August 16, 2018
Community
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  • Chief Dave Crawford of Earleigh Heights Volunteer Fire Company spoke before the Greater Severna Park Council in July to let residents know about the need for a new station and the potential commercial buildings the company could build and lease to cover the cost.
    Photo by Dylan Roche
    Chief Dave Crawford of Earleigh Heights Volunteer Fire Company spoke before the Greater Severna Park Council in July to let residents know about the need for a new station and the potential commercial buildings the company could build and lease to cover the cost.
  • Earleigh Heights VFC’s current station has cracks in its structure and its garage doors are barely large enough for modern fire trucks to pass through.
    Photo by Dylan Roche
    Earleigh Heights VFC’s current station has cracks in its structure and its garage doors are barely large enough for modern fire trucks to pass through.
  • Earleigh Heights VFC’s current station has cracks in its structure and its garage doors are barely large enough for modern fire trucks to pass through.
    Photo by Dylan Roche
    Earleigh Heights VFC’s current station has cracks in its structure and its garage doors are barely large enough for modern fire trucks to pass through.

Earleigh Heights Considers Funding Options For New Station And Apparatus

Dylan Roche
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August 7, 2018

Leasing Commercial Properties Could Bring In Necessary $8.5 Million

Earleigh Heights Volunteer Fire Company has been served well by its station since it was built more than a half-century ago, but as everything else does after so much time, it is beginning to show its age. Though EHVFC functions on an annual budget of about $350,000, the company is not prepared to fund a $6 million replacement building, a $1.2 million rescue truck and a $1.3 million aerial apparatus that will help it best serve the Severna Park area and beyond.

To meet those demands, EHVFC hopes to put its 9.7 acres of land along Ritchie Highway to use by leasing commercial properties and bringing in revenue that will help cover the cost — and the company is asking for the community’s support.

“I want our community protected,” said Chief Dave Crawford. “The only way for us to do that and be responsible is to make our property work for us monetarily. We would love the community to help us raise funds, but do you really think we’re going to raise $8.5 million out of the community?”

Even the annual carnival — the company’s biggest fundraiser of the year — brings in only $100,000 at most, and $75,000 is left once all expenses are paid. Even with its other fundraising efforts throughout the year, such as bingos and bull roasts, Crawford said EHVFC would not be able to cover such a cost.

Speaking before the Greater Severna Park Council (GSPC) in July, Crawford explained to citizens that the station has a range of problems. The single bathroom and sleeping quarters cannot accommodate both male and female firefighters. The air conditioning is inefficient at best and even broke down during a recent heat wave. Beyond being uncomfortable, there are health and safety hazards: Cracks run along the walls of the structure, and the plumbing causes human waste to back up in the showers.

Crawford explained that as a volunteer company, Earleigh Heights depends heavily on fundraising. Anne Arundel County employs 17 people at the station — four rotating shifts of four career firefighters, plus an daytime lieutenant — and covers the cost of fuel, gear for career firefighters, and maintenance of items that the company has already bought. Beyond that, it is up to volunteers to run the organization.

“We get no county funds for buildings, apparatus, rescue equipment,” Crawford said. “We could submit a bill for, say, the roof, and the county could say they’re not paying. That’s their prerogative — we can’t count on them to give the money to do that. We can count on them to maintain the equipment, fuel our equipment, insure our equipment.”

Captain Russ Davies with Anne Arundel County Fire Department concurred that the fundraising efforts of the volunteer company are important. “With them being their own corporate entity, they’re taking a lot of the funding on their own,” he said. “How they choose to finance it and what route they choose to take is under the leadership of the board of directors. … If they’re able to undertake [the replacement of the station], that’s funding that the county wouldn’t have to find.”

When speaking before the GSPC, Crawford cited a study by the National Fire Protection Association that reflected volunteer fire companies save American taxpayers an estimated $139.4 billion.

For these reasons, EHVFC hopes to rebuild its new station on the other side of its property 600 feet down Magothy Bridge Road and use the part of its land facing Ritchie Highway to build three commercial properties it can lease to tenants, thus covering the cost long term.

To build those commercial properties, however, EHVFC needs its property rezoned from residential to commercial. “We don’t want anyone in the community to think we were going behind their back and getting it rezoned,” Crawford said. “We want everyone to know where we’re going.”

Whether residents support such a change remains to be seen. Maureen Carr-York, president of GSPC, explained that the council generally takes a stance against “piecemeal rezoning,” the term used to describe rezoning a parcel of land outside the broader context of the rest of the county. “When you consider [zoning changes] out of the context of the county as a whole and how the use of that land fits into the county’s livability and its ability to produce a vibrant business community and its ability to provide jobs — there’s a lot that has to be considered when you develop,” Carr-York explained.

Additionally, Carr-York indicated that there could be environmental impacts because the Earleigh Heights property sits at the headwaters of Old Man Creek. The council will also take into account the way such a project might affect nearby residents, such as those living on Metispa Drive, who have already been disturbed by the construction of Magothy Gateway.

Carr-York recognizes the contribution EHVFC makes to the community and the need for the company to bring in money to provide better fire services. “It’s going to take careful consideration,” she said. “There are things we’re concerned about, and we’ll have to explore those further.”

Before EHVFC has its administrative hearing for the zoning change in January 2019, Crawford plans to hold community meetings for the sake of transparency, so he can answer questions and receive feedback. Upcoming meetings will be September 11 and October 9 at 7:00pm at the station. Crawford welcomes phone calls to his personal cellphone at 936-465-5812 if anyone wants to reach out to him directly.

Informing residents is the first order of business, Crawford emphasized. “Once we have that, then with clear conscience we can start the project,” he said. “We’re doing this to do permanent funding for the long haul of this fire department.”


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