May 28, 2017
Dear Members of Our Community:
Last week, the County Council approved zoning changes that will allow the Bethesda- Chevy Chase Rescue Squad to leverage the value of our property at Battery Lane and Old Georgetown Road to replace our aging, nearly 50 year-old building with a state-of-the-art facility. We thank the Council for its approval and look forward to working with Council, County Fire Chief, and other stakeholders as we design, build and operate a new facility to serve our community.
We understand that some residents and community organizations are concerned about development activity (generally and as it relates to the Rescue Squad) under the Bethesda Sector Plan. We know this because many of our volunteer members live and work in Bethesda. During this process, we have engaged with community groups and stakeholders about our needs and development plans, and we intend to continue and expand such efforts in the future.
We think it is important for community members to understand our need to replace our current facility and why we are excited about how a new facility will allow us to expand and improve our level of emergency service. Our current facility was built in the mid-1970s and is wholly inadequate to meet our current or future needs. Our current bunk room is similar to a military boot camp, with men and women sleeping side-by-side in army-style bunks. The facilities for female members – designed when we had only a handful of female members – are completely inadequate now that our volunteer membership is comprised of almost as many women as men. Our live-in volunteer members – who run a larger share of our calls – have virtually no privacy or storage space. These facilities directly impact our ability to recruit and retain qualified volunteer paramedics, firefighters, and EMTs – in other words, our ability to meet our 24/7/365 fire, rescue and EMS responsibilities to the community.
The challenges with our current building don't stop with our living quarters. Our engine room is too small to accommodate our current fleet of vehicles; six or seven vehicles routinely need to be stored outside which exposes them to damage from the weather and other hazards. Our maintenance facility is too small to accommodate our rescue squad trucks, which means these vehicles routinely need to be sent out for service – increasing our operating costs. Our engine bay does not have the modern emissions systems that has become standard in modern fire/rescue stations and are vital to the health of our personnel.
With respect to our development plans, we have pursued this approach because County officials – including during discussions with Councilmembers in recent weeks and months – have told us they have no current or future plans to spend an estimated $15,000,000 or more to build a new facility. As a result, our choice has been:
- Try to meet our current and increased demands for our emergency services from a 50- year old facility that would require millions of dollars of renovations just to address current needs – and could never meet our future demands; or
- Unlock the value of our current property by selling a portion of the land to a developer (subject to all County rules and design requirements) and use the proceeds to finance the construction of a new, state-of-the-art facility.
We have chosen the latter approach because it is the best and only realistic option to ensure we can provide high quality emergency medical, fire and rescue service throughout our response area in the coming decades.
We have heard concerns that our development plan will limit or diminish our operational capabilities. The opposite is true. Our new facility will be approximately twice the square footage of our current building. We plan to convert much of the current civic room square footage to create a large training facility which improves our capabilities and saves approximately $2 million dollars. The new facility design criteria include numerous benefits that will directly support our operations and service delivery:
- Enhanced live-in and member sleeping facilities – which will allow us to recruit and retain the experienced volunteers needed to staff our units;
- Enhanced training capabilities – including a 70-person training room with supporting technology and covered training areas outside;
- Improved and expanded vehicle maintenance facilities;
- Better IT and communications infrastructure to support our operational and administrative activities; and
- Larger engine bays that will allow us to store all of our emergency and support vehicles in the building.
This is just a partial list of the enhanced capabilities the new facility will provide that directly support our delivery of emergency services to area residents, business and visitors.
In the coming weeks and months, we plan to engage with key stakeholders (including local community associations). We appreciate the considerable support we receive from the community and are committed to open and constructive dialogue on the important issues affecting the future of the Rescue Squad and the surrounding community.
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