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Lansdowne, Violetville fire squads to merge

The Lansdowne and Violetville volunteer fire departments, each with more than 100 years of history in southwest Baltimore County, are set to merge.

Officials said the Feb. 1 merger will lead to smoother operations and quicker response times for emergencies.

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"It's nothing that will hurt the community," said Michael Sparks, president of the Lansdowne Volunteer Fireman Association. "We wouldn't do this if it was going to harm the community."

The Lansdowne department, formed in 1902, has between 80 and 100 active members and will get access to Violetville's event hall, space that Lansdowne lacks.

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Violetville's fire department, formed in 1906, will get additional manpower to help handle emergencies and raise funds. The department has about 40 to 60 members, 15 of them active on calls, according to Capt. Bill Swann.

Swann said it has been a struggle to raise funds, as the firehouse is based in a primarily industrial area with about 40 single family homes in its coverage area.

Swann, the lone officer and a 46-year member of the Violetville department, will be absorbed into Lansdowne's leadership, he said.

For the time being, a consolidated fire department will operate out of both firehouses.

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Lansdowne has six units — two fire engines, a medic and three utility vehicles, according to a Baltimore County government website, while Violetville has four — two fire engines and two utility vehicles.

In 2016, the Lansdowne fire department had 1,159 calls where a fire engine responded and 1,115 medic calls. Violetville had 207 calls.

Officials from both fire departments hope to move into a single building, on property across the street from Riverview Elementary School on Kessler Road, within two years. The Lansdowne fire department has a 99-year lease at the property, Sparks said.

A cost estimate for the building is not available, as plans for it have not been completed, Sparks said.

The location would be an improvement in Lansdowne, Sparks said, as the current building on Lavern Avenue is on a residential block and it can take an extra five minutes for fire engines to get to a main road because of double-parked cars on residential streets.

"This is a consolidation to make everything a bit stronger," he said. "Once we get all the members together and working out of one house, I think we're going to see a big difference in reaction time around the community."

The name for the merged fire departments would be determined once the building is done, Sparks said. As of now, Violetville will consolidate under Lansdowne.

Violetville and Lansdowne are two of four volunteer fire departments in the southwest corner of Baltimore County within about five miles of each other, along with Arbutus and English Consul.

A 2015 study commissioned by the Baltimore County Volunteer Firemen's Association suggested the consolidation of Lansdowne and English Consul, among several mergers throughout the county. Sparks said the door is open for nearby fire departments to join the Lansdowne-Violetville merger.

Baltimore County is assisting with the merger, Swann said, in mostly a financial way. A spokesperson for the county was unable to elaborate Friday.

Baltimore County has a mix of volunteer- and staff-run fire stations. The 32 volunteer fire stations are independently organized under the auspices of the Baltimore County Volunteer Firemen's Association.

While the county provides some financial support, the volunteer fire departments are mainly funded through fundraisers and community activities, such as bingo. In October, the county announced it would give about $8.1 million in aid to volunteer fire departments with maintenance, fuel, utilities and some operational expenses.

There are 25 county fire stations — staffed at all hours and funded with tax dollars — in the county, including Halethorpe and Catonsville in southwest Baltimore County.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this report.

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