Department bursting at the seams

Baker Heights shows new equipment at open house

Baker Heights shows new equipment at open house

November 21, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

BAKER HEIGHTS, W.Va. - When Marty Roberts joined the Baker Heights Volunteer Fire Department in 1986, the department had three firetrucks.

Now it has at least seven trucks and rescue vehicles, and is one of the busiest fire departments in Berkeley County.

"When you see us pack all this stuff in here, we're like a sardine can," Roberts, the department's fire chief, said during an open house Sunday afternoon at the fire station along W.Va. 9 outside Martinsburg, W.Va.


The open house was meant to give the public a chance to see new equipment the fire department has purchased through roughly $270,000 in federal and state funding.

Officials say the funding is needed to help the fire department respond to calls in a fast-growing section of the county that is now home to large facilities like an Internal Revenue Service complex and the U.S. Coast Guard Operations Systems Center. The department also stays busy responding to car wrecks along local highways like W.Va. 9, officials said.

"It's important that Baker Heights is adequately equipped," said John Reisenweber, district representative for U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Capito has worked to secure about $250,000 in federal funding for the department to purchase equipment like a "thermal imager," which allows firefighters to see through smoke-filled buildings to find people trapped inside.

The thermal imager is able to detect people by sensing heat radiating from their bodies. To show how sensitive the device is, Roberts placed his hand on a table for a short period Sunday, then lifted it.

The thermal imager showed the image of Roberts' hand on the table, even though his hand was not there.

Thermal imagers cost $10,000 apiece, and the fire department has two of them, Roberts said.

The other equipment included new face masks equipped with better communication networks and equipment designed to increase firefighter safety, like a monitoring system that allows fire officials to determine immediately if a firefighter runs into trouble on a call.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, worked to secure $20,000 in state funds for the department to purchase new equipment, like Jaws of Life, a powerful device that allows firefighters to pry open mangled cars to rescue people in traffic accidents.

Besides the additional equipment, the Baker Heights Volunteer Fire Department is expected to undertake a roughly $1.6 million expansion of its facility, which will double its space, Roberts said.

The addition will include space for firefighters to live at the fire station, said Roberts, who expects the department to eventually have paid members.

Local residents strolled through the fire department Sunday to see the new equipment displayed along tables inside and on firetrucks outside.

Kristin Tucker said she and her husband, Glenn, brought their 5-year-old son, Paul, to the open house so he could see the department. The boy was sporting a toy fire helmet that was given to him by firefighters.

Kristin Tucker said she was surprised by the department's operations.

"The one thing that impressed me is it's solely volunteer," Tucker said.

Baker Heights responds to about 650 fire calls and about 300 ambulance calls a year, department officials said.

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