A 60-year-old fire station in Mount Washington is getting a tune-up this week from a team of Maryland National Guard engineers as part of a new civic partnership aimed at benefiting the community while providing on-the-job training for deploying guardsmen.
About a dozen members of the 244th Engineer Company, which draws recruits from Ocean City to Cumberland and is set to deploy to Afghanistan this fall, have been working since last week to strip and replace the aging building's kitchen, which city officials called the heart of the station.
"Life in a station revolves around the kitchen," said Jeffrey Segal, the Fire Department's assistant chief of operations and soon-to-be interim chief. "After a stressful day, the members come up to the kitchen and support each other."
The project is the first in what may become a series of similar renovations across the city, and will provide members of Engine 45 with a place to "sit together, relax and recharge" after fighting fires, said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who was flanked at the station Tuesday by Brig. Gen. Peter Hinz, the state guard's assistant adjutant general.
Hinz and Rawlings-Blake said they recently conceived the partnership with an eye toward a mutually beneficial outcome. The city paid for the renovation supplies but got the guardsmen's labor for free. The guardsmen, in turn, got real-life training in plumbing, carpentry and electrical work that will come in handy on their next assignment.
The company is set to begin mobilizing for deployment to Afghanistan in September, where they will build infrastructure for the Afghan army and police forces and dismantle U.S. Army infrastructure as part of a transition of power in the country, officials said.
Less than 10 percent of guardsmen in the engineer company work in the construction field in their civilian lives, and training scenarios provide limited access to the real-life structural obstacles expected in Afghanistan, said Sgt. Nathan Schaffer, a Taneytown native and the project's manager.
In contrast, the Mount Washington fire station, built in 1951, presented outdated plumbing, unpredictable wiring and walls of solid concrete, he said.
"With this, they're actually getting real obstacles to overcome," Schaffer said of his team.
Lt. Sarah Vandy, a Rockville native and the project's construction coordinator, said the team enjoyed working on a real-world project for the city.
"There's much more engagement," she said. "People feel good about what they're doing."
Nine fire stations in the city are more than 100 years old, and city officials said they are hopeful the project will continue. Rawlings-Blake called it a "win-win situation."
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