Baltimore County firefighter Bob Tracey, a 30-year veteran in Towson who is retiring at the end of this year, said he always thought that he would like to end his career at the old station No. 1 at York Road and Bosley Avenue.
But Tracey, a Fire Apparatus Driver Operator, now works out of a spanking new, $7.6 million station at Bosley and Towsontown Boulevard.
"I wasn't sure I was going to like it," said Tracey, 57, of Towson, just back from vacation and wearing his full dress uniform along with other fire department personnel as the new station was dedicated Monday morning, Jan. 4. He liked the old station, if only because he knew it so well.
"We don't like change," he said, "You get used to a routine. That was like home."
But as he stood in the spacious, sunlit station featuring five drive-through bays with front and back doors — a feature the old station never had — Tracey liked what he saw.
"We don't have to back in anymore," he said. "It's a lot nicer than I ever thought it would be — just the quality, the furnishings, the building itself. Usually, the government has cost constraints, but it doesn't look like they cut any corners. It's nice and bright, not as dingy."
He added that the staff didn't have to bring anything from the old station to the new one except for the fire engines and trucks, two tables from the kitchen, and an ice machine.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and County Fire Chief John Hohman were on hand for the dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony in the bay, complete with a color guard. Others in attendance included Greater Towson Council of Community Associations President Mike Ertel, Towson Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Nancy Hafford, and Greater Towson Council Executive Director Katie Pinheiro.
Kamenetz said no taxpayer dollars were spent on the new, 19,700-square-foot station, because the county sold the old station to pay for the new one. The building is more energy-efficient than the old station, and has a green roof with a garden, county officials said. It also has low-flow plumbing fixtures to reduce potable water consumption by 56 percent, among other environmental features. The new station is the third in Towson's history. It replaces one built in 1955, which Kamenetz said "was clearly outmoded." That station had replaced the original building, which was built in 1879 at what is now the Towson traffic circle.
Hohman called the new station Kamenetz's "latest and greatest commitment to public safety" in the county.
The new station, built on the site of a former county fueling station, will be home to five vehicles — Engines 1 and 101, Truck 1, and Medics 1 and 101 — as the old station was. It passed muster with several community and business leaders in attendance, including Paul Hartman, vice president of the Aigburth Manor Association and former president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations.
"I like it," Hartman said. "It has that new car smell. Throwing away the old one and building a new one is the right approach. [The old station] was a dump. There was a window air conditioning unit with duct tape around it. We had a big communications console that looked like something out of the 1950s."
Mike Ertel questioned whether the building is stylish enough to reflect Towson's ambitious redevelopment efforts, but told The Sun that he likes the fact that the station's large glass doors allow the public to see the vehicles inside, an effect he said is even nicer at night when the bays are illuminated.
Mitchell Kellman, a member of the county's Design Review Panel, told The Sun the building is "elegantly designed" and "low-key," while County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, told The Sun that the new facility "fits architecturally into the area."
"It's not as imposing on the community as some thought it would be," Marks said.
Firefighters have been working out of the new station since Dec. 10. The station has sleeping quarters for up to 17 officers and firefighters, a spacious kitchen, a meeting room and a fitness center that is scheduled to be outfitted with new equipment in July.
The commercially valuable site of the old station and an adjoining Department of Public Works property will be redeveloped into a Royal Farms store and gas station, plus a retail strip and a site for a restaurant or bank. The proposal, which needs County Council approval, is valued at $8.5 million, enough to cover the costs of the new fire station.
Pinheiro said the Greater Towson Committee, a business promotion group, especially likes the new, more centrally located building, which she said is more accessible to Towson Row and other new and planned developments in the county seat.
"I think it's a natural fit," she said.
Lt. Dale Richardson, who is in charge of the Towson station, said that Tracey's reaction to change is typical of the longtime rank-and-file firefighters and paramedics there.