About 30 years ago a young Montgomery County fire technician arrived at an out-of-the-way temporary station off Maryland Interstate 270.
At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Chief Richard Bowers returned to his former post to marvel at just how much the area has grown over the years as he dedicated the department’s newest station, Travilah Station 32, on the future site at the intersection of Shady Grove and Darnestown roads.
“We used to call it the little green house on the prairie because, other than the fire house, there was nothing out here,” Bowers said with a laugh, his arms sweeping outward to encompass the broad landscape of technology high rises, shopping centers and residences that now make up one of the county’s fastest growing areas.
The most recent US Census statistics indicate nearly 40,000 people live in the 13-mile area that will be covered by the new station, including many of the life science and biotechnology-oriented businesses the county strives to attract under its 2009 biosciences strategy.
The Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, the Universities at Shady Grove and Johns Hopkins University’s Montgomery County campus are all located within a mile of the intended Station 32 site, said County Councilman Phil Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, as he applauded the foresight of the fire department and county general services in proposing the new station.
Bowers initially approached County Executive Isiah Leggett and the county council in 2009 to recommend a new location and larger scope for the Travilah station, which was originally proposed as a small add-on building to the Public Safety Training Academy on Great Seneca Highway.
Citing population density statistics and a gap in the county fire department’s six-minute response time estimate for the area, Bowers convinced the county to relocate the station to a plot of county-owned land at 9615 Darnestown Road. When construction is complete — likely by February 2014 — the $16 million station will house a fire engine and at least two EMS units, Bowers said.
“This is, fortunately, one of the first times that we are able to locate a fire station centrally in our target area,” Bowers said of the new site Thursday. “... Where we are now, you’re far enough away from the residential and business areas that you’re out of the way, but you’re close enough to provide quick, immediate service when needed.”
Currently, calls for service in the area are handled by one of four existing fire stations, some as far as six or seven miles away, said Ernest Lunsford, chief of the Division of Building Design and Construction with the Department of General Services.
The nearest existing station to the new site is Station 31, located just under 3 miles north of the Station 32 site in North Potomac, but when it comes to emergency calls every second counts, Leggett said at Thursday’s groundbreaking. The executive recalled the fire that tore through an apartment building in Burtonsville during the early morning hours of July 13, where fire rescue workers had to rescue 17 residents who were trapped on the upper floors.
“Had there been a simple one or two minute delay [at that fire] we would have had a much more tragic incident,” Leggett said.