Response to Examiner Article on New County Fire Stations

The attached article was in Friday’s (August 31, 2007) Examiner newspaper. The story is about the need for Prince George’s County to build 20 new fire stations and relocate several more in accordance with its masterplan. It was a positive article and I think it highlights to the general public the need to support additional fire and EMS facilities. However, it is quite ironic that the photo taken for this story was of the Capitol Heights Volunteer Fire Department. The caption indicates that the station is listed as needing renovation. VERY TRUE!

What is missing from the article is that the Capitol Heights fire station was in the 5 year Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) for nearly 20 years. It finally rose to the top of the list. An architect was hired and a design was completed. The design was very modest and did not include anything frivalous, but provided facilities that would meet our needs for the next 30 or more years. A building permit was issued and bids were received. However, given the current construction market and the fact that it has taken so long to get to where we are today, the project was over budget. A total of approximately $3 million is needed to construct the project as designed. Approximately $1.4 million is available. It is not clear where the original budget estimate came from.

The scope of work for the renovation included new bunkroom facilities for both male and female personnel, a classroom, a fire suppression and detection system, upgraded electrical, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, and engine exhaust system, a station alerting system that notifies personnel of an emergency call, renovations to the restroom facilies for compliance with ADA, and an emergency generator that will allow us to operate and use the building as a safe haven during power outages.

The current leadership on the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department has said that providing the additional funds would be fiscally irresponsible and the project cancelled. The department instead now proposes to build a new fire station at an estimated $5 million (in today’s dollars). Notice that the project is not on the list of new fire stations and there is no land designated for the fire station. While the promise of a new building would normally bring a great big smile to any chief’s face, the project will just contiunue to be a dream and pushed out into the future. As time goes on, the construction costs will continue rise far beyond the $5 million estimate of today. Another empty promise.

Over the years, the county has deferred major maintenance items and improvements because of the impending renovation. The deferred maintenance item include: a new roof, boiler, new overhead doors, vinyl siding on the rear exterior wall, replacement windows, and an upgraded electrical system. This station was not included in a recent project to install engine exhaust systems in firehouses throughout Prince George’s County because of the impending renovation (This project was funded by the federal government through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program). Because the project is cancelled, we’re also left without an engine exhaust system, which would improve the health and safety of the career and volunteer personnel that operate out of the fire station.

The right thing to do is provide the needed funds to renovate and construct an addition to the fire station as designed now so that we can continue to provide quality services to the citizens we serve. The citzens deserve better and I know the career and volunteer personnel who provide the service do.

I ask that the leadership of the County Council, the Prince George’s County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, the Fire Commission and the Mayor and Town Council of Capitol Heights to get behind us and support the additional funds needed to renovate the fire station NOW!