As Carroll County commissioners work through the fiscal 2023 county budget, they tentatively decided Tuesday to set aside $2.3 million for a plan to staff the county’s new combination Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, pending budget adoption May 24.
Michael Karolenko, president of the Carroll County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics, said commissioners “made a historic investment in public safety.”
The commissioners’ decision to choose set aside money for a fire and EMS staffing plan is “ultimately a positive step forward” and gives struggling companies the ability to move forward in earnest, Karolenko said.
County commissioners first combined fire and EMS departments in October 2020. For the past 2½ years, staff has been working to develop and figure out funding for it and recently commissioners have been deciding which staffing plan from six presented would be best.
Director Michael Robinson told commissioners that the county’s fire and EMS needs are sometimes not being met due to inconsistent staffing levels.
At Tuesday’s budget work session, Robinson said the county, at a minimum, needs 234 fire and EMS employees to make the system run efficiently.
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, a Republican representing District 1, asked Robinson what he needs in order to begin hiring staff.
“First of all, we need to advertise” the positions, Robinson said. “The sooner we get that job announcement out, the better.”
The director said he is getting ready to hire two “highly qualified” people, both of whom will be able to help him finish writing policies for the department.
“He needs help, and he needs it now,” Wantz said of Robinson. “I think we should get these people on board yesterday.”
Commissioners asked the county’s Human Resources Department to bring new hires onboard by April 28, if possible.
Robinson said once the hires are official, the department can begin the process of advertising more positions.
“We’re not running an academy,” Robinson said. “These are people who are prequalified.”
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, a Republican representing District 3, asked for a more specific timeline of when fire and EMS can actually plan to expand staffing.
“My estimate is no earlier than August,” Robinson replied.
Candidates would have to complete a background check, physical exam, written exam and psychological exam as part of the hiring process. The entire process would likely take about two months from when the applicant takes the written exam.
“If you start in September, how many people can you onboard in the first six months?” Frazier asked.
The director confirmed he could likely hire 90 people within that time.
Frazier asked HR Director Kim Frock if by September everything would be in place to start hiring more staff.
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“Hopefully,” she said, adding she believes it’s doable if fire and EMS leaders provide all the necessary resources.
Commissioners tentatively chose to include an amended version of Staffing Plan D – one of the six plans put forth – in the budget, moving Year Four expenses up to Year Three in an effort to bring on more employees faster.
“This gets 90 people on board the first year and everyone will be on board at the end of 2023,” Frazier said.
Staffing Plan D over the next several years addresses three of five high-volume regions in the county, allows for flexible deployment and coverage, provides advanced life support “chase car” coverage countywide and includes four floaters to allow additional units to be place in-service daily.
The proposed fiscal 2023 budget is scheduled to be released April 26. Ted Zaleski, director of budget and management, will then hold a series of community meetings at public library branches to review and explain the proposed budget.
As of Friday, meetings are scheduled for April 27 at the Eldersburg branch; April 28 at the Mount Airy branch; May 2 at the Westminster branch; May 3 at the Taneytown branch; and May 9 at the North Carroll branch.
All meetings begin at 7 p.m. A virtual public hearing on the budget is scheduled at 7 p.m. on May 10. More information on viewing and participating in the public hearing will be provided closer to the date.