Members of The Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Co. No. 1 celebrated the last payment on the loan for their “new” fire station, which opened 21 years ago, and recognized the building committee that went up against the odds to make the project happen.
The fire company celebrated paying off the $5.5 million loan from the county. They now own the building at 28 John Street that houses the fire station, community hall and museum.
They recognized the milestone formally at the fire company meeting Wednesday, Oct. 2. President Jamie Petry and Jim Bangerd, who was president at the time and whose signature graces the original loan agreement, presented a giant-sized check for $207,668.27 to Carroll County commissioners Stephen Wantz and Dennis Frazier.
The process of finding a new property to purchase and raising the initial funds was filled with messy politics and unexpected setbacks, which Bangerd described in an impromptu history lesson.
“A lot of times," he said, "ignorance is bliss, because you don’t know what you can’t do.”
In addition to the loan to cover the building and the new tower, the fire company launched a capital campaign. Members of the fire company, the building committee especially, reached into their own pockets for funding.
Simpson said one of the reasons the department knew they needed a new station was that one of the engines wouldn’t fit in the old fire station on Main Street. It was housed in a tent near where the Westminster Skate Park now sits.
After a location was settled on, nearby neighbors opposed the location at 28 John Street over noise complaints, construction woes and parking concerns, the Times reported.
Even after the plans were developed, unexpected changes had to be made when the site wouldn’t support a basement, Simpson said.
“It just seemed like every step we took there was somebody that was trying to stop us,” Bangerd said.
But eventually, the “new” fire station, which is how fire department members and the community refer to the John Street building even now, opened for service as of 1 p.m. on Oct. 24, 1998. At the time, it was the second-largest fire station in the state and was state-of-the-art.
Though there was a parade downtown to mark the move between the fire stations, leaving the century-old place on East Main Street was painful.
“That was the hardest thing I ever did,” Bangerd said, “To know that at 12 o’cock when the siren blew, that was it."
Now that the mortgage payment won’t be a part of the fire department’s regular expenses, they’re looking at fixing up the kitchen and bathrooms of the “new” building, which is showing the love and wear at 21 years old, said First Vice President Tim Bangerd. A survey is going out to members soon.
At the ceremony, members of the original building committee — J. Robert Schultz, James Bangerd Jr., James Bangerd III, Jeffery Alexander, Fredrick J. Koelber, Charles Simpson, Michael Rayfield, Robin Stansbury and George Thomas Jr. — were recognized. Many were in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting.
Frazier and Wantz gave congratulations while accepting the final payment. Frazier joked that he got into the mortgage on his home at about the same time the fire department did, but he was nowhere near paying it off.
Wantz, who is a member of the Pleasant Valley Community Fire Department, said he knew how good it felt to pay off the mortgage on a fire station.
“Remember, you did it as a group of volunteers that came together. And that, my friends, is priceless,” he said.
At the end of his history lesson, Bangerd praised the hard work of the fire department to scrape by in lean times and then pondered the future.
“I foresee some hard times in the future with what’s going to happen with the fire service in this county,” he said, referring to the county’s ongoing discussions about forming a countywide fire service. “I think it has to happen. There has to be something down the road, because you can’t let the system collapse. But ... I hope that everybody keeps in mind that both sides are going to need to compromise because nobody’s going to get their way 100 percent."