Baltimore County is moving to beef up its ambulance services as volunteer fire companies struggle to come to grips with the sudden loss of members who also work as paid county firefighters.
Additional reserve medic units are being assigned to the Westview, Randallstown, Essex and Towson fire stations starting next week. The idea is to have more help on hand during peak periods if volunteers have trouble responding to calls, said Battalion Chief Mark Hubbard, the department's spokesman.
The move comes amid a dispute between county officials and paid firefighters.
Monday morning, the firefighters union filed a federal labor complaint demanding that the county pay career firefighters for their work in volunteer units or ban such work. The county banned it that afternoon.
County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger vowed to fight the union allegation that the county was violating labor laws. "We haven't broken any law," he said, adding that the county hadn't coerced paid firefighters to do volunteer work.
Even before the ban took effect, eight of 15 volunteer stations with medic units were being backed up on calls by simultaneously dispatched career units, Hubbard said. That system is used when volunteers have trouble responding quickly, he said.
Hubbard said the ban "has not had a significant impact," and some volunteer officials agree.
"Everything's worked out pretty well so far," said Elwood H. Banister, chief of the Cockeysville Volunteer Fire Company and a retired county fire chief. Volunteers who sometimes depended on career members to answer daytime calls are responding now to compensate, he said.
Despite county efforts to reassure residents that their needs will be met, many paid firefighters are furious at being told that they may not volunteer. Other firefighters fear that it might take volunteers longer to respond to calls, especially in medical emergencies.
Wendy Colliflower, 29, a former volunteer medic with the Liberty Road Volunteer Fire Company in Randallstown, worries about the 173 patients at the Reisterstown nursing home where she works.
"Response times will dramatically increase," she said of calls by volunteer medics. Despite the nursing home's location near a paid county medic unit, she is concerned about response times when that unit is out on another call.
Union officials have backed away from statements that their complaint was filed because firefighters were angry at Ruppersberger for not giving them as many raises as police have received.
The union claimed that Ruppersberger had neglected the Fire Department and that the county was violating a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act by allowing paid firefighters to work without pay as volunteers. The county and the union had ignored the provision until this week.
Ruppersberger denied the union's claim of neglect, pointing to the replacement of 15 of 26 fire engines, 20 of 24 medic units and six of eight ladder trucks during his term.
Pub Date: 5/23/97