Faced with one of the highest growth rates in central Maryland, Howard County officials are battling a population boom that may force them to build a new fire station in each of the next four years, officials said.

Next year, county fire officials want to spend $1.3 million for new fire trucks and ambulances, as well as an additional $3 million to modernize an existing fire station, purchase a 2-acre site in the growing Glenwood area and start construction on a new fire station near Rte. 1 and Rte. 175.

Then, starting in 1990, the fire department plans to set aside about $2 million each year through 1993 for the construction of new fire stations, most of which are to be located in the fast-growing southern part of the county.

The building plan is part of a proposed five-year capital improvements budget for fiscal year 1988. The preliminary proposal is based on requests from fire district commanders, said Deputy Fire Chief Martin J. LePore.

Last week, the county's Fire Board, a seven-member citizens' advisory panel, unanimously approved the proposed capital improvements budget.

The proposal will be the subject of "heavy discussions" for the next few months, LePore said, before it is presented to the County Council in February in the 1989 capital improvements budget.

Recent population predictions for Howard have alarmed county and fire department officials. By the year 2000, Howard's population, now at 160,000, is expected to grow by 80,000, LePore said.

A recent study done by the United Way of Central Maryland said Howard will grow 27.8 percent in the next decade, accounting for 41 percent of the population growth in a region that also includes Baltimore City and four surrounding counties -- Harford, Baltimore, Carroll and Anne Arundel.

Howard's unparallelled growth will force some hard political choices for elected county officials, LePore said.

"It's going to put some people on their toes," he said. "They will have to be on top of their game politically and managerially."

County Executive Elizabeth Bobo told the board last week that providing adequate fire protection is a high priority of her administration.

But Bobo warned fire officials that funding will be tight in the county's 1988 fiscal budget, which starts next July.

County officials said they're trying to meet the increased service demands. About two weeks ago, Howard County opened its 10th fire station in Savage on Old Columbia Road. Last year, the fire department responded to almost 13,700 calls for fire or emergency medical service, LePore said.

Fire Administrator Richard Shaw said officials must plan three years in advance for a new fire station. A key problem, he said, is land acquisition. The department tries to buy property before land prices escalate or property owners start to protest the station.

LePore said fire officials are unsure whether they will renovate the Clarksville fire station at Rte. 29 and Rte. 10 for about $500,000 or spend $2.35 million for a new facility.

Then, starting in 1991, the fire department plans to build a new fire station at Rte. 29 and Rte. 216, Old Annapolis Road and Rte. 29, and near Rte. 97 in the Glenwood community.