Help's on the way with construction of new fire station

Annapolis Neck has endured long emergency-response times

August 09, 2006|By JOE PALAZZOLO | JOE PALAZZOLO,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

One Sunday last summer, Dave Humphreys was walking to the community pier after dark to clean his sailboat when his right arm started to hurt. The pain stabbed upward into his shoulder. Then it grabbed his chest.

He drove the half-mile to his home on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula, wondering how best to break the news to his wife, Gitta Humphreys. He settled on: "I'm having a heart attack."

Gitta Humphreys called 911. And the ambulance arrived - about 20 minutes later.

Living on the lower peninsula has meant relying on emergency vehicles from Annapolis to get through traffic on Forest Drive, then wind down Bay Ridge Road. That trek regularly exceeds the national average response time of four minutes, depending on traffic and the time of day, according to the city Fire Department. The county pays the city - $681,000 this year - for its services.

But today, after nearly 40 years of inhospitable county budgets and community pleas, county officials are to break ground for a $4.5 million Fire Department station at Bay Ridge and Arundel on the Bay roads.

The 11,000-square-foot station, expected to open in late 2008, will be staffed by a mix of five firefighters and paramedics. Located on 2 acres acquired in 1978, the firehouse will feature three drive-through bays, a commercial kitchen, a physical training room, and separate quarters for paramedics, firefighters and officers, all about a mile from the Humphreyses' house.

Dave Humphreys, 64, said he was lucky. His wife called their neighbor, a nurse, after dialing 911. An aspirin held Humphreys over until the ambulance arrived and shuttled him to Anne Arundel Medical Center.

"The services have been needed for a long time, and they are exacerbated by the tremendous increase in traffic. The [EMTs] that came were great. I know the constraints they have to deal with," said Humphreys, a transportation and traffic engineer.

The fire station's history spans back decades to the 1960s, and no one knows it better than Bette Applegate, who for 15 years has inundated the county with statistics and petition signatures, spelling out a need for improved emergency services in the lower peninsula.

At least one community leader attended every County Council meeting in 2004, an idea hatched at Applegate's dining room table, to sell the station during open forum.

"They got to know our names, I'll tell you that," said Applegate, who lives just off Edgewood Road, less than a mile from where the station will be built. "I'm really thrilled it's finally happening."

Funding for the station was put in and taken out of the county budget at least a dozen times, until it stuck last year, said County Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, who, along with members of the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation, was Applegate's chief ally.

"They've pulled the football away so many times," said Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Roads Democrat. "I just want to make sure I see it before I believe it."

Despite discouraging fire station location studies in 2000 and 2002, the first of which placed Annapolis Neck fifth in line for a station, and years of political obstacles, Samorajczyk said, the community made the difference.

The station will benefit Annapolis, too, said Division Chief Stuart McNicol, spokesman for the county Fire Department. The Annapolis Neck station will serve swaths of the city, and the city stations will back up the county, each, in a sense, gaining an additional battalion.

Other parts of the county are also shoring up their emergency services. The West Annapolis Fire Station is scheduled for about $1 million in renovations and additions, and another $1 million in improvements to the Jones Station firehouse in Arnold are expected to be completed within the month.

McNicol also said that about $8 million is budgeted to rebuild the Marley fire station, though a start date has not been scheduled, and that $3.6 million in renovations and additions to Eastport Fire Hall are to begin in the fall.

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