Fire Training Site Proposed

Lehigh Cement may donate 25-acre Linwood parcel

county authorizes study of environmental feasibility


Land donated by a Union Bridge manufacturer could become the site of Carroll County's new fire training center.

Lehigh Cement Co. has offered the county a 25-acre property near Linwood, a location that won unanimous approval from the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association last week.

The county commissioners have authorized a feasibility study to determine whether the parcel is environmentally suitable.

Although officials stressed that the concept was preliminary, Commissioner Perry L. Jones said, "This is a step in the right direction, especially if the site works out. We are in a situation where no residents will be complaining about noise from the center and no one will be building houses nearby."

Among the environmental concerns are a nearby bird sanctuary and intermittent streams. Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff, said, "We're conducting an environmental assessment of the site to see if it will accommodate the training center. The real issue is: Does it impact the ability to place the center on the property? This is a very preliminary study."

The county has been looking for property - "someplace fairly remote so we don't have development building up around it" - for a new fire training center for nearly a decade, Powell said.

The property, about a mile and a half off Route 75, is on the south side of McKinstry's Mill Road.

"The site is the best we have available," Powell said. "We are going to move ahead with the project now that we have the volunteer firefighters' support. We're very hopeful that it will work out, and we appreciate the company's offer."

Lehigh plant manager Peter Lukas was unavailable for comment on the company's proposed donation.

Ricky Baker, the volunteer association president, called the donation an expansion opportunity "to improve our training facilities. ... We need some additions, and we're really just starting to run out of space."

The current fire training center, built on Washington Road in 1983 on 15 hilly acres, does not lend itself to modern training courses. It is also surrounded by the new Gateway School, Robert Moton Elementary School, Adelphia Cable, the Carroll County Career and Technology Center and Westminster High School. New housing developments are in planning stages nearby.

"Any time you have residential properties grow up, the smoke becomes an issue," Powell said. "So before we get in that predicament, we wanted to find another site."

When it was announced that the county had budgeted $7 million in capital improvement money for a new fire training center, volunteer association leaders asked members to start thinking about the facilities they wanted in it.

"We have a draft of assessment needs that we see we need," said Leon Fleming, liaison between the firefighters and the county. "We're looking at buildings and classrooms, everything we have now, plus."

New training requirements that have sprung up since the existing center was built require facilities such as a hazardous materials alley and various rescue scenarios.

Firefighters also suggested a driver training course for large vehicles and a safety village for teaching fire prevention.

Baker said the center should include "things you'd need in a modern facility" - showers, locker rooms, a kitchen, plus the standard burn building, classroom space, and mock-up and simulator facilities.

"That [Washington Road] site, particularly its topography, really did not lend itself to facilitate all the training props," said Scott Campbell, director of the Carroll County Office of Public Safety.

"Now we have the opportunity to sit down with a clean slate and plan using all the experience and expertise from the first facility," Campbell said. "We won't have to reinvent the wheel. I see this for the grand opportunity it is."

Fleming said the association's training facility management committee would be looking at other training centers in the region for ideas. The Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute also has offered its help with the new center, he said.

Fleming said the training center is also used by three dozen other agencies, from the Maryland State Police and county sheriff's office, to firefighters and Emergency Medical Services personnel from surrounding counties.

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