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Baltimore Building New Fire Station After 15-Year Battle

BALTIMORE-- Bette Applegate had what some might call a strange reaction to seeing workers put up metal fencing around a construction site: Delight.

Thirty years after Anne Arundel County bought property for an Annapolis Neck fire station, and 15 months after the groundbreaking, Applegate was happily surprised last week to see signs of construction at Bay Ridge and Arundel on the Bay roads.

I still didn t want to believe it until I saw the construction vehicles, said Applegate, who campaigned for the firehouse for 15 years. Wooo!

Tech Contracting Inc. was released to start construction Nov. 5, and the $4.5 million firehouse should be finished by the end of next year, said Battalion Chief Michael Cox, a fire department spokesman. A pumper tanker truck will cost an additional $450,000, and a paramedic unit will cost $160,000.

The start of construction also brings relief to fellow activist Anastasia Hopkinson, who lobbied the County Council with Applegate. The campaign has been personal for Hopkinson, who called 911 in 2001 when her 89-year-old mother suddenly fell unconscious. It took 12 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. By then Peggy Hopkinson was dead.

Anastasia Hopkinson doesn t blame the first responders. She said she knows the paramedics got there as fast as they could. But if the ambulance couldn t arrive at her home any faster at midnight, when there were few cars on the roads, she wondered, how long would that drive have taken during the daytime, when traffic backs up on Forest Drive and Bay Ridge Avenue?

With traffic on both those roads, we are very vulnerable, Hopkinson said. We know that the emergency responders want to deliver and can deliver if they have the facilities and the resources.

The average response time for city emergency responders to travel from the Eastport fire station to Annapolis Neck is eight minutes and 36 seconds, Cox said. The proximity of the new Annapolis Neck station should cut the response time to four minutes -- the national standard.

Emergency response time has been a concern since the 1970s, Hopkinson said. The county bought the 2-acre property in 1977, but officials could not manage to keep funding in the budget to complete the project. Succeeding councils would earmark the money, only for county executives to reallocate it elsewhere. By Applegate s count, that happened 18 times.

In 2004, Applegate and Hopkinson got fed up and recruited community members to raise the issue at every County Council meeting. The efforts paid off. In 2006, then-county executive Janet S. Owens approved the funding. The community was so excited that county officials held a groundbreaking in August 2006 to celebrate even though the project wasn t out for bid yet, Cox said.

County Executive John R. Leopold and county Fire Chief David Stokes carried out the rest of the project by completing the design and bidding process. They also oversaw the extension of county water service to the station, Cox said.

The fact that construction has begun is exciting, said Barbara Samorajczk, who lives on the Annapolis Neck and fought for the funding during her two terms on the County Council.

I am so thrilled, said Samorajczk, who vacated her council seat last year. It is so desperately needed.

The county pays the city of Annapolis for emergency services on the peninsula. For fiscal year 2008, the fee is $760,000, Cox said.

Because the county will not have to pay the city for emergency services, the county will be able to use that money for the new station. At 11,000 square feet, the building will have three drive-through bays as well as a kitchen, fitness room and dormitory for the five firefighters and paramedics there.

The station will provide some services to the city and the county when necessary, Cox said.

We re very thankful that it s coming, said Scott Mobley, president of the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation. This is a big event for us.

The county has been working to upgrade other fire stations. Last spring, it finished a $1.6 million renovation of the West Annapolis Fire Station. The county plans to replace the existing Marley Fire Station, which was built in 1943. Construction on the $4.8 million building is scheduled to start in May and be completed by August 2009.

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