After almost losing the $300,000 given for a one-time retention and recruitment fund last year, the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association gave a plan to disburse the funds another go.
But the Board of Carroll County Commissioners said Aug. 9 they wanted to submit it for legal review before officially approving it.
CCVESA President Don Fair said Thursday afternoon that there were many reasons why the plan didn’t get off the ground last year, but that once he became the organization’s president in May, he promised to get it up and running within the 60-day extension period commissioners gave in June.
“This is a document that wasn’t drawn by any one person, but the entire association,” Fair said to commissioners on Thursday. “It makes me proud to know we could all pull together in a united front and bring this to you.
“We’ve broken down most of the disbursement areas as finitely as we could,” he said. “We wanted to have accountability — that's what’s most important, that we can report back to you the progress and success of this program.”
The plan proposes offering tuition assistance for active members attending accredited colleges or universities, vocational or business schools, and professional or technical institutes based on the length of their volunteer service.
Also included in the plan are meal reimbursements for evening shifts and gift cards for the 10 top monthly responders at each of the 14 volunteer departments across Carroll County —as well as for volunteers that take on leadership, administrative and operational roles.
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said he was worried about how the companies would keep track of the higher education reimbursements and check volunteer performance.
“A lot of my questions had to do with how that was going to be disbursed in the proper manner based on the parameters you set up,” said Wantz, himself a volunteer at the Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Company. “First of all, it seems like the biggest thing you're attempting to do here, Don, is the college or higher education reimbursement. Most of it is dependent on that.
“Did you do any type of a survey to see just how many people this would affect, the higher education reimbursement?” he asked. “Because I would suspect that, I don’t know, that the 30-year-old volunteer with two kids at home probably isn’t furthering education in any way.”
Fair said that is not necessarily the case.
Yes, he said, much of the plan is focused on higher education — but there are as many avenues of higher education taken into account as the companies could manage.
Fair told the Times in a separate interview that in today’s world, not making assistance for higher education available isn’t viable — because going to college is necessary for many to compete in the work force.
“So if that's the target, for the young people to be interested in the fire service, then we are going to look at that,” he said, “and we have many many young volunteers who are in college or getting ready to go to college, and our goal is to have them receive some reimbursement [and then] for whenever they’re home to respond to calls. That's the goal.
“They come home, and where do they migrate to?” he said. “They migrate to the firehouse. That’s what we want to maintain, and hopefully this program will give that incentive and that will continue to happen.”
Doug Alexander, a member of the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company and Maryland State Firemen’s Association Board of Trustees, said at Thursday’s meeting he agreed a focus on young people is essential.
“I want to keep those young guys coming in,” Alexander said, “so there’s some young guys driving that fire truck out the door.
“I think we want to try to get those younger members involved so that they will stay involved,” he said, “and hopefully these things that have been brought up — which I think are quite good — might help get this started.”
Also at the meeting was Rick Baker, another Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company member.
“We have six people who are going to college in the fall in the Mount Airy department,” Baker said. “Two of them are recent… grads and one is going to the paramedic program in Carroll. When I showed her what we were presenting, she was very excited about what might be happening with that. We have one person who’s going to James Madison University; she likes the fact that there’s some additional money that’s going to be there for this.
“Doug is absolutely correct when we talk [about being] worried about 18-, 16-, 20-year-olds just starting their fire career, to give them a little something else. I hear what these guys are struggling with trying to make ends meet. It makes an impact on them… If it’s not going to work, we don’t have to do it next year.”
Wantz said that although it sounded like a good idea, he was just worried about how all of the paperwork would get done.
“So how confident are we, Don, that there are folks in place at the 14 [companies] that will consistently put these reports in?” he asked. “Have the 14 fire companies already said, ‘OK, this is the person?’ Have we gotten to that point yet?”
Fair said he was certain they could make it work.
“Our 14 member companies are ready to go as far as accepting this program,” he said after the meeting. “They want to benefit their people, and I’ve been very outspoken about it at our company meetings.
“I'm the cheerleader saying this is available,” he said. “If we can make this work, we can take advantage of it and get some relief for our cost of being volunteers.”
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The plan is now under legal review and if it is accepted, Fair said he hopes it can be implemented as soon as Sept. 1.