Ocean Pines VFD gets millions to reconstruct aging department building

OCEAN PINES, Md. – The Ocean Pines Volunteer Fire Department (OPVFD) is celebrating a significant chunk of change coming their way. Delegate Wayne Hartman and State Senator Mary Beth Carozza worked with the fire department to secure $1.35 million from the state’s budget surplus.

Upgrades Needed

President of the OPVFD David VanGasbeck says since the building was constructed in the 1970s, and added onto in the 1980s, it has been falling apart. “One portion of the building is sinking about two inches. Every time it rains, the water backs up into the kitchen, which is obviously not a safe situation. We have mold in the building. The living quarters is the size of a sardine can,” he said.

VanGasbeck adds that there have been significant issues with gas heaters that keep the engine bays warm in the winter. “The gas lines fell out of the ceiling. So, the building is really deteriorating, especially during the last two years, quite rapidly,” he said.

Increasing Safety and Recruits

The OPVFD secured a contract with Manns Woodward Studios in Baltimore for a feasibility study. The plan is to keep the existing three engine bays, and demolish the other side of the building. That side will rise into a two story structure. Plus, an additional bay is being planned for. That’s where a third ambulance will be kept. VanGasbeck says work, engineering, and inventory rooms will be constructed as well.

“We’re not building the Taj Mahal. We’re building something that, yes, we expect to last 50 years, but is something that is extremely necessary to keep this department viable,” said VanGasbeck. “It’s going to make the building meet standards, which is does not meet now. That presents a real liability to us.”

VanGasbeck says the new facility won’t just provide a safer, and better equipped home, for the department. He is also hoping it will attract more young recruits. “We provide excellent service to the community. What this will do is enhance recruitment and retention to bring in more people, younger people. You can imagine with the demographics that we have here, it’s very difficult to get people into the department,” said VanGasbeck. “We do have cadets in the department, and get cadets through the cadet program. However, looking across the United States, only 5% of members joining actually stay with that department to retirement.”

Funding Ahead

Del. Hartman is calling this a huge win for the Ocean Pines community. “Typically, a reasonable request is $100,000, which is what we initially asked for,” he said. “As I learned more about the status of the state’s budget and the excess budget, and the money that was there in the $7 billion surplus, we amended the bond request to $1.5 million, knowing that that was very aggressive.”

The Delegate adds that he’s excited to see how the new building could help both the fire department and the community it serves. “We fight hard down here to get our fair share for the citizens of Worcester and Wicomico County,” said Del. Hartman. “[OPVFD has] definitely outgrown it. It doesn’t meet standards as far as access, it doesn’t meet standards as far as storing equipment.”

In addition to the $1.35 million grant and $200,000 in bond money, OPVFD will also work to match the funding. “We’ll have a town hall and address the whole community. That would be followed by a referendum, which we hope they will support the additional differential,” said VanGasbeck.

Until then, VanGasbeck says he is extremely grateful for the helping hands launching this effort. “I just want to thank all those who were involved in helping us secure the funding. Certainly, that would be Senator Carozza, Delegate Hartman, and their staff that helped us a great deal,” he said. “The Ocean Pines Association board of directors has worked with us very closely on developing a budget and supporting that budget.”

Categories: Local News, Maryland, Money