A month after a five-alarm fire destroyed three homes on the Annapolis Neck peninsula, workers are putting the final touches on a fire station to serve that community.
More than three decades in the making, the $4.5 million fire station is set to open in the spring, Anne Arundel County fire officials said.
"It was community support that got this done," said fire department spokesman Lt. Shawn M. Jones.
Last week, workers were sanding and hammering in rooms that will be used as sleeping quarters, a kitchen and a command center. Some were hoisted up on cranes to work on the ceiling of the cavernous space that will hold an ambulance and a pumper tanker truck that can hold 2,500 gallons of water - more than three times the capacity of the county's existing tankers.
Construction on the 11,000-square-foot station is slated to be finished in March and it should be fully staffed and handling calls by May, Jones said.
The new firehouse will have a distinctly local feel with a table crafted by a local woodworking group and a local artist's painting of firefighters planting a flag on Sept. 11. It will be the first new station opened by the county since the Severn station in 2005.
Paramedics and firefighters should be able to respond to emergencies twice as quickly when the station opens, Jones said.
Residents say that they are relieved that the station will soon open, especially after a quick-burning fire ravaged three waterfront homes in the Oyster Harbor community on Dec. 8.
"Knowing that emergency help can get there much faster gives more of a sense of comfort," said Scott Mobley, president of the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation.
About 25,000 people live on the peninsula, and the population is expected to continue to increase with the construction of hundreds more units along Edgewood Road, Mobley said.
Currently, the closest fire station to the peninsula is the city of Annapolis' Eastport station. For fiscal year 2008, the county paid the city $760,000 to provide emergency services to Annapolis Neck residents.
Rescuers are often slowed by heavy traffic when they travel to the peninsula, Mobley said. Residents often had to wait several minutes more for help than national standards advise.
The area - which has rapidly grown from a collection of cottages and summer homes to a densely populated suburb - presents many challenges to firefighters. There are no hydrants in most areas, since homes are not connected to a public water supply, and water must be pumped in to fight fires.
To battle the Oyster Harbor blaze, firefighters brought in tanker trucks and used a fireboat to draw water from a creek. The fire, fanned by strong winds, burned through a water hose and rapidly spread from one house to two others.
Many neighbors criticized the fire department for not containing the blaze more quickly and said that response did not appear organized. The community association has met with Councilman Joshua J. Cohen, representatives of the county executive and fire officials, and it expects to receive a report on the response this week, said Brooke Doswell, president of the Oyster Harbor Community Association.
Residents would like to see the county install devices to ensure a steady supply of water for firefighting. "We're very concerned that the fire station is not going to answer all the problems that occurred during the fire," she said. "We'd love to be the start of a plan to improve the response to fires across the county."