If not for the sign in front, many would mistake the fire station on Falls Road for a house.
This “house,” however, was designed for only one gender, and that is one of the main reasons that Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Company wants to expand the building, currently the smallest station in the county.
Their plan to expand will be brought to the Park and Planning Commission on Oct. 16. The Cabin John fire department expects the renovation to cost approximately $1.3 million. The volunteer company raises money and will not be spending any tax dollars on the project.
When the station was designed, female firefighters were a rarity, and the building was not designed to accommodate both sexes.
“It’s workable, but it’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” said Company spokesman Eugene Roesser.
The company wants to add a second story to the building, which will allow for a locker room and other facilities for the station’s woman firefighters. “There will be separate facilities for men and women,” Roesser said.
Also planned is a two-bay addition to the garages. “This is to accommodate the new tanker we’ve gotten,” Roesser said.
Some storage sheds will be removed and the equipment stored in them, such as the boats used for swift-water rescue will be shifted into the second of the new bays.
Park and Planning staff is generally pleased with the proposed design of the renovation. “The building will still look like a house,” said Callum Murray, Potomac Team Leader for Park and Planning. “By setting it back … they’ve actually reduced the visual impact dramatically.”
Some residents, however, have concerns about the renovations. “We’re not necessarily opposed to them. Everybody understands that the firehouse needs updated facilities,” said George Barnes, president of the West Montgomery County Citizen’s Association. “We have some reservations.”
C.O. North, past president and current treasurer and board member of West Montgomery lives next door to the firehouse.
Barnes said that is not a factor in their concerns. “That is not where our involvement comes from,” he said. “We have a lot of members in that area.”
One of the main objections stems from the station’s initial construction. “The original agreement was that if the firehouse ever needed to be expanded, it would be relocated,” Barnes said.
Barnes said that the station should explore housing the tanker in a different station.
“Would it be better upcounty?” he said.
The Cabin John volunteers own the truck and therefore wants to house it at one of their stations — the Falls Road station, or the station on River Road near the Beltway.
The truck holds 3,500 gallons of water and will allow firefighters to work more effectively in areas of the county where there are no hydrants, including much of Potomac Falls near the Falls Road station.
“When you think of it strategically, when you get past the crossroads, that’s when you start getting into problems with water,” Roesser said. For that reason, the truck is being housed at the Falls Road station and not the River Road Station, Roesser said.
The truck might still be able to work effectively from a different location, according to West Montgomery. “I’m not sure that there’s not other options,” Barnes said.
Sirens and noise are part of the concerns of nearby residents. The department tests the sirens on its trucks each morning at about 7 a.m. Barnes said this is not much of a problem during the week when many residents are already up for work or school, but it can be a problem on weekends. “Maybe the fire department could be a little more amenable to the neighbors,” Barnes said.
The sirens are checked at the beginning of each shift, said Roesser. If a siren were to fail when a truck was out, the head of the crew would be held responsible. “There is a great deal of responsibility on the officer,” Roesser said.
Roesser thinks that the siren test should only go on for a few seconds. “If it’s any longer, we can work with that,” he said.
Fire trucks also turn on the sirens before they are on the road. Roesser says that this practice is due to a federal regulation. “The truck has to start the regulations before it goes out on an emergency call,” he said. “We’re not trying to do anything we don’t have to do.”
Murray said that he has incorporated many of the residents concerns into the conditions of approval for the expansion, but that the siren problems are operational issues which fall outside of the jurisdiction of Park and Planning.