Firefighters' grants serve the public and volunteers

June 28, 1992|By Michael W. Robinson

In reading the recent article ("Aid to fire companies distributed unequally," June 21) concerning distribution of state grants to fire companies, I feel there still needs to be clarification as to how and why these monies were distributed.

As I was quoted in referring to the process of this funding as being "political," allow me to elaborate on this from a historical perspective. The 508 funds, as they are known, evolved from SB 508 during the 1985 legislative session.

As a result, effective July 1, 1985, a state Fire, Rescue and Ambulance Fund was established. This is elaborated under Article 38A Subpart 45B of the Annotated Code of Maryland.

Accordingly, the receipt and distribution of all such funding is codified under Maryland law. The politics of which I spoke is found first of all in the passage of the law. This effort was the result of the legislative actions supported by the Maryland State Fireman's Association (MSFA), of which all Anne Arundel County volunteer fire companies are members.

Under the article of establishment for this funding, it is clearly stated that this fund is established to promote:

1. "The delivery of effective and high quality fire protection, rescue and ambulance service to the citizens of this state."

2. "Increased financial support for fire rescue and ambulance companies by local government."

3. "The continued financial viability of volunteer fire rescue and ambulance companies given the greatly increased cost of apparatus and other types of equipment."

The law further elaborates as to the distribution of the funding and places the responsibility for this upon local government -- in our case, that being Anne Arundel County.

Furthermore, the distribution and expenditures of funds must be reported to and audited by the State Secretary of Public Safety by November 1 of each disbursement year.

As was his prerogative under this context, it was the decision of County Executive O. James Lighthizer, beginning with the fiscal year 1986 expenditures, to defer the recommendations for these expenditures to the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firefighters Association.

The association's recommendations had to first be approved by the fire administrator, Joseph "Mac" Connell, who would then seek to include them in his budget. That budget then needed to be included in the executive's budget that was ultimately approved by the council only after input from various constituencies, who could have been other citizens, or fire service interest groups both career and volunteer. Yes, this was indeed a political process, as is any facet of government!

From the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firefighters Association, a committee was appointed annually by the association president and chaired by the vice president. This committee was not only composed of volunteer fire chiefs but also volunteer firefighters, administrators and ex-officio members from the Anne Arundel County Fire administrator's office.

As a result of this committee, a process was developed that solicited annually from each of the then-28 volunteer companies, recommendations as to their needs and intent for this funding. The fact that this organization would recommend such expenditures had already been determined through the executive branch and department head level, subject to approval.

In accordance with this process, companies were asked to submit a "wish list" of projects that might not be funded through the normal county budget. I would add that under the Lighthizer administration, most items not previously funded under the budgetary process were incorporated. This included all protective equipment and uniforms that career personnel were already issued, as well as tools, equipment and, in some cases, apparatus assigned to but not owned by a volunteer company.

What transpired was that the majority of the smaller volunteer companies had their needs, including apparatus, fulfilled via the normal county budgetary process. This included county-purchased apparatus to the following volunteer companies:

Co. 1: Galesville -- Fire engine.

Co. 2: Woodland Beach -- Fire engine.

Co. 3: Riva -- Fore engine (Tanker purchased by volunteers additionally).

Co. 6: Herald Harbor -- Fire engine.

Co. 9: Harwood-Lothian -- Fire engine, utility truck.

Co. 17: Arnold -- Fire engine.

Co. 19: Cape St. Claire -- Fire engine, utility truck.

Co. 20: Lake Shore -- Fire engine.

Co. 27: Maryland City -- Fire engine, ambulance.

Co. 29: Jessup -- Fire engine.

Co. 30: Armiger -- Fire engine, fire station.

Co. 33: Glen Burnie -- Fire engine, ambulance.

Co. 34: Ferndale -- Fire engine, ambulance.

Co. 40: West Annapolis -- Ladder truck, ambulance.

Co. 41: Avalon Shores -- Fire engine.

This reflects those volunteer companies that had county-funded apparatus assigned to their stations during the last administration.

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