Fire and rescue issues discussed at meeting

January 05, 1997


Staff Writer

CLEAR SPRING - It's only a first step.

But Washington County fire and rescue volunteers and county officials are optimistic that a four-hour meeting Sunday afternoon will help solve problems that have plagued county fire and rescue services for years.

"I think everyone has learned a little bit today," Washington County Commission President Gregory I. Snook said at the end of the meeting. "A lot of new ideas, a lot of different ideas came out of these sessions today."

The purpose of the special meeting was to find out what problems the different volunteer companies are facing in order to come up with a unified approach to solving them, said Washington County Fire and Rescue Association President Jay Grimes.


Grimes said he brought in facilitator R. Wayne Powell, of the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md., to run the meeting because he wanted someone "from outside."

The Washington County Board of Commissioners and the county's Emergency Services Commission were invited to join association members in identifying problems and possible solutions, Grimes said.

Seeing four of the five County Commissioners, County Administrator Rod Shoop, several members of the appointed Emergency Services Commission and more than 100 association members attend was encouraging since it proved their concern, he said.

During the meeting, Powell broke the large group into smaller groups for two "brainstorming" sessions, the first to identify problems and the second to propose solutions.

Though the specifics varied, all of the groups shared concerns about funding, staffing and communication.

Among their proposals were:

  • institute a countywide fire tax.
  • create additional revenue sources, like charges tacked onto property transfers, vehicle registration or traffic citations.
  • increase gaming proceeds.
  • look at a countywide standards for emergency services and how they're enforced.
  • establish a fire board.
  • refine the role of the county's fire and rescue coordinator.
  • have paid personnel supplied by the county to fill staffing gaps in the volunteer companies.
  • either create a centralized training facility or seek an agreement between Washington County and the City of Hagerstown to use the city's training facility.
  • institute an incentive program for volunteers.
  • lower training requirements.
  • set up a purchase order system through the county to increase accountability for expenses.
  • set up a centralized purchasing and maintenance system.
  • survey "customers" about their expectations for emergency services.
  • educate the public about the volunteer companies' needs and fund-raising efforts.
  • cultivate future volunteers through programs in the schools.
  • improve mutual aid relationships through more organized training and combined social functions.
  • stop duplication of services.
  • improve community relations.
  • improve communication within companies, within the association and between volunteer companies/the association and county government.
  • follow up the initial meeting with additional sessions after all the departments have a chance to digest the information gathered.

Grimes said he'd set up as many meetings as needed to work through the problem-solving process and come up with a unified plan for the future of the county's fire and rescue services.

While Sunday's meeting was a step forward, it's important that it be followed up by clearly defining goals for fire and rescue services and a plan for the future, including ways to fund the services, Snook said.

To avoid miscommunication, Snook said he intended to keep open communication lines between the County Commission and the association.

"We need to work together and not air out our dirty laundry," Snook said.

County Commissioners R. Lee Downey, Ronald L. Bowers and James Wade also attended the meeting. Commissioner John S. Shank said he didn't attend the meeting because he was recovering from a cold and had a previous time commitment.

Paramedic Jennifer Horn, a member of Williamsport Ambulance Service, said she was encouraged by the County Commissioners' participation in the meeting.

"There was a communication problem with them," Horn said. "Maybe they're going to start listening to our problems, understanding what our needs are."

The public also needs a better understanding of how the volunteers companies operate, she said.

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