For Ray Wolff, a mechanic with the Baltimore County Fire Department, winter is a cruel time, especially when he's trying to fix the leaky valve of a fire engine pump while standing outside the county's 38-year-old garage.
"With any valve or pump work, you're wet all the time," Mr. Wolff, 53, said and pointed to the front of the county's outmoded garage. "You have wind all the time out front here."
During the winter, the department's 17 mechanics must do some of their work outside because the garage, located just behind Towson station #1 at York Road and Bosley Avenue, isn't big enough. Some of the newer vehicles can't even fit inside the garage, which has eight bays for trucks needing repairs and two for those needing body and fender work.
This week, one engine that needed a 1,000-gallon water tank removed because of rust and leakage was sent back to its home fire station to wait until new parts arrived. Three years ago, there was hope of alleviating the space crunch and preventing unnecessary delays. Dennis F. Rasmussen, who was the county executive, had planned to build the Fire Department a $20 million complex at Sparrows Point. It would have had a new training academy, maintenance garage and test track. The recession killed those grand plans.
Now, current County Executive Roger B. Hayden is hoping the county can afford a large, vacant garage in Dundalk, just east of the city line. The county is considering buying the building, but no decision has been made, said county administrative officer Merreen E. Kelly.
During a meeting this week with Fire Chief Elwood H. Banister, Mr. Kelly said the county will see if it can justify the cost of buying a larger facility in Dundalk. The idea is to combine the garages operated by the fire and central services departments.
While county officials debate the merits of bigger and better garages, men like Bob Streett, 57 years old and a mechanic for the past 32 years, use the ingenuity of the best shade-tree mechanics to rig their own devices for handling the 20-ton fire engines. They have bolted three huge truck containers together and built their own, wood-roofed storage shed. An ancient Jeep, fitted with a Rube Goldberg-like metal A-Frame, is used for pushing and pulling disabled fire engines around the parking lot.
But the mechanics can't rebuild their building, which was considered a modern marvel 38 years ago. Back then, the department had 31 vehicles. Now, the fleet has swelled to 124 trucks and ambulances. The newest paramedic units have nearly as much electronic gadgetry as a small clinic, but the county's mechanics are working in a gasoline alley out of the Korean War era.
The building, equipped with five huge garage doors on its front, is built into the side of a hill and has no rear doors. Engines put in the back bay for repairs often get stuck there when other engines in the front bay sit waiting for parts.