Transfer Of Paid Firefighters Sparks Concern Over Safety

February 27, 1992|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

Two county fire stations lost paid firefighters this week, leaving the possibility of engines responding to fires with drivers -- but nobody to fight the fire.

One of two 24-hour-a-day paid firefighters at the Earleigh Heights Fire Station has been transferred, leaving the station with one firefighter for the after-5 p.m. and weekend hours.

The Galesville Fire Station, which had a paid 24-hour-a-day driver and a paid day-shift firefighter, also has lost a career firefighter.

"This is terrible," said Jack Simkins, 29, who lives in Earleigh Heights and works the night shift at the Sparrows Point shipyard. "I could have a fire engine pull up at my house with only a driver. I don't need to come home and find my family dead because there weren'tany firefighters to get in the house."

Capt. Gary Sheckells, spokesman for the county Fire Department, said it is unlikely that eitherstation would respond to fires with only a driver.

"In the case of a house or residential fire, we do not just send one unit," he said. "We send a box assignment that includes three fire engines and two ladder trucks, or four engines and one truck. It wouldn't be one station responding alone."

However, Sheckells admitted that the emergency Simkins and other residents fear is "possible, though not probable."

"It boils down to a management decision made based on the strengths and weakness of existing companies. Volunteer participation at both indicates they have a strong number of volunteers routinely responding.

"Because the volunteer response is relatively high, the administration determined those stations would not run into situations where they are running understaffed."

To residents like Simkins, however, "one minute without a guaranteed firefighter is too long. Whyare they taking my firefighter from my station that could protect meand my family?"

Volunteers work at the station only when they can, and there is no guarantee that there will be volunteers on a fire engine at 5 a.m. next week, should a fire break out at his home, Simkins added.

"There are times when volunteers aren't there, and that's why a career driver and firefighter were brought into (each) station," he said.

Robert W. Ganz Jr., president of the Earleigh Heightscompany, said the station has not been without professional around-the-clock firefighters since the early 1970s.

Until Monday at 7 a.m., the station had a 24-hour engine man position, or driver of the fire engine, plus a daytime firefighter who works from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.Monday through Friday and a 24-hour firefighter. The 24-hour firefighter position was filled by three people working in shifts.

"We would request the county return the three professional firefighters to the Earleigh Heights Station, to restore the fire protection that wasavailable to citizens of Greater Severna Park, Pasadena and Millersville to the same level that existed prior to 7 a.m. Feb. 24, 1992," Ganz said.

The paid Galesville firefighter was transferred to Ferndale, and the Earleigh Heights position to Glen Burnie. Three of nine paid firefighters assigned to the Ferndale Volunteer Fire Company also are being transferred.

"We're concerned as volunteers," said Ganz, "but we also are concerned for the citizens." Although the stationhas about 60 volunteers who work hard, they do have other jobs, he said.

"It's conceivable there could be a time in the early morning when every (volunteer) went to work or whatever and an engine man could show up at somebody's house alone."

Sheckells pointed out that the Galesville daytime fighter was responding to only nine calls a month, and keeping him there was not cost effective. Statistics from the Earleigh Heights company show the station averages 2.5 volunteers per response with a fire engine and 3.5 volunteers responding with every rescue vehicle.

With such averages, the fire department feels relatively safe, Sheckells said.

But some citizens don't. "Why are they taking my fighters?" asked Simkins. "I pay good taxes. Public safety is one thing that shouldn't be cut."

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