5 fire companies oppose master plan suggestions

Document approved, but critics say it needs more local feedback

January 13, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Although Carroll County volunteer firefighters have approved a blueprint detailing the future of emergency services, almost half of the county's 14 fire companies opposed the proposal, saying the document needs more local feedback before it's included in the county's master plan.

The 46-page Emergency Services Master Plan makes several recommendations that firefighters said would streamline decisions and enhance emergency services as the county continues to grow. While the number of Carroll households has doubled in the past two decades - as have emergency calls - the number of fire companies hasn't. The last new station created was in Winfield in 1966.

The Carroll County Volunteer Fireman's Association presented to its members a plan that held few surprises. Most of the major recommendations have been heard by Carroll County commissioners.

The association wants to consolidate the county's three organizations that represent firefighters, ambulance personnel and fire chiefs into one group. The association also wants to deal directly with county commissioners instead of going through the county's Office of Public Safety.

County officials said they haven't received the proposal. The emergency services plan was last revised in 1999.

Responding to what they say is a strain on medical services, firefighters recommended that nursing homes and assisted-living centers provide ambulance service, an idea that local senior communities have opposed. The firemen's association also recommended instituting impact fees to pay for fire and emergency services.

Acknowledging that the county's volunteer base will not be able to service the entire county, the association suggested adding five additional stations, which would feature the county's first paid firefighters.

All the firefighters in the county are volunteers. Some paramedics and engine drivers are paid.

At the association's Jan. 5 meeting, seven fire companies voted to approve the proposal: Hampstead, Manchester, Pleasant Valley, Lineboro, Union Bridge, Reese and Gamber.

Five stations opposed the plan: Mount Airy, Westminster, New Windsor, Sykesville and Winfield.

Taneytown abstained; Harney's representative was absent.

Critics said the committee members who developed the plan failed to obtain feedback from local fire department and planning officials and had no concrete timetable in which to implement the recommendations.

"They should have invited operations and administrative officers to meetings to discuss what our plans are," said Bob Cumberland, spokesman for Westminster Fire Engine & Hose Company No. 1. "They didn't go to the municipalities. Especially with us, the largest municipality, they should've gotten input from us."

Fire companies that voted against the plan said that although committee members worked hard to draft the document, they should have been more thorough, especially since they have been meeting since the spring of 2002.

Association officials closed the meetings to the public and refused to release drafts of the plan.

Fire companies opposed to the plan also questioned the plan's methodology. Some firefighters said it does not use statistical data to back up the conclusions drawn by committee members.

Committee members did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The proposal is broken down into five sections: emergency services policy, recruitment and retention, fire safety education, funding and expanding fire companies to accommodate growth.

The firemen's association said the next step to updating the public safety section of the county's master plan is a meeting with the county commissioners.

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