NECK DISTRICT — A long-running struggle came to an end on July 22, when Neck District Volunteer Fire Company leaders, joined by state and local officials, unveiled the VFC’s new cell tower.
Emergency responders had long called for improved cell service. Their requests were echoed by local residents, who cited spotty or non-existent coverage in much of the rural area west of Cambridge.
“It can become very frustrating,” Neck District VFC President Mike McKinley said at the ceremony, when communications don’t function properly. And it can be worse than frustrating.
“A lack of cell service has not just been an inconvenience, but has put residents’ safety in jeopardy,” Chief McKinley said.
The fire company overcame setbacks along the way, including a decision by the Department of Planning and Zoning’s Board of Appeals on March 30, 2019, which denied a request for a tower at the firehouse, in preference for another location. VFC leaders at the time said the other spot would not have offered the full coverage they need.
Then in February of 2020, the county granted approval for the tower, confirmed at a subsequent hearing held by the Board of Appeals.
The fire company was then free to begin the work of acquiring the land needed for the 179-foot structure. After completing that stage, and with the tower having been erected, service was switched on in February of this year.
The tower is located at 954 Cook’s Point Road. It includes a four-foot high lightning rod. Trees help hide the 75-by-75 foot base. The structure will be unmanned and maintenance will be carried out every month or two.
The new tower was introduced to the public on Thursday by FirstNet, a public safety communications platform. The site was unveiled by representatives of AT&T.
Chief McKinley said the job demonstrates the Neck District Volunteer Fire Company’s motto, “Neighbors Helping Neighbors”.
It took a lot of help to get it done — Chief McKinley said the project stretched over 39 months of work, including thousands of hours of volunteer time. He made special mention of contributions in time and talent by Diana Gray, whose knowledge of real estate helped the VFC to finalize acquisition of the necessary property adjacent to the firehouse.
He also praised the Carpenter family for their donation of the land needed for construction of the tower.
Also attending the ceremony were State Senator Addie Eckardt (R-37), Delegate Johnny Mautz (R-37B), Secretary of the Maryland Department of Information Technology Michael Leahy, Senior Public Safety Advisor Lori Stone from FirstNet Authority, President Denis Dunn from AT&T Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C., and AT&T Regional Director of External Affairs Christopher Carroll.
“FirstNet is the nationwide, wireless communications platform dedicated to America’s first responders and public safety community,” a statement from the organization said. “Backed by Congress, it’s designed to strengthen and modernize public safety communications, helping first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency. FirstNet is being built with AT&T in a public-private partnership with the FirstNet Authority – an independent agency within the federal government.”