When Carroll County commissioners unanimously approved a plan yesterday to distribute nearly $2 million in emergency medical funds to the county's volunteer firefighters, they ended months of debate over how to spend the money.
The plan is designed to beef up round-the-clock ambulance service by giving more money to stations to hire additional personnel. It gives $190,000 each to stations that already receive county money for overnight ambulance personnel: Westminster, Sykesville, Taneytown and Manchester.
For the first time, the county also will give $190,000 each to fire companies in Mount Airy, Hampstead, Union Bridge, Reese and Winfield.
Fire companies in Pleasant Valley, Lineboro, New Windsor and Gamber would receive $58,000 each. Harney's station is the only one in the county excluded from the funds because it does not have an ambulance.
"We're pleased," said Marianne Warehime, first vice president of the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association, which represents the county's 14 volunteer companies and was responsible for drafting the plan approved yesterday. "Everyone's worked very hard for this. It's a positive step for us and for Carroll County."
The plan is the latest in a series of revisions that association members have argued about during the past six months. It was approved at the group's monthly meeting in December, but was not officially released until yesterday.
"I'm glad that we've worked over this hurdle," E. Richard Baker, the association's second vice president, told commissioners.
"The departments are thankful that they are getting the additional money. They can't be working carnivals and bingos to pay salaries," Baker said.
Commissioners also expressed optimism that the volunteer system will survive in the county.
"What's No. 1 for us is to preserve volunteer services and its sense of community as long as we can, while at the same time meeting the expectations of a growing community," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said.
Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said she is happy that the new plan calls for a standard starting salary for emergency medical technicians and paramedics - $31,112 and $27,846, respectively.
Each fire station except Harney receives $50,000 from the county to provide emergency medical services. Although all firefighters are volunteers, some fire engine drivers and paramedics are paid.
About five years ago, county commissioners agreed to give an additional $516,000 to be split evenly among four of those companies to provide 24-hour emergency medical coverage. The money pays for the salaries of a paramedic and a driver at each station. There are about 400 emergency medical technicians and 150 paramedics in the county, according to fire officials.
The latest proposal comes six months after the county commissioners approved increasing the firefighters' emergency services budget by $775,000, to $1.9 million.
The county wanted to staff more stations overnight to handle its growing population, which includes a significant number of elderly residents who, fire officials say, are straining emergency services.
Under an initial plan recommended by the association last summer, the Westminster Fire Department was shut out.
A meeting called by the association in July became heated as firefighters fought for bigger allotments for their departments.
At that meeting, the association leadership voted to give $250,000, the biggest cut of the money, to Westminster, the county's largest and busiest station.
Officials from several smaller companies argued that the plan would leave them unable to staff their departments overnight. County officials agreed and asked the association to devise a new plan.
After failing to agree on a plan at their September meeting, firefighters asked for the commissioners' advice in October on how to distribute the money. The commissioners did not offer specific advice; instead, they asked the association for a detailed breakdown of money.
The association went back to the drawing board and hammered out a plan that the county's staff recommended to the commissioners yesterday.