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It's worth saying again that the fire station for which ground was broken last weekend at Patterson Mill Road at the southern end of the greater Bel Air area is long overdue. Better late, however, than never.

It's worth saying again that the fire station for which ground was broken last weekend at Patterson Mill Road at the southern end of the greater Bel Air area is long overdue.

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Better late, however, than never.

The station will house equipment and crews from the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Co., whose main station is something of a landmark at the corner of Churchville Road and Hickory Avenue. The company also has long maintained a substation in Forest Hill near Friends Park.

The Forest Hill substation, it's worth noting, was recently given a major upgrade. Also in recent years, other fire and ambulance stations across Harford County have been built or greatly improved.

These projects are coordinated through the volunteer fire and ambulance service and its various private fire companies, as well as the county government's emergency services operation. Funding is a touchy matter, as fire companies have fundraisers, but also receive money from the county government for general operations and building projects.

State law also allows fire companies to send ambulance bills to health insurance companies and requires those bills be paid, even as people who are uninsured are not obliged to pay the requests for donations sent to individuals. This government-enabled contrivance is a substantial source of income for fire companies.

These realities, when talking about the local fire and ambulance service, are important to point out for two reasons. First, they show that the valuable volunteer services the county receives from the local volunteer service don't come for free. Second, the background gives some sense of how difficult it can be to coordinate public safety policy for purposes of doing things like building a new fire station.

In this instance, it also provides some insight into why it took so long for a fire station to be built in such a heavily-populated area, even as older stations were being substantially remodeled.

The local volunteer fire and ambulance service provides a high level of professional public safety protection, and its members do a tremendous service to the community. It is because of their dedication that the county has an awful lot more fire stations and emergency equipment than would be on hand, if the service were fully operated by the government, instead of largely run by volunteers.

But the service is one that has a lot of tradition and a lot of component parts and sometimes they result in odd delays like the one that kept the new Patterson Mill station from being built so long after so much of the surrounding area was built up.

It's good to know, though, that in a few months, people living in the Bel Air South area will be a good deal closer to emergency help.

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