the city is not meeting response-time goals is Edgewood Road, the city's western boundary. That's partially due to the geography of the area, he said, but also because city crews are sometimes tied up on county calls.

Sherlock said he has grown tired of residents blaming his department for slow response times and hopes the mayor can persuade county officials to help build a station.

"It's the county's area, not ours," Sherlock said, referring to the greater Annapolis Neck. "Unless our equipment sprouts wings, I can't change our response time."

Residents argue that a new fire station is needed to keep up with the needs of a growing - and aging - population.

Census data for the Annapolis Neck, including Annapolis and the Naval Academy, shows that the population rose from 56,342 in 1990 to 62,711 in 2000. In addition, age-restricted communities such as Bay Woods, with 147 units, and Gardens of Annapolis, with 106 units, both in Annapolis, have opened to great success recently.

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