Harford panel looking for ways to recruit, retain volunteer firefighters

Members of Harford County's Public Safety Commission are reviewing how the county could encourage firefighters to join – and stay on – the county's all-volunteer force.

Although recruitment and retention have long been concerns for the county's 12 fire and emergency medical service companies, commission chairman Steve Gamatoria said during a Thursday meeting of the commission in Aberdeen that it is especially a challenge for stations outside the three municipalities, such as Darlington.

Gamatoria said one of the commission's subcommittees just picked up the review of possible incentives for firefighters and hopes to eventually bring suggestions back to county government, in time for the next budget cycle in 2014.

Gamatoria noted there is a "huge cost" to doing such incentives.

Local governments often give property tax breaks. The City of Havre de Grace is giving a $500 property tax break to firefighters with the Susquehanna Hose Company, of which Gamatoria is a member.

The county also offers pension incentives, he said, but stations outside the cities and towns "don't have the luxury" of tax breaks or financial incentives.

Gamatoria said the commission is looking at what "little things" the county could do and how it could be funded. He said the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association approached the commission with the idea.

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