Thomas Brown has been serving in the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad since he was in high school, fulfilling his community service hours. He got the idea because some of his father’s friends were volunteers. Today, he is president of the volunteer squad, and ready to open the squad’s new facility on Saturday at the corner of Georgia and Arcola avenues.
He has a salt-and-pepper mustache that extends down either side of his mouth and the kind of serious demeanor he might need to oversee a squad that runs 30-40 emergency dispatches a day. It’s a volunteer position Brown estimates he spends 30 hours a week on. And the week leading up to the opening of the new building has been full-time work as they tie up loose ends.
The new building will be a major step up from the current facility, and about four times larger, Brown said. It boasts new offices, two kitchens, an event space for 300, giant garage for the emergency vehicles, a study, workout room, TV room, 24-bed bunkroom and two two-bed dorm rooms available for volunteers to live in full time.
The squad initiated the project for a new building when they bought the first parcels of land back in 1985, and started construction 19 months ago, Brown said. The new building cost about $7.8 million, Brown said. He said that neighbors “have been tremendously supportive through the whole process.”
The squad is part of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue system and has about nine full-time employees and 120 active volunteers. Volunteers spend one night a week at the station and one weekend shift every three weeks. They range from college students to middle-aged residents, and many are in, or pursuing, related professions, Brown said. They have a lot of nurses, some policemen, but also lawyers, accountants, electricians and plumbers. For a given shift about 15-25 employees and volunteers man the station, ready to respond to car accidents, fires, and medical and other emergencies.
“We have the busiest heavy rescue squad in the state of Maryland,” Brown said. Heavy rescue dispatches are often for fires and car accidents. The station does not have any fire trucks — “our primary responsibility is search and rescue in a fire,” Brown said. They respond with heavy rescue units that Brown described as “basically a gigantic toolbox on wheels,” to offer medical and other support.
The squad has six ambulances.
Funding for the squad comes from Montgomery County, state and federal grants, a mailing fund drive and selling Christmas trees. Soon Brown hopes they can also bring in revenue by renting out the large event space on the second floor.
“There really aren’t many places close by here that have that capacity,” Brown said. “It’s really planned more as a community amenity.”
At 11 a.m Saturday, the squad is scheduled to drive all the units to the new station from the old one at 11435 Grand View Ave. They’ll have a raising of the flag ceremony, followed by burying a time capsule with items representing the squad’s history.
Greenhill Properties bought the old station property and is leasing it to the county, which will use it as a temporary fire station as they rebuild the Glenmont Fire Station at Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road. The interim fire station will open in early 2014 and will operate until construction of the permanent station is completed in early 2016.