2 fire units seek a bigger part of funds Forces in Sykesville, Westminster tell board they have bulk of calls

'We need paid workers'

Fire companies want county to pay salaries of emergency crews

September 04, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County's two busiest volunteer fire companies are demanding a more equitable share of county dollars for emergency services in their populous communities.

The Westminster and Sykesville fire companies want money to pay for emergency personnel when volunteers are not available. The county pays a portion of those salaries now, but not enough to handle the increasing volume of calls.

The two companies responded to more than one-third of all fire and emergency calls in Carroll last year. Even so, they received only about 20 percent of the $3 million shared by Carroll's 14 fire departments this fiscal year, which began July 1.

In a lengthy meeting with the County Commissioners yesterday, company officers argued their case with statistics and a history of requests denied by the Carroll County Volunteer Fireman's Association.

Each company submits its operating budget to the commissioners, who generally fund 85 percent of the requests. State law requires that the association distribute the money among the companies.

"I am frustrated that the commissioners are not monitoring this," said Dennis E. Beard, past president of the Sykesville-Freedom District Volunteer Fire Department. "We need paid workers and you can control the purse strings."

Beard asked the commissioners to evaluate the financial needs of each company and distribute money equitably.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said he has been reluctant to interfere in the financial decisions of the association. But after hearing the numbers, he said: "The bottom line is, there must be equity to all the companies."

Westminster handled 3,863 calls last year, more than any company in the county. Sykesville was second, with 2,390 calls.

"The sheer volume is killing us," said James E. Bangerd III, president of the Westminster Volunteer Fire Department. "Westminster and Sykesville are unique in population and the number of calls. We can't be treated like the other 12 companies. We have the bulk of the calls and the bulk of the problems."

Both companies have extended response time by what they consider life-threatening minutes.

"How do we explain to people that it takes 20 minutes to get an ambulance to their door?" William L. Baker, president of the Sykesville company, asked.

Because its response time has dropped to unacceptable rates, Westminster is going to 24-hour paid coverage and will have to hire more emergency workers -- paying them salaries without compensation from the county.

`You need to give direction to the association," said David Franklin, treasurer of the Westminster company. "It cannot look at Westminster and Sykesville the same way it looks at the 12 other companies."

Traditionally, funding requests for emergency services personnel are not included in a company's operating budget, and the association routinely cuts the requests from capital budgets. The companies are forced to raise the money.

"Whenever we have requested funds to meet emergency services, the [county fire association] has denied them," said Baker. "We get what we want for a budget allocation, but we need paid emergency personnel."

The county paid Sykesville $50,000 for part-time emergency workers. The company, which answered 1,569 ambulance calls last year and serves the most populous area of the county, needs $120,000 for technicians to fill daytime and late-night shifts.

"Our area generates the taxes, but the funds are going elsewhere," Baker said.

County Budget Director Steven D. Powell said the county can legally change the distribution of funds within the fireman's association.

"The two companies handling the bulk of the calls are consistently outvoted by the other 12," Bangerd said. "We are not playing on a level field."

Commissioners are scheduling a meeting with the association's board of directors.

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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