Representatives of Carroll's volunteer fire companies voted Tuesday night to give Westminster, the county's largest and busiest station, the biggest cut of a $1.9 million allocation for ambulance services.
Effective with the next distribution of quarterly checks in October, Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Company No. 1, which was shut out in an earlier proposal, will receive $250,000 to hire more ambulance personnel. Fire officials hope the influx of money will allow more 911 responders to be on call through the middle of the night.
Concerned that the county's growing population - including many elderly residents - might be difficult to serve with four stations staffed around the clock with emergency medical personnel, firefighters appealed to the county for more money to expand emergency service coverage.
The county gave the firefighters an additional $775,000, increasing the budget for emergency services to $1.9 million, and left it to the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association to decide how to distribute it.
The total budget for county firefighters is $6.5 million, including the $1.9 million for emergency services.
About 60 representatives from the county's 14 companies met at Westminster's John Street station and decided to allocate $195,000 to each of the top eight companies in terms of call volume and geographic range.
The Sykesville department, the second-busiest, received an additional $25,000. And Westminster received an additional $55,000.
Earlier, a committee of the volunteer firemen's association recommended that the Westminster company receive none of the additional county money, saying that other departments showed a greater need.
The Westminster department's representatives argued that they deserved more money because they respond to more emergency calls.
Under the proposal that was approved by a vote of 8-5, with the Harney company abstaining, departments from Mount Airy, Hampstead, Winfield, Taneytown, Manchester and Reese received $195,000 each.
The remaining five companies - with the exception of Harney, which doesn't have ambulance services - will receive $60,000 each. They are Gamber, Pleasant Valley, New Windsor, Union Bridge and Lineboro.
Although the companies reached an agreement on how to distribute the extra money this year, the head of the firemen's association said they would probably be back next year fighting the same fight.
"We've moved forward for this year, only on the distribution of money, but I don't feel we have a real long-term solution," said Thomas J. Van de Bussche, president of the association. "Everybody's territorial at this point and really protecting their turf."
That competitive streak surfaced several times through the two-hour session, with chiefs from different companies voicing strong opinions on why their stations deserved more money.
Firefighters said that they need additional funding to compete with other departments, which offer higher salaries.
The Westminster, Winfield and Sykesville companies presented three proposals of varying distributions that met with opposition from the rest of the group.
"What you're proposing is total funding for your second medic unit, while we're struggling to get our first out," said Joe Spangler Sr., president of Reese & Community Volunteer Fire Company.
"If we were able to fill the second unit, those other companies wouldn't have to respond," said Kevin Utz, chief of Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Company No. 1. "Money is the only way to solve the problem."
Figures compiled by Winfield Fire Department, which did its research, showed that Westminster handled 1,634 calls for the first six months of this year, while Sykesville responded to 865 calls during the period.
The sniping was so intense at one point that Van de Bussche appealed to the firefighters to rise above comments they perceived to be offensive.
"We're not going to walk out of here with a perfect solution," he said. "No one's going to walk out of here 100 percent happy. But if we don't get above that kind of stuff we're killing ourselves."
About 400 emergency medical technicians and 150 paramedics are in the county, said Elizabeth Luebberman, a paramedic who is president of the Carroll County Volunteer Ambulance Association.
Each fire station except the smallest, Harney, receives $50,000 from the county to provide emergency medical services, Van de Bussche said. Although all firefighters are volunteers, some fire engine drivers and paramedics are paid.
About five years ago, the county commissioners agreed to give an additional $516,000 to split evenly among four of those companies - Westminster, Taneytown, Sykesville and Manchester - to provide 24-hour emergency medical coverage, he said.
The money pays for the salaries of a paramedic and driver at each station.
Most companies go beyond the county's funds and dip into their fund-raising profits to supplement emergency medical services.
The firemen's association's initial proposal gave $200,000 to four companies: Mount Airy, Hampstead, Reese and Union Bridge.
The remaining stations would have received $68,000 each.
Union Bridge suffered the most under the change in proposals, from possibly reaping $150,000 more than the $50,000 they receive from the county, to gaining only $10,000 more. C. Douglas Bostian, a former firemen's association president, said that the vote will cost residents coverage.
"After Monday, we'll go back to eight-hour days," Bostian said before the votes were cast. "We've paid for 24-hour coverage out of our own pocket for two years, and we can't do it anymore. We'll go to part-time coverage if we can get it, and none at night. I want you to think about that before you vote."
Union Bridge voted against the proposal. Other stations - the closest or next available - will have to respond to calls that Union Bridge cannot take.
"Somewhere along the line, you have to realize that you can't run down every call that goes to your station," Van de Bussche said afterward. "We're in a state of transition where we're still trying to be 100 percent volunteer, but the demands of a growing population is putting pressure on us to meet their needs."