Firefighters analyze services for the future

County commissioners view plan as `great base'

March 03, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County commissioners said a blueprint presented to them yesterday outlining the future of emergency services is a promising foundation.

"This is a comprehensive analysis and serves as a great base," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said at a meeting with two representatives from the Carroll County Volunteer Fireman's Association.

County Chief of Staff Steven D. Powell said that the firefighters' plan will be considered as a resource in updating the public safety section of the county's master plan this summer. The association put together a committee to draft a revised emergency services master plan that had not been updated since 1999.

The 46-page Emergency Services Master Plan makes several recommendations that firefighters said would 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 association suggested adding five additional stations, which would feature the county's first paid firefighters. All county firefighters are volunteers, although some paramedics and engine drivers are paid.

At least one of the plan's major recommendations is on its way to becoming a reality: the consolidation of 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 Office of Public Safety.

Firefighters said they also must address the strain on medical services caused by the influx of elderly residents to the county.

"At the time of the last master plan we were a resident community and now we're more of a retirement community," said Michael Stewart, chairman of the committee that drafted the emergency services plan.

The plan recommends that nursing homes and assisted-living centers provide ambulance service, an idea that local senior communities have opposed. The fireman's association also recommended instituting impact fees to pay for fire and emergency services, although attempts to introduce a transfer tax dedicated to those services recently failed.

Firefighters also made recommendations to retain volunteer members, while also proposing programs to attract the younger generation.

Five of the county's 14 fire companies have opposed the emergency services plan, saying the document needs more local feedback before it is included in the county's master plan. At the association's meeting Jan. 5, seven fire companies voted to approve the proposal: Hampstead, Manchester, Pleasant Valley, Lineboro, Union Bridge, Reese and Gamber.

The five stations opposing the plan were Mount Airy, Westminster, New Windsor, Sykesville and Winfield. Taneytown abstained, and 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.

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