The "culmination of a 20-year process," as Bel Air Mayor Eddie Hopkins described it, ground was broken Saturday morning for the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company substation at Patterson Mill, with firefighters, their families and Harford County politicians in attendance.
More than 50 people came for the very chilly ceremony, held under a tent next to the site at the corner of Patterson Mill Road and Route 924 in the Emmorton community, where a construction crew quietly worked.
Before the groundbreaking, several volunteer firemen chatted next to their engines, trying to stay warm in the December weather.
Hopkins, who is vice president of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company and said he was becoming fire chief that afternoon, said he and his fellow firefighters had spent "20 years ago proactively thinking" and working on the project, as far as funding, design and everything coming to fruition.
Hopkins, who has spent 38 years in the fire service, said the company looked at several locations where a substation was most needed, including Fountain Green. It wasn't until 2003 or 2004, he said, that the site next to the Patterson Mill Middle and High School complex was chosen.
The densely-populated community between Bel Air and Abingdon is ideal for the substation, Hopkins said, as it will cut response times to the area. The Patterson Mill substation site is slightly more than two miles away from the main Bel Air station.
"It's a community endeavor," he said about the project, and hopes people will be involved in the process.
Bob Thomas, manager of communications for the county, welcomed everyone "to this very special and chilly groundbreaking," as the ceremony began. Several members of the Harford County Council, Harford County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, Bel Air town commissioners and fire and EMS workers, Thomas pointed out, were present.
Harford County Executive David Craig was the first among many speakers.
"All men are created equal, and then they become firefighters," Craig said. He noted that the substation was one of the first projects put on his desk when he took office in 2005.
He thanked Tony Coliano, president of Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, for working cooperatively on the project, as well as the entire company.
"The service they provide is so important to people," he went on. After the station's dedication ceremony, tentatively planned for September 2012, Craig said, he plans to write legislation to declare the site a surplus property and turn it over to the Bel Air fire company.
Coliano also thanked everyone for "taking the time to celebrate with us on this cold morning."
He said the station, with a projected cost of $2.8 million, will have three bays, an engine and a medic unit to serve the 8,600-some calls they receive each year.
Coliano also gave his "sincere thanks" to the county government for working jointly with them on the project, which will pay for the full cost — the first time the county has done so.
William H. Cox Jr., a former Harford County legislator who served 20 years in the House of Delegates from 1971 to 1991, also recognized the extraordinary cooperation between the fire company and county government on the project, and attributed it to the "great progress" that has been made.
Father Stephen Sutton of St. Ignatius Church in Forest Hill gave a benediction and blessing for the substation and those who will serve it in the future.
Following the ceremony, Cox said it was "a great day for Harford County and the fire service" and that it was a team effort that brought everything about. "Cooperation is very important," he said.
For Coliano, the ceremony was also a long time coming.
"I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel," he said about the long process of constructing the substation.
He described the project as a "huge, huge enhancement to the citizens in this area," from whom they've received "nothing but cooperation."
Coliano made sure to mention the hard work of Bel Air's firefighters and their efforts to serve the area as volunteers.
"We do it because we want to do it," he said. "We do it because we love it."