Officials advise firemen on plan

$1.9 million to support 24-hour EMS coverage

Stations divided over allotments

Commissioners say draft is a good starting point

Carroll County

October 03, 2003|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The Carroll commissioners and volunteer fire officials agreed yesterday that they're "in the same ballpark" on plans to provide 24-hour emergency medical services to the entire county.

But firefighters must agree among themselves how to distribute county money for those services, the commissioners said.

The firefighters asked for the commissioners' advice on how to distribute $1.9 million after failing to agree on a plan at a meeting of the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association last month.

"We've had a lot of hard meetings in the association over this topic, and we're just at the point where we need a little more guidance," said Thomas J. Van de Bussche, president of the volunteer firefighters.

But the commissioners balked at offering specific advice. "If the commissioners get involved with much more than generalities, we'll get into the weeds," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich.

County officials agreed, however, to schedule work sessions with the firefighters to help them hash out a plan. They also said a draft plan from the firefighters looked like a good starting point.

"Generally. We're headed in the direction we need to go," Minnich said.

Van de Bussche emphasized that the plan he gave the commissioners yesterday does not represent an official proposal from the firefighters. He called the document "an example" of how the firefighters want to spend their money. The plan included a breakdown of money distribution identical to one firefighters refused to vote on at their meeting Sept. 9.

The plan is designed to provide better overnight ambulance coverage by allowing more stations to provide more services. Under the previous plan, Van de Bussche said, someone needing assistance might not receive it from the closest station - the call might be handled by volunteers from another area of the county.

The commissioners included in this year's $6.5 million fire and ambulance budget an additional $775,000 for emergency services, increasing that portion of the budget to $1.9 million. Under an initial plan for distributing the $1.9 million, recommended by a committee of the firemen's association, the Westminster station was shut out of additional money.

But officials from the Westminster company argued that they deserved more money because they respond to more calls than any other company in the county. During a heated meeting in July, firefighters voted to allocate $195,000 more to each of the top eight companies by call volume and geographic range, meaning Westminster would receive $250,000 and Sykesville would receive $225,000.

The July vote was supposed to settle the matter but did not. Officials from several smaller companies said the plan would leave them unable to staff their departments overnight. County officials agreed and asked the firemen's association to devise a new plan.

Under that plan, the Westminster department's allocation would be $202,000 and the Sykesville company's would be $195,000. Departments in Mount Airy, Hampstead, Manchester, Taneytown, Reese and Winfield also would receive $195,000 each - the cost of one paramedic and one driver for a 24-hour shift for a year.

Union Bridge and New Windsor would split $195,000. Gamber, Lineboro and Pleasant Valley each would receive $60,000.

Under the draft plan, the county also would add five stations staffed by full-time, paid employees by 2012. Now, all county firefighters are volunteers, although some fire engine drivers and paramedics are paid. The commissioners and firefighters agreed that adding paid stations would be a difficult step for many volunteers, who take pride in their self-sufficiency.

"I know that hurts," Minnich said.

"There was a lot of pain putting that on a piece of paper," Van de Bussche replied.

The firemen's association is scheduled to discuss the plan further at its meeting Monday night. Fire officials and county leaders agreed that they do not want debate over the issue to linger the rest of the year.

"Did we make progress today?" Minnich asked at the end of the meeting.

""I think so," Van de Bussche said.

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