Firefighters say goodbye to their old home

Chestnut Ridge company moving into new quarters

April 22, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Usually quick to dash into burning buildings to save lives and spare the structures, the firefighters of Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire Company stood by yesterday as their firehouse disintegrated.

It was demolition day for the 60-member company, which will move into more modern and spacious quarters this fall when a $1.6 million fire station is constructed on the same spot.

"I don't look at this as destruction," fire company President Rick Yaffe said as concrete and brick walls came crashing down, steel beams twisted and sheet metal fluttered like tissue paper in the breeze. "I look at this as the start of a new building. While it is sentimental for us, we also know it's planning for the future."

In the meantime, firefighters will work from a trailer and an oversized metal garage that the members built at the far end of the property - temporary housing for the company's equipment.

The makeshift quarters will not hamper the squad's firefighting capabilities, although the task of maneuvering tankers and trucks around the construction site will be a bit difficult, Capt. Dan Uddeme said.

The normally brisk pace of morning traffic on Greenspring Avenue slowed to a virtual standstill for nearly two hours as commuters gawked at the crowd of firefighters - many in navy company T-shirts - and the excavator tearing into the station, one noisy scoop at a time.

"There's a lot of memories here: dinners, dances, wedding receptions, open houses, strawberry festivals - lots of stuff," said Jo Ann Reter, whose husband has volunteered at the station for 28 years. "This is a good fire department."

By a row of nearby trees, Reter lined up the aluminum letters - carefully salvaged from the crushed brick, crumpled roof and dangling insulation - that had spelled out the name of the company on the front of the building. The lettering will be reused if possible, allowing the firefighters to "tie in the old with the new," Yaffe said.

Founded in 1956, the company serves more than 3,200 households in an area known as the Ridge. Stretching from Green Spring Valley to Worthington Valley and Falls Road to Park Heights Avenue, the fire company's coverage area includes portions of Owings Mills, Lutherville and Reisterstown.

By day's end, the demolition had reduced to rubble all but two walls of the old firehouse, which was cramped and lacked many amenities needed to serve the growing community.

"Even in the time I've been here, we've basically changed from a rural farm community to a somewhat upper-class suburb," said Harry Kakel, a pump operator and 31-year volunteer with Chestnut Ridge.

"The values of the homes have gone from being farms to being very expensive houses," he said

Without neighborhood hydrants, much of Chestnut Ridge's equipment is larger and capable of carrying more water than most Baltimore County fire companies. The old firehouse's three bays had space for only five of the company's six trucks, tankers and engines - and even then, they had to be double-parked. A lesser-used brush unit is stored in a member's nearby garage.

The new 17,000-square-foot firehouse will be paid for with a low-interest $1.5 million loan from Baltimore County and company fund-raisers - including a summer snowball stand, annual Christmas tree and pumpkin sales, and fees for having children's birthday parties at the firehouse.

The replacement station will include five garage bays, a weight-training room and bunkrooms. Company leaders said the sleeping quarters will enable young firefighters who can't afford to live in the community to spend the night at the firehouse, enabling faster response times.

Unlike the old station, the new building will also include a fire pole, something that Charlie Cohen, an assistant engineer with the company, half-jokingly suggested would also help with response times.

"It eliminates the steps from the second floor," he said. "And it's tradition."

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