Fire units seeking boost in funding Firemen's association says money is needed for personnel, gear

October 08, 1997|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The association representing Carroll's 14 volunteer fire companies pressed the County Commissioners yesterday for more money to hire paid personnel and purchase equipment to handle an increasing number of emergency calls.

The county has promised an increase of 5 percent, or $150,000, next year and has furnished the companies with a new nine-channel, $8.2 million radio system that became operational in July.

But without money to hire additional personnel, emergency services will suffer, said officials from the Carroll County Firemen's Association. The group is awaiting the results of a study of emergency service before asking for a specific amount.

Barring an economic crisis, the Carroll County Firemen's Association can expect the county to fund 90 percent of the companies' operating budgets next year. The companies are receiving about $3 million this fiscal year, which began July 1.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell asked that Westminster and Sykesville, the companies that handle the most calls, get a greater share of the funds.

Westminster responded to 3,863 calls last year, more than any other company in the county. The Sykesville area, where the population exceeds Westminster's, was second with 2,390.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said those two companies are handling 40 percent of the county's calls but get less than one-third of the county allocation.

"We are depending on you to work this out so their needs are fairly met," Brown said. "There has to be a trust between us. We have to make sure these companies have what they need when they need it."

The two companies met with the commissioners last month to ask for a larger share of the annual allocation.

Jesse Salley, president of the Carroll County Ambulance Association, said the problems stem from a lack of ambulance personnel. She estimated the cost of nighttime staff at about $200,000 a year and asked officials to wait for the results of the study.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County has been conducting the $10,000 study since May and expects to complete it by mid-November. It includes interviews with the officers of each company, "[keeping] what is working and culling what needs fixing," said Salley.

It also will incorporate data from the county emergency dispatch center and a comparison of national statistics.

"This study is predicated on patient care," said Salley. "The individual concerns of 14 companies are secondary to that."

The firemen's association estimates that its companies will respond to about 42,000 calls this year, 78 percent of them for emergencies. Dell called that number staggering.

Late evenings are particularly busy. At 1 a.m. Saturday, for example, seven of the 17 company ambulances were at Carroll County General Hospital, and volunteers were fighting fires in Westminster and Mount Airy, Salley said.

The new radio system is working so well that the association has asked for a fourth dispatcher around the clock at the Emergency Operations Center.

"You have given us a Cadillac, but we would like to drive it where it is needed," said Dwayne Ludwig, president of the Carroll County Fire Chiefs' Association. "We don't want to fall behind."

There is an average of one call every 13 minutes, three times as many as there were five years ago, and it takes crews an average of about 10 minutes to get to a scene, according to the firemen's association.

While a crew is en route, the dispatcher stays on the line, giving instructions until the crew arrives.

"Somebody must be on the phone constantly," said Dell.

The firemen's association plans to buy a reserve ambulance at an estimated cost of about $25,000 -- for use by companies whose ambulance is out of service. The vehicle will also be used for training.

Officials have asked the companies to consider joint purchases of equipment to cut costs.

"It is a viable way to save money, money that can be plowed back into services," said Robert A. "Max" Bair, the commissioners' chief of staff.

To help cut costs further, the companies will undergo confidential audits for 1997 that will include a review of their 1996 financial statements. The work should be completed early next year.

"We will be looking at all revenues and expenses," said Eugene Curfman, the county comptroller and former president of the firemen's association. "We have categorized the departments by size."

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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