The fire service has long been misunderstood and is often hard to translate for anyone not directly involved.
The move to hire a paid county chief and create a “fully-funded” system was recently described [in a letter to the editor] as an “unacceptable power grab,” “financially irresponsible,” and as something that “goes against our community-focused way of life.”
In reality, these initiatives were anything but. They are a grassroots movement by the volunteer fire corporations to create a centralized fire rescue system to address serious concerns and set the foundation of sustainability of the service for the citizens of Carroll County.
This is not a transition away from our volunteer fire departments but a crucial evolution in partnership between fire/rescue stakeholders.
The Carroll County fire/rescue service is not a completely volunteer system. Fire companies in Carroll County have employed career staffing at varying levels since 1926 and now operate a combination volunteer/career service.
Career staffing responds to the overwhelming majority of medical calls in Carroll County with some volunteer involvement as well as supplemental volunteer staffing on fire responses in a quickly growing proportion.
Decline in volunteerism has been felt nationally with national news coverage outlining this “crisis.” Carroll County has been impacted just the same, necessitating increases in career staffing. The individual fire companies hire career staff with support of limited county funding, to cover fire/EMS needs.
What Carroll does not have at this time is a centralized ability to address daily staffing and operational needs between departments, reduce redundancies, ensure accountability of station response rates/performance, and manage fiscal constraints on otherwise remedial issues; never mind an ability to offer quality employees competitive wages and benefits to retain experienced and educated professionals in our ranks.
Maryland's move to raise the minimum wage will outrun the hourly rate of some of those individuals in Carroll County who provide fire and EMS services on a daily basis. They deserve far better.
Times are changing. Funding in the form of traditional fundraising and donations has decreased while operational costs have exploded. The sheer fortune necessary to buy updated fire apparatus, medic units, rescue tools, thermal imagers, medical supplies, etc. are a formidable cost necessary to providing the services to save you or your family from a medical emergency, vehicle collision, or fire.
These expenditures are not completely supported by those smaller funding channels and county funds have held our fire companies above water for years, but more help is needed.
Because our current county fire companies will remain key stakeholders in the fire/rescue system and maintain financial responsibility for their capital assets; the fire companies will continue their fundraising efforts at the base level and not look to be “fully-funded” by the county. Nonetheless, significant support by the commissioners and citizenry will still be necessary to facilitate the appropriate level of services rightfully expected and due to those who reside in Carroll County.
In the end, the moves made by the Carroll County Board of County Commissioners are ones that will work toward ensuring that a fire engine or medic unit will arrive at your home when you call 9-1-1 for years to come.
The commissioners should be commended for taking these issues seriously and listening to the petitions made by the volunteer fire companies. Their pleas for help should be authorization enough for dramatic changes in the structure of our fire/EMS service, as they know it best. It would be wrong to think that the business of the fire service of Carroll's yesteryear is sustainable for the future.
To close, one might adjust the old adage “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” to say “if it’s breaking, fix it before it breaks completely.”