Westminster Volunteer Fire Department is negotiating for a new site to replace its 99-year-old Main Street fire station, Fire Department President James Bangerd III said.
The New Grounds Committee, a 10-member panel investigating the fire company's renovation and relocation options, is preparing a proposal for a new site and larger community facility that may cost between $3 million and $4 million to build. The fire company's membership would have to approve the plans before purchase of the site and construction.
"We are not only looking for a site and a station to respond out of, but a place big enough to house a social hall and things that will also be important for the facility and the community," Mr. Bangerd said.
"Right now the need is to get a more modern facility that is still close to downtown. It has been a good station, but it was designed for equipment and services for a different era."
The fire company has been "wrestling with the need to relocate" for several years, said the Rev. Fred P. Eckhardt, the New Grounds Committee chairman, in a letter inviting community business leaders to an August meeting to discuss the initial plans for the new facility.
Several years ago, the company had discussed putting a satellite firehouse near The Greens subdivision, but that is not the current opinion, Mr. Eckhardt said.
"The site they are considering now would not be a satellite, but a full capacity station to house equipment and serve Westminster and the surrounding areas," Mr. Eckhardt said. "We hope to have selected the site by the time of the meeting in August."
The existing structure features a three-story brick building with a marble front and 92-foot-high bell and clock tower built in 1896. The building, which has been altered and expanded over the years, includes a large room to house company vehicles, a small equipment room and banquet facilities on its first floor, a meeting room and Fire Department memorabilia on the second floor and kitchen and bunk rooms on the third floor.
But what may have been sufficient for late 19th-century firefighting and community service is becoming a limited notion for the firefighters of the 1990s.
"We need more room," said Westminster Fire Chief Jay Nusbaum. "As we get more equipment and more people coming in, we find ourselves constantly running out of room."
Although Mr. Bangerd said he is unable to disclose specific information about the site (at the request of the property owner), he did add that the property in question would suit the needs of the fire company.
"The site we are looking at does fit the bill," Mr. Bangerd said.
The company needs more room for its operation as well as its equipment, Mr. Bangerd said. New regulations about how to properly clean firefighters' clothing mean they will need more space to do the job. The station is using a room basically the size of a closet to clean its breathing equipment and could use more space for that as well.
The equipment problem will be intensified when the department orders its new ladder truck at the end of the year, Chief Nusbaum said. The new and larger vehicle is too big to fit through the bay doors of the current fire station.
"We could put it in the fire station but that would mean extensive renovations to one of the bays in order to get it in," Chief Nusbaum said. "But even if we renovate and house the truck, one thing is certain: no matter what, we are still running out of space."
Aside from the ladder truck, the department has four pumpers, two medic units, a brush fire unit, two utility trucks and a step van used by the Ladies Auxiliary to provide refreshments at large fires.
"What is happening here is that we are being made to make a 100-year-old station do what we need to do in the 1990s and it's just not working," Mr. Bangerd said. "What we are building we expect to take us long into the next century."
Westminster volunteers also have to deal with parking and traffic problems.
A few parking spaces are near the front of the building, but many responding firefighters have to park on Main Street, vying for spaces with shoppers and downtown workers.
That's after fighting sometimes slow-moving Main Street traffic to get there.
The company hopes that the community shares its vision. Once fire company members accept a proposal, efforts to raise funds for the project will begin, Mr. Bangerd said.