A new firehouse, on Bauman Drive at Montgomery Road, would free the from cramped quarters and allow firefighters to meet the explosion of emergency calls in the growing Elkridge area, according to Howard County Fire Chief William Goddard.
Goddard revealed the proposed site for the firehouse this week, saying demand has made its construction more pressing than ever.
“The call volume in this corridor has just exploded,” he told residents at a meeting at the fire hall on Old Washington Road Wednesday night. “With the revitalization of Route 1, the next 10 to 15 years, it’s going to explode even further,” he said, citing an influx of and the as factors in the rapid growth.
He said officials have grown concerned about meeting Howard County’s standard of an 8-minute response time to requests for service. The 8 minutes consist of 1 minute to take the call, 1 minute for personnel to get out the door and 6 minutes of travel time, according to Goddard.
“Down on the Route 1 and MD-175 corridor, we are not doing well at all [with response time]—and the reason is the call volume,” he said.
. “We’re at a fork in the road here,” said Goddard. “[We are] challenged by the growth around us to continue to provide the same level of service in the Elkridge area [and] we are in a facility that for the most part is just not going to work,” he added.
Because it was designed in 1942, the firehouse has had to customize almost all its vehicles to fit in recent years. “This building is falling down around us, it’s very expensive to maintain, [and] we can no longer purchase fire equipment to get in the building that meets national standards,” said Goddard. “We’re limited. We’re not going to be able to keep serving the community.”
Sitting on more than three acres along Bauman Drive at Montgomery Road, the new site would allow the department to get out of cramped quarters and serve the needs of Elkridge as it grows. “We’ll also be able to expand the service in the Elkridge area and the bottom of Ellicott City,” said Goddard.
No one opposed the proposed location, but residents said they were concerned about traffic and noise.
Specifically, they worried that Bauman Drive would become congested and that emergency vehicles would run into traffic on Montgomery Road, where and are located—less than half a mile from the proposed site.
“I know we will have issues between the school and the [Rowanberry/Bauman] intersection on Montgomery Road,” said one resident.
There is a possibility of adding a special exit onto Interstate 95 from Bauman Drive, said Goddard, allowing emergency vehicles to bypass traffic. Fire stations have gotten their own exits onto 95 in Prince George’s County, he said, in situations where they were similarly located “a stone’s throw” from the highway.
Rerouting traffic on Bauman Drive to Rowanberry—another solution the fire department offered—was not popular with residents who wanted to reserve the right to use Bauman to get between Washington Boulevard and Montgomery Road.
Despite the inconveniences, those who lived near the current location, on Old Washington Road, said that having a fire department nearby paid off. “The fire department is a good neighbor,” noted Mary Burke, who has lived off Old Washington Road for more than 50 years. “It is very little to put up with when you want and need services.”
As it happened, one woman who also lives near the current firehouse said that three years ago her father had a heart attack. “Had the fire station been a mile down the road,” she said, “he wouldn’t be here, so, that’s another thing to think about.”
What residents were thinking about, though, was the noise. Officials said that they would turn sirens off. “We don’t like hearing them early in the morning either,” admitted Captain Tony Spittel. But one resident from Montgomery Road said he knew from experience that sirens go off at 2 a.m. on weekends.
Even so, the sirens didn’t compare to the noise the fire station used to produce, said Burke, whose parents were two of the early members of the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department in the 1940s.
“They used to have a big siren on top of the building,” said Burke. “Whenever there was a fire, that siren would go off.” She said the boys who attended the old Elkridge high school—where stands now—used to love to hear the siren going off during the school day because most of them were volunteers and they were excused from class to serve the community. “But with cell phones and all, there’s no need now” for the siren, Burke explained.
Goddard said he would like the lines of communication to remain open for comment on the firehouse site.
“We’re not going to buy the property until the feasibility studies are conducted, and we have to make sure the community has come to a consensus,” said Goddard.
He explained that a real estate company wanted the department to purchase the site as soon as possible but he wanted the okay from the community first. He emphasized that the department would prefer a site on Route 1, but the land was either too expensive or not usable.
“Is Bauman perfect?” said Goddard. “No. But is it the only option that we have? Absolutely. We would welcome any options on the Route 1 corridor in the Elkridge area—we would prefer that. If you know someone that's interested in selling their lot...we’re looking forward to any help we can get.”
The department is asking citizens to contact the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department with input: firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-313-4901.
Editors note: The email address has been corrected. The department asks that citizens send comments to email@example.com.