Planning commission approves master plan for emergency services

County will continue to fund 90 percent of fire companies' budget

May 19, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

The county planning commission approved yesterday a revised Emergency Services Master Plan that calls for continued funding of services at current levels, improved recruitment and retention of volunteers and enhanced public education.

The plan, which had not been revised since 1981, was presented to the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission by Oscar Baker, chairman of the Emergency Services Master Plan Update Committee, and Robert P. Cumberland Jr., president of the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association.

"It's essential that the county continue to fund 90 percent of the operating budgets for 14 volunteer fire companies," Baker said. "That doesn't cover the cost of fire engines, or a new ambulance which Mount Airy recently bought for $82,000.

"Providing emergency services is a costly business. A new ladder truck can cost $1.2 million or more," he said.

Firemen's association figures for fiscal 1998, the most recent available, show that fire and emergency services cost $3.2 million.

The 51-page final draft of the plan noted the county's population has increased from about 98,000 to 150,000 since Carroll's 1981 plan earned a Maryland Association of Counties award.

As a result, responses to calls for service -- fire and ambulance -- have increased, rising from more than 7,000 annually in 1979 to 15,526 last year. That total included 4,554 fire calls and 10,972 emergency medical service calls, according to association statistics.

While the needs of the community have increased, recruitment and retention of young volunteer fire company members has diminished, becoming increasing difficult, Cumberland said.

"We get young members, boys and girls, and provide costly training over two or three years, only to see many of them reach the age of 21 or 22, get married, and move on," he said.

Efforts will be made to get schools more involved in promoting public service, he said.

Another way to retain membership, Baker said, is to enhance the Length of Service Awards Program. The program pays $100 a month for life to active association members age 60 and older who have 25 years of continuing service and earned a required number of service points for attending meetings and training, responding to fire calls or helping with fund-raising activities.

Cumberland said he was hopeful additional incentives would help keep members around longer. Lowering the eligibility age to 55 and increasing the benefit to those who remain active for 30 or 35 years might help with retention, he said.

The third main focus of the master plan calls for improving public safety education.

"We'd like to see more use of the Carroll County cable television to increase teaching public safety," Cumberland said.

Other educational tools to enhance public safety would include better use of county Web pages and enlisting schools to take field trips to fire stations and the fire training center.

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