Two members of the Savage Volunteer Fire Department have formed a political action committee in hopes of influencing local candidates in the 1994 election.
"We need to be the voice of the taxpayers," said Douglas A. Levy, founder and chairman of Howard County Citizens For Improved Response Efficiency. "There is a real push by other interests in the fire service to expand costs" by moving from a volunteer service to a career service.
Some people in the career fire service want to do away with volunteer companies, Mr. Levy said.
"In the last 10 years, personnel costs have tripled, and that's not a good value for the dollar," Mr. Levy said. Salaries now account for about 73 percent of the operating budget and have grown from $3 million a decade ago to $10 million today, he said.
The current system of combining volunteers with career firefighters provides "the best fire service the county can offer," Mr. Levy said, "but we need long-term assurances [from elected officials] that it will continue. The combination system is vary fragile. There are [career] people within the system working to make it fall apart."
If the county fire administrator were given authority to make tough decisions, volunteers would fare better, Mr. Levy said.
The fire administrator "needs to be willing not to make everyone happy," he said.
"Volunteers need to be wanted, need to feel they are making a contribution," said Alan Conway, treasurer of the new PAC. "If they're not wanted, they'll go elsewhere," he said.
"We want to make sure they are getting both sides," Mr. Levy said. "We want to be heavily involved in [local] elections -- and not just with money. We'll be happy if the candidates know the issues that concern residents. We just want a level playing field."
Mr. Levy and Mr. Conway have begun slowly, forming the PAC with just four members.
They plan a membership drive among the 400 volunteers and their families shortly.
"Even if there are 50 of us, that will be enough to make a difference," Mr. Levy said.
"Many [volunteers] are active in the community already. This is an effort to channel that energy in the same direction. I don't think it will be difficult to turn that into a solidly viable force."
The initial fund-raising goal is $2,000 to $3,000, Mr. Levy said, adding, "We hope to double that by the '94 election." Membership in the PAC costs $25.
Although the PAC could contribute directly to candidates, a more likely use of the money would be to print material endorsing candidates.
PAC members would also staff phone banks and work the polls.
The PAC was accepted by the election board Feb. 12.
The PAC letterhead plays down the words "Howard County Citizens" and emphasizes the words "For Improved Response Efficiency" to create the acronym FIRE.