When the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company’s East Sudbrook Lane firehouse opened in 1963, the company shared the building with the Baltimore County District Court.
After the court moved in the 1970s, the fire company converted that space into a single large makeshift bunk room where the firefighters and medics could catch some sleep between calls. But it wasn’t an ideal setup by any means, fire company vice president Richard Berkowitz said.
“They moved out, and we put beds in,” Berkowitz said. “We had one old, inadequate shower.”
Fifty-five years and a $1.6 million renovation later, the nearly 120 active members of one of the county’s busiest volunteer companies now have six separate bunk rooms, an industrial kitchen, a community meeting room, three unisex bathrooms with showers, a laundry room, day rooms with plush chairs and televisions, seven more offices, a workout room and other amenities.
At Sunday’s celebration of the renovated station, Capt. Scott Goldstein displayed an original 1897 water pump engine and other company artifacts, now kept in a small museum in the firehouse’s main entrance, with a restored fire bell just outside. The firehouse building has new paint, siding and a lighted “32” emblem on top of the hose tower.
The renovation also added four private rooms for a “live-in” program, which allows college students with the proper certifications to live there in exchange for working for the company for a semester. Two are enrolled in the program and living at the station, and the company is accepting applications for the fall semester.
A previous firehouse renovation in 2003 added large bays for fire trucks and engines on the building’s east side, Berkowitz said.
“What we didn’t do at that time,” he said, “was living space.”
With more firefighters and medics living farther from the firehouse, the station enhancements help to entice them to come to the station to hang out, work out or do a load of laundry — giving the company more responders in case of an emergency.
“Our ability to respond depends on who’s here,” said Kenneth Hamburger, a 27-year-old firefighter and medic who lives in Bethesda.
The renovation was paid for with $250,000 in private funding, including $100,000 from the Ernst & Meta Oppenheimer Charitable Trust; another $250,000 in state bond funding; a $732,000 Baltimore County Volunteer Firemen’s Association loan; and a separate BCVA grant of $500,000, officials said.
The renovation came in on-time and under budget, company President John Berryman said. The revamped station, which went under construction last June and was finished in December, is “a dream come true,” he said.
The company gets several calls to the Beltway alone during rush hour each day, Berryman said. Working around the renovations while keeping the firehouse open required moving offices and equipment from room to room — and no shortage of patience and coordination on the company’s part.
“It was every day, everybody pulling together,” said the 55-year volunteer firefighter, who is a third-generation member of the company.
State Sen. Bobby Zirkin helped secure the $250,000 in state bond funding along with Dels. Shelly Hettleman and Dana Stein. All three Democrats, who are running for re-election this year, attended Sunday’s event.
“It’s a pillar of our community and it has been for a long time,” said Zirkin, who has represented the northwestern Baltimore County area as a delegate and senator in Annapolis for 20 years. “The more we can do for this place, the better.”
State Sen. Jim Brochin also attended the event; County Councilwoman Vicki Almond sent a representative. Both are running for county executive.
The event also celebrated the fire company’s newest ambulance, Medic 325, which has already responded to more than 1,300 calls since its debut on Oct. 26, officials said.
Hamburger, who drives the ambulance, said it’s an upgrade from older models, particularly the Stryker Powerload stretcher, which lifts patients automatically into and out of the back.
“It’s safer for the patient and safer for us,” he said.
Baltimore County Fire Department Assistant Chief Jennifer Aubert-Utz raised a walkie-talkie to her mouth for the ambulance’s ceremonial introduction into service.
“Please join me and the members of the Pikesville Fire Company in placing Medic 325 in service,” she said.
A dispatcher’s voice crackled back over the radio: “Placing Medic 325 in service.”
Moments later, an alarm sounded, and fire company members had to clear spectators out of the way. An elderly man had reportedly fallen in the parking lot of a Reisterstown Road Barnes and Noble.
The ambulance’s lights lit up, and it sped off into the rain.