Firehouse to grow with addition
By Annette C. Silva
After much consideration, careful planning, prodigious fund-raising, three variances, a few setbacks and a minor delay, Delmar's Volunteer Fire Department No. 74 is getting a sorely-needed addition.
Department president Kevin Morris said the two-story 30-foot by 110-foot addition will be under construction on or about Oct. 1. Designed for the north side of the existing firehouse, the new addition will accommodate some of the department's fleet of vehicles including two fire engines, one ladder truck, one rescue truck, a tanker, a brush truck and attending equipment. (Some of these vehicles are 40 feet in length.) The addition's cost, deriving from two states and the two counties-Wicomico and Sussex-that Delmar serves, is approximately $450,000.
Morris, during a tour of the firehouse, pointed out why the company needs the addition. First, and foremost, the vehicle space is scarce and inefficient, he said, especially when preparing to move quickly. Secondly, the department needs bunk and office space for the department's five paramedics (who now share quarters equivalent in space to submarine bunks).
Their command vehicle stays parked outside, they're using rented space across the street for storage of equipment and two vehicles and they don't have adequate meeting or office space. Delmar's volunteer fire-fighting group, 75 strong, receives 360 fire calls and 1,200 to 1,400 ambulance calls a year. They cover an area as far south as the Maryland State Police barracks, 7 miles west and 6 miles east. Going north, Delmar firefighters travel approximately 4 miles (north to Whitesfield Road).
They often work in conjunction with other municipal volunteer units. "When a fire occurs, the automatic dispatch goes out to Laurel, Delmar and Salisbury and we all respond," said Morris.
Though the national average for turnover of volunteer firefighters is relatively high ("The average volunteer lasts about three years," said Morris), Delmar has 29 life members (20 years' service) and 46 active members (from new trainees to those with 19 years of service). He said the department's average fire call brings in close to 40 volunteers.
"For many of our members, volunteer firefighting has been in the family for generations," said Morris. In his case, his father, two brothers, three nephews and his son have all been or are now serving as volunteers. "Our service extends to the ladies auxiliary, the women who do our benefits and fund-raisers and those who cook and organize."
Speaking of which, the firehouse kitchen, the heart of its community functions, is also going to receive a facelift. "All of this equipment you see has been here since 1973," said Morris of the ovens, grills, gas stove, cupboards and counters.
The profile of a typical volunteer firefighter, said Morris, is a man or woman with a drive to help others, one who can deal with risk, and one who is willing to give of free time. The firefighters receive in-house training and formal training either at the Maryland or Delaware state fire schools. Their rankings range from fireman I to fire officer.
Without volunteers, small towns wouldn't have a firefighting force, or they would pay large sums of money to establish one. Also, "in small towns, the fire department becomes a central part of the community's social life," said Morris.
In the community room, Morris pointed out how the new space would be used as he decoded drawings on the wall. He said volunteers are pleased to finally get the addition, even though building it will remove a side access road to the rear parking lot. Parking space at the back of the building will one day be increased by using nearby properties they own.
With national fire prevention week looming in October, Morris talked about fire department programs throughout the community. "We teach school kids about our methods and equipment, and what they can do to prevent fires." What's the best way for firefighters to avoid accidents? "In emergencies, we need to step back, assess the situation and let our experience work for us."