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Baltimore County, state and military officials gathered at the Warfield Air National Guard Base at Martin State Airport in Middle River on Wednesday to break ground for a much-needed fire station.

The $8 million, 21,000-square-foot building, scheduled for completion in about 15 months, will include six equipment bays, training rooms, offices and storage facilities.

"You deserve all the resources you need to train for whatever your call of duty," said U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "This building will be so state-of-the-art it will probably be the best of its kind in the country."

The base is long overdue for the upgrade, officials said. The facility on Eastern Avenue at Route 43 claims the latest in firefighting trucks, eight in all, and all the equipment vital to its mission. It provides round-the-clock protection with 24 full-time firefighters as well as military guardsmen. The crews are trained to respond to natural disasters as well as emergencies on base, in the surrounding community and around the globe.

But the housing, training and responding takes place from a nearly 50-year-old station that is too small to accommodate all the equipment and staff.

"It is so bad that it gave me a great argument to get funding from the Department of Defense," Ruppersberger said to an audience of about 100 firefighters from the military as well as career and volunteers from the surrounding community. "They couldn't get all the trucks in. You couldn't breathe because there was no ventilation. There were cracks in walls and they were training in the bunk room."

When the station went to a full-time crew 20 years ago, beds were built into its walls so they could be stored during training classes.

The new station will also lead to improvements in service throughout eastern Baltimore County, officials said.

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