Montgomery County will add personnel to two Clarksburg area fire stations to address concerns about long response times in the rapidly growing upcounty community, officials have announced.
Starting today, a total of six positions will be added to the Hyattstown and Germantown fire stations, which handle calls from Clarksburg.
Clarksburg's population has nearly tripled, to 5,500, in five years and is expected to exceed 40,000 by 2025. Now, a Clarksburg resident can expect to wait 10 to 12 minutes for fire or emergency medical service, about twice the accepted national standard for suburban areas, Pete Piringer, spokesman for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, said yesterday.
"Given all the activity going on, all the construction occurring . . . having that kind of response time was not adequate," said County Council member Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty).
To address the issue, the county plans to open a permanent Clarksburg station in 2009, at a cost of $8.3 million.
Montgomery has eight fire stations in what is considered the upcounty, Piringer said. The Clarksburg station and four others are scheduled to open within 10 years in fast-growing central and northern parts of the county, which include Gaithersburg and Germantown.
Prince George's also has struggled to balance rapid growth and public safety. The County Council voted last year to deny approval of housing plans if county police and fire departments could not reach the sites quickly enough. Recently, the council loosened that requirement.
Knapp said Montgomery officials had planned to provide additional services to keep up with growth in Clarksburg but had not followed through. He said he has been pushing for the hiring of a high-level manager to oversee the growth.
"It's been a management issue," he said. "It's the inability of different groups to sit down and have a single point of contact."
David Weaver, spokesman for County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), said funding for a Clarksburg manager position was included in the executive's most recent budget but dropped when the council cut $70 million.
Clarksburg residents said they are eager to have their own fire station.
"The Hyattstown and Germantown stations have a large area to cover along with Clarksburg," said Virginia Dantona, vice president of the Clarksburg Civic Association. "If [Clarksburg is] going to have 40,000 people eventually, it needs its own coverage."
The county had planned to locate fire and emergency medical services temporarily at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility on Whelan Lane, beginning in early September, and then build an interim station at the Little Bennett maintenance depot on the outskirts of town.
But officials said yesterday that operating out of the correctional facility would improve response times by just one or two minutes. Duncan told residents in a letter this week that the county probably will abandon the Whelan Lane and Little Bennett plans, in favor of an interim site on Gateway Center Drive, closer to the center of town. From there, response times probably would decrease to four to six minutes, officials said.
If approved, however, the interim station would not open until later in the fall, officials said.
The Hyattstown and Germantown stations respond to calls from Clarksburg, with help from stations in Poolesville, Damascus and other northern Montgomery towns.
Typically, five stations send equipment and personnel to a house fire in Clarksburg, Piringer said.