In an emergency

Harford County editorial

August 16, 2011|By EDITORIAL FROM THE AEGIS

The Harford County Board of Estimates voted last week to approve spending in excess of $2.3 million for a new fire station to be built for the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Co. near the intersection of Route 924 and Patterson Mill Road.

Given the reality that Havre de Grace is home to five fire stations plus an emergency ambulance headquarters, greater Aberdeen has a similar number of fire houses and the fire stations in Darlington and Dublin aren't all that far apart, the absence of a fire station in the heart of the Route 24 corridor between Bel Air and I-95 is a bit of a mystery.

The strange situation of having no building for emergency equipment in the heart of one of the county's most densely populated areas — though there are stations on its edges in Abingdon and Bel Air — is a public safety oversight that's finally about to be addressed.

Perhaps because the county is providing the money provides some insight into the reason no fire station has been built in the part of the Bel Air area known as Emmorton. 

Going back to the era when most of the fire stations in Harford County were built, the volunteer fire service depended to a large degree on community support and fundraisers.

By the mid-1980s when development of new communities in the Route 24 Corridor was at its height, the ambulance portion of the volunteer fire and ambulance service also was becoming a substantial burden. The number of ambulance calls was, and remains, substantially greater than the number of fire calls, particularly in this part of Harford County.

In addition, the level of training required of ambulance personnel is more comparable to that of a doctor than of a Boy or Girl Scout with rudimentary first aid certification. In short, volunteers had a lot less time to worry about fundraisers and new buildings because of the increased demands.

Increasingly, the county and state governments have stepped in to provide both direct funding and funding mechanisms that have allowed volunteer fire and ambulance staffs to focus on emergencies and to do more planning to meet growing community needs.

At Patterson Mill, those efforts should translate into a new emergency services station in the heart of a heavily populated area, which is a good thing from just about any perspective.

The financial circumstance of the fire house being built with tax money, instead of old-time firehouse fundraisers, is a situation that isn't going to change. And, the reality that the local volunteer emergency services system increasingly relies on paid responders further complicates the situation.

It would be foolish to presume we could return to the days when firefighters lifted injured people into ambulances that were little more than makeshift station wagons or the times when local fire companies could rely on carnivals to cover the cost of the services they provide.

Emergency medical services are just too complex, and too costly, for yesterday's methods of operating.

To its credit, the volunteer fire service rose to the challenge of providing first rate modern ambulance services to Harford County. Now it must rise to the challenge of continuing to ensure fire and ambulance service to a county that is mostly suburban, not rural.

To date, the result has been mixed. There's coverage, but strictly speaking it's not volunteer when the volunteer fire company is paying the ambulance crew.

Fortunately, at least, the oversight of not having a fire station in one of the most heavily populated area of the county is about to be overcome. Perhaps the other incongruities in Harford's fire and EMS system will be addressed next.

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