By Fran Maye
The announcement that Longwood Fire Co. officials want municipalities to contribute more comes at the same time fire company officials announced they are in the beginning stages of building a new fire house estimated to cost between $5 million to $7 million.
The three-story building is being designed by architects now and plans should be before the Kennett Township planning commission by year’s end. The fire company has been at its present site on Route 1 near Greenwood Road since 1954. It officially separated from Longwood Gardens in the early 1960s.
Because of the limitations of the current fire station, Longwood Fire Co. officials cannot purchase additional vehicles or the appropriately sized vehicles to meet the fire companies needs. The new facility would allow for room for additional vehicles.
When finished, the plan calls for the first floor to house 17 vehicles, not including the two fire chiefs vehicles. The second floor will be training centers and bunks for Emergency Medical Services personnel. It will also have kitchens, bathrooms, a fitness room and a room to store gear of all volunteer personnel.
The third floor will be used for administrative and bookkeeping offices and will have space for expansion in the future.
Fire company officials are preparing an aggressive capital campaign to fund the new fire station, said A.J. McCarthy, fire chief.
“I expect municipalities (served by Longwood Fire Co.) to put into our capital campaign,” McCarthy said. “This is a township service. It is no different than their snow plow driving down the street.”
McCarthy said the new building is being constructed with the possibility of housing a career fire staff. Early discussion included having college-age students live in a fire company dorm for free in exchange for volunteer service.
“We know for a fact that a career fire staff is coming,” McCarthy said. “We’re one of the last ones in the area that do not have paid firefighters or a combination of firefighters and EMTs.”
McCarthy said there is a huge advantage to having fire personnel on staff. During last year’s hurricane, four volunteer crews stayed at the fire house for 48 hours and ran 75 calls. “They were on the streets within 30 seconds the majority of those calls,” McCarthy said.
Part of the reasoning behind this idea, McCarthy said, is due to the declining number of volunteers. A recent study published by the National Association of State Foresters reported a national drop in active volunteer firefighters from 300,000 in 1970 to about 70,000 today. Pennsylvania has the highest number of volunteer fire companies – 2,354 -- in the nation.