To mark its 120th anniversary this year, the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Department is embarking on a $3 million fundraiser to renovate its existing firehouse and buy a new ambulance, tower truck and fire engine.
Pikesville Fire was founded on Feb. 4, 1897 and currently operates both the busiest rescue squad and the busiest volunteer ladder truck in Baltimore County.
The department will celebrate the milestone on Saturday, Feb. 4 during its annual banquet, which is held on the first Saturday in February each year to honor current and founding members in accordance with the organization’s constitution.
Capt. Scott Goldstein, who has served in the department for 32 years, said, “This is a very dedicated group of people who respond to over 3,500 calls a year as volunteers. There are about 88 people actively volunteering, over 100 who participate including non-riding members.”
The banquet will officially kick off Pikesville Fire’s capital campaign.
“This is not a sky-high, bell-and-whistles project,” said Chris Imbach, a member of the department for 32 years who serves as chair of the capital campaign. “Rather, it is a very bare-bones and necessity-driven project. We are not going to add anything but will modernize and renovate every inch of the building, especially the bingo hall, a huge space that is not being used for anything. It is simply an outdated fire department. It does not meet the requirements for housing, equipment and education or the standards of our robust department.”
These renovations are far overdue, according to Goldstein, who said that the building has remained unchanged since 1970. It still only accommodates sleeping cots for 12 members in a coed room, and many of the volunteers are college-aged women. The facility also only has one bathroom with a shower.
“We are staying in the footprint of the building, not being too grandiose,” said John Berryman, the organization’s president and a member for 55 years. “We have been working earnestly for the past five years. We started off wanting more than what we could afford and narrowed it down. Members came up with a list of items that were necessary, and we were able to meet all of those needs.”
Six or seven officers currently share a single cramped office on the second floor of the building. Part of the bingo hall will be converted to office space. The bingo hall also will include a kitchen, dining area and a computer lounge. Perhaps most importantly, a space will be provided for gym equipment, which is currently in the same room as the beds, preventing people from sleeping while others work out.
Traditionally, the fire station has relied upon events in the bingo hall to help fund the department.
“Back in the day, this was the place to play bingo,” said Lt. Josh Schumer, who has served with the department for 17 years. “However, we now have trouble filling it — there is no draw for people to have parties here. People would rather go to a casino than play bingo.”
Most of the vehicles that the fire department owns are custom-made, and as the equipment gets older, repairs and replacement parts become both more expensive and harder to come by.
“Our engine is a little over 20 years old, so unfortunately they don’t make parts for it anymore,” said Schumer. “We are starting to run into issues when stuff breaks. We are an extremely busy firehouse, hundreds of calls per piece per year, and it takes its toll.”
A new ambulance is already in the process of being built for the department. According to Imbach, a new fire engine will cost approximately $600,000 and a new ladder truck nearly $1 million. The current ladder truck was built around 2003.
“We do get some financing from the county,” said Goldstein. “We get money to operate; they pay for some fuel and expenses. But for the real big-ticket items, we are still on our own to raise that money. That’s where the capital campaign comes in. We know that there are some very generous folks in Pikesville, and we just need to essentially advertise our need and let them know that we are here.”