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Editorial: Union for paid fire, EMS personnel deserves 'seat at the table'

The future of Carroll County’s fire and emergency services may have gotten a bit murkier with the formation of a union earlier this month. About 30 to 40 members of career staff from the fire companies that dot the county voted to form the Carroll County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics on June 11. It is currently seeking to be officially recognized by the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland branch of the International Association of Firefighters.

Carroll currently has a combination system, which relies largely on volunteers, but does have paid emergency responders at 13 of the 14 fire stations. Each of those stations operates independently. Salaries of career staffers — which includes positions such as fire lieutenants, EMTs and ambulance drivers — are funded in part by Carroll County government but they are considered employees of the individual companies.

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However, with the passage of enabling legislation in Annapolis this earlier this year that gives county government the ability to exercise authority over the county’s volunteer fire services, the future isn’t immediately clear for existing career staffers. Even though the county hasn’t acted on that legislation as of yet, and county commissioners have repeatedly said it was being done to address the long-term future of fire and emergency services, the writing is on the wall that big changes are coming — eventually.

So it’s hard to blame paid staff for organizing to ensure themselves “a seat at the table,” as Max Nickey, the president of the newly organized union put it. The uncertainty that exists means those individuals could find potentially themselves without a job if the county opts to centralize county fire service.

Recognizing the realities that the volunteer system is not sustainable over the long haul, we supported the enabling legislation and giving the county government the authority to address the future of the fire service. We still believe that is the way forward, with a volunteer service supplemented by paid personnel who could be shared among the 14 stations as the need arises.

However, we also think it’s important that, when that move does happen, those who have been working for the individual companies are given a fair opportunity at those jobs. We also hope that they will be compensated fairly. After all, we’ve already seen how salaries affect teachers, sheriff’s deputies and other county employees when it comes to turnover and moving to greener pastures. This is already a problem among paid staff at Carroll’s fire companies.

To this point, it seems, there has been little communication among the union, the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association (the umbrella organization for volunteers), and the newly formed union. Moving forward, it’s vital that these groups are talking to each other about what the future holds and how it will affect everyone involved.

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