County Services Brace Themselves For Budget Cuts' Fallout

Volunteer Firefighters Fret Over Losing Training

October 13, 1991|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

From Westminster to Lineboro to Taneytown, volunteer fire departmentchiefs in Carroll are bracing themselves for the likelihood of providing the same services with less money and less training for their crews.

The numbers aren't official yet, but the county commissionersare looking to trim $140,000 from the $2 million earmarked for Carroll's 14 fire departments this fiscal year, said Steven D. Powell, director of the county's Department of Management and Budget.

Additionally, the state has cut 18 percent of its $2.7 million appropriation to the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, which providesbasic and advanced training to firefighters and rescue personnel, said Pat Marlatt, assistant director of MFRI at the University of Maryland, College Park.

And the governor has proposed cutting about $29,000 of a $116,000 grant from the state to Carroll's volunteer fire companies.

Each company will feel some effect -- though minimal -- from that cut, said C. Oscar Baker, president of the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association, which observed Fire Prevention Week last week.

"We're more interested in what's going to happen with the county," he said. "We're working with county government, and hopefully, our budget won't be cut to the effect that our service will be felt by our citizens. We don't know what the final amount will be."

The county provides about 70 percent of the fire companies' annual budgets. The remainder comes from such fund-raisers as raffles, dinners and fairs.

Marlatt said the cut in MFRI money means layoffs of part-time clerical and support employees. The institute, which trains about 13,000 students annually, is reassigning administrative personnel to teaching positions.

Still, the class offerings -- 500 to 600courses a year -- is likely to be reduced, he said.

"We don't know where yet," Marlatt said. "We're shifting full-time personnel into doing more instruction. Further, we've shifted funds from other areasand made instruction a priority."

It's the possible loss of training that particularly worries Carroll fire departments. Although MFRImay be able to shift priorities for this fiscal year to accommodate training needs, it may not be able to do so in fiscal 1993, in which the state budget deficit is estimated to be about $1 billion, fire officials said.

"In 1993, there may not be such a thing as advance training of any kind," Baker said. "It's really a bad situation."

Volunteer firefighters, like ambulance personnel, have to be trained. If training is not available through the state, fire companies will have difficulties recruiting new members and maintaining existing rosters.

"We realize there are dollar shortages, but for all volunteers are giving to communities, adequate funding should be made available for training and certification of these people at all levels," saidBernie Smith, president of the Maryland Volunteer Firemen's Association.

Smith said the group is monitoring the financial situation and is planning a campaign to counter cuts. He would not divulge details of that campaign.

Any cut in advanced training is worrisome, said Jay Nusbaum, chief of the Westminster Volunteer Fire Company.

"The basics is just that," he said. "It just gets you to the point of having working knowledge of fire service. We have to continually move ahead. We can't go out by our shirttails and do a job. We have to be as professional as people who are being paid for this."

The loss in county dollars will mean fire companies must rearrange priorities in their operating budgets -- which cover such things as building and equipment maintenance, fuel and tools.

"We'll just be robbing Peter to pay Paul," Nusbaum said. "In places we had moneys allotted for special tools, we're holding off."

Fire companies have no plans to curtail services and don't see any danger to county residents. But the cuts do mean fire companies will be forced to do more fund-raising,said Kevin Dickmyer, vice president of the Lineboro Volunteer Fire Department.

"If our budget is cut back and we have to raise another5 to 10 percent, it's going to mean firefighters' giving more of their time for fund-raising. That's less time each will be able to give to go out and fight fires."

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