Union Bridge firefighters' funds boosted

Revised share of county's allocation is $190,000

Approved in closed-door meeting

Change meant to enhance night ambulance service

Carroll County

December 19, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Volunteer firefighters in Union Bridge are the biggest winners in a reworked proposal to distribute nearly $2 million in county money for emergency medical services to Carroll's volunteer fire departments, according to a breakdown of the plan obtained by The Sun.

Union Bridge Volunteer Fire Company is to get $190,000 -- $130,000 more than it would have in the original plan -- according to the documents.

The most recent plan, designed to beef up round-the-clock ambulance service in the county, was approved at a closed-door meeting this month by the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association, which has refused to release details of its proposal.

The document was said by a firefighters association source to reflect the plan that was approved at the closed-door meeting Dec. 1. An official with the Union Bridge company confirmed the increased amount that his department is to receive under the proposal, which must be approved by the county commissioners.

The increase for the Union Bridge company, whose officials had said they might have to shut down their overnight ambulance service if they didn't get more money, was offset by relatively small decreases in the allotments to other fire companies.

Attempts to obtain comment from Thomas J. Van de Bussche, president of the firefighters association, were unsuccessful.

The latest proposal comes six months after the county commissioners approved increasing the firefighters' emergency services budget by $775,000, to $1.9 million. The county wanted to staff more stations overnight to handle its growing population, including a significant number of elderly residents who fire companies say are straining emergency services.

Under an initial plan recommended by a committee of the firemen's association for the distribution of the additional money, the Westminster fire company was shut out. A meeting called by the association in July became heated, as firefighters fought for bigger allotments for their departments. At that meeting, the association leadership voted to give $250,000, the biggest cut of the money, to Westminster, the county's largest and busiest station.

Officials from several smaller companies argued that 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.

The revised plan reduced the amount for the companies in Westminster and Sykesville while increasing the allotments to companies in Union Bridge and New Windsor. After failing to come to an agreement at their September meeting, firefighters asked for the commissioners' advice in October on how to distribute the money. The commissioners did not offer specific advice, instead asking the association for a detailed breakdown of money.

Although this year's county budget provides the volunteer firefighters with $6.5 million, fire association officials demanded that reporters leave the room when the distribution of money for emergency medical services was addressed at the group's meeting this month.

Van de Bussche said the day after the meeting that he would not reveal details of the latest plan until the commissioners had approved it. No such meeting has been scheduled.

Firemen's association meetings -- including discussions of the money distribution issue and votes taken at the meetings in July and September -- have been open to the news media.

The Union Bridge fire company would receive the same amount of funding as fire stations in Mount Airy, Hampstead, Westminster, Manchester, Taneytown, Reese, Sykesville and Winfield.

Stations in Pleasant Valley, Lineboro, New Windsor and Gamber would receive $58,000 each. The fire company in Harney, because it does not have an ambulance, is the only one in the county excluded from the funds.

Union Bridge fire department officials said they consider the breakdown was fair.

"We were in dire straits, and we were strongly in danger of being forced to reduce the coverage," said Louis Jordan, a spokesman for the Union Bridge fire company. "What some people don't realize is how difficult it is to operate a volunteer organization. In the past, people had more spare time."

He said the department does not have enough volunteers to staff the overnight ambulance shift.

The latest plan also calls for establishing a countywide standard starting salary for medical personnel of $31,112 and $27,846 for the two levels of ambulance workers who respond to emergency calls.

Under the plan, stations in Mount Airy, Hampstead, Union Bridge, Reese and Winfield would for the first time receive county money for round-the-clock emergency services

Each fire station except Harney receives $50,000 from the county to provide emergency medical services. Although all firefighters are volunteers, some fire engine drivers and paramedics are paid.

About five years ago, county commissioners agreed to give an additional $516,000 to be split evenly among four of those companies to provide 24-hour emergency medical coverage. The money pays for the salaries of a paramedic and driver at each station.

About 400 emergency medical technicians and 150 paramedics are in the county, said Elizabeth Luebberman, a paramedic who is president of the Carroll County Volunteer Ambulance Association.

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