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Firehouse Fundraising

Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department looks to residents, business community to fund renovations.

Fundraising is a tricky business, and members of the Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department readily admit it’s not their forte.

“You know, we’re firefighters and medics, not real fund-raiser professionals,” department president Mike Harting said.

But at the midway point of a two-phase renovation of Station 30 on Falls Road near Oaklyn Drive — expected to cost more than $3 million altogether — the department has little choice but to reach out to the community for funds.

The recently completed first phase of the renovation added two vehicle bays to house equipment that was formerly being parked outside, including a tanker truck recently moved to station 30 from Station 10 at River and Seven Locks roads. The truck is useful in serving areas, including many in Potomac, with no fire hydrants.

Originally estimated to cost less than $400,000, Phase I actually cost $800,000 and forced the department to take on debt for the first time in its history. The department is celebrating its 75th year of volunteer service.

Phase II of the project is somewhat more extensive than phase I. Station 30 is the smallest in the county, is not Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, and does not currently provide separate bathrooms, showers and living quarters for men and women. The second phase of the project will extend the main building about 15 feet on the side opposite the garages and add a second floor, modernizing the interior.

“The station was built in 1970 — the current station — and it was built for a crew of two in the station with a maximum of four. But most of the crew were coming in from home, from the houses around the station,” said Chief Jim Seavey. “Now it is occupying five around-the-clock career people plus a cadre of volunteers, and it’s just not adequate size for that kind of workforce.”

Seavey said he felt some reluctance about soliciting money from the community, which he said has generously funded equipment purchases in the past.

“It’s the old adage about going to the well too many times,” he said. “We don’t want to ruin that relationship.” But the project is a necessity, he said, and he hopes that “each [contributor] of them understands that they’re making an investment in their protection.”

Seavey has sent letters to the executive board of the Potomac Chamber of Commerce and to leaders of philanthropic organizations. Members of the department will make a presentation at a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored networking event March 31 at Normandie Farm. The department has also established a fundraising committee comprising both department members and members of the community.

Seavey and others said that though the main objective of the project is to bring the station up to code and up to a an acceptable level of service for a modern station, another benefit would be making it more attractive. He described Station 30 as having “that sort of Partridge-Family-Brady-Bunch kind of late ‘60s architecture.”

“I think it’s a monstrosity frankly. … It’s just not tasteful given [the surroundings],” said Eugene Roesser, spokesman and treasurer for the department. The hope of the department is to renovate it to the point that it becomes a modern, tasteful fire station. Roesser said that better facilities will also make the department more attractive to volunteers.

Roesser said he felt there was some wiggle room in the Phase II plans depending on how much money the department can raise. Ideally, the new station would offer some public resource such as a community meeting space.

“To a degree how big the project can be is based on again the money we have available. But to the other extent I have to honestly say that we have to do this expansion no matter what. We’re constrained to make the enlargement or the renovation no matter what,” Seavey said.

STATION 30 IS one of the few remaining stations wholly owned, along with its equipment, by its volunteers. The Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mix of volunteer and career firefighters. Volunteer-owned stations are "rapidly going into the history books" Seavey said, although a few well-recognized examples remain in the county — especially the Bethesda-Chevy Chase squad.

The county will contribute $695,000 to Phase II of the project because Station 30 houses several career firefighters and because the county imposes certain design requirements, such as exhaust sytem for the vehicle bays. The county money will be added to whatever the department can raise from residents and through business partnerships.

The remainder the department will have to take on as debt, which the department strongly wishes to minimize.

“It just means that we have to sell more Christmas trees,” Harting said.