Work is set to begin next month on two new fire stations at opposite ends of Howard County. The largest facility will replace a long-outmoded 1937 building owned by the Savage Volunteer Fire Company, while Glenwood, in the western county, will get a smaller station near the county's regional park, library and community center.
In about two years, the county hopes to add a third new facility along U.S. Route 1 north of Route 175.
"We took a look at the entire county" using GPS coordinates to find where new stations were needed to keep response times to six minutes or less and also reduce the time required for backup units to arrive, said Fire Chief William Goddard.
"There was a huge, huge gap" in the more lightly populated areas west of Clarksville, he said, and the old Savage volunteer station is outdated and too far inside the residential community of Savage.
Still the 8,634 people in the nearly 20 square miles the Glenwood station will serve are fewer than the 26,000 people in the 10-square-mile portion of the densely populated U.S. 1 corridor served by Savage. Plans to redevelop the entire corridor in coming decades would bring thousands more people to the area.
"With the evolution of Route 1, it means there's more need for fire and rescue services," County Executive Ken Ulman said at the groundbreaking Tuesday for the 33,000-square-foot Savage station that will sleep 21. It will sit on a 2.3-acre site a block east of U.S. 1 on Corridor Road, about a mile from the current station, which is less than half that size. The$10.5 million structure is to be ready in about a year. The two-story, energy-saving facility will have six bays, each capable of holding two vehicles.
A groundbreaking for the 10,000-square-foot, $3.8 million Glenwood station on Carr's Mill Road is scheduled for Tuesday. That one-story, three-bay facility with sleeping quarters for eight people has been planned for since 1998 and should be completed next summer, officials said. Savage presented more problems because undeveloped land is scarce along U.S. 1, but a small site backing to Route 32 was purchased from the state for the Glenwood station.
"We started working on this project five years ago," said Savage Volunteer Fire Chief Jeff Hatton. His company has about 75 members and six paid county firefighters on duty at all times, he said. The current station can't accommodate some new, taller equipment and is too small to hold everything needed.
"We've outgrown it," he said, and the old station is also too far from the highway. "Most of our calls are up and down Route 1." He said the company would work with the community to sell the current building for a use compatible with the community.
Goodwin said the next new station a few miles north of Savage along U.S. 1 was originally to be built at Routes 100 and 103, but county mapping showed the Waterloo site would be better. Once that's complete, the county will have 12 stations.
Some volunteers in the western county preferred a Glenwood station a bit farther south on Route 97, but County Councilman Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican who represents the west, brought the parties together and after exploring all the options settled on the county-owned land at the regional complex.
"I asked them to look at alternative sites in slightly different locations," Fox said, but we couldn't find one. You can't always get the perfect location." Goodwin said the station was designed to allow enlargement when the population grows.
Ulman reminded the firefighters that the public depends on them.
"Most people in Howard County don't think about this stuff until they need one of you." It's the job of public officials to make sure those needs can be met, he said. "Nothing else matters unless we're safe."