Fire and rescue issues aired

April 10, 1997


Staff Writer

WILLIAMSPORT - Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association leaders held a forum Wednesday to answer the most frequently asked questions, from why a fire tax is needed to what the training requirements are for volunteer firefighters and rescue workers.

The forum, which was taped, will air four times on a government-access cable channel, said association President Jay Grimes.

Grimes said the association is pushing for a fire tax because not enough people voluntarily give money to their local fire and rescue companies. He estimated 35 percent of Washington County homes contribute during fund drives.

"Yes, we need help. But we're not trying to run people out of the county with high taxes," he said. "If we had 100 percent (contribution), our job would be much easier."


Grimes and other panelists addressed questions about training and equipment standards. He said fire equipment is fairly standardized among the different fire companies, but he said differences between urban and rural areas of the county require some variations.

Grimes also said Washington County's training requirements were among the stiffest in Maryland.

"If they go any higher, we're not going to have paid or volunteer firefighters," he said. "Our standards are so high here, it is very difficult to be a volunteer firefighter in this county."

Brigitte Heller, chairwoman of the association's emergency medical services committee, said training requirements are high for rescue workers as well. Basic emergency medical technicians must complete 110 hours of training and continuing education for three years, she said. Medics require 200 hours and paramedics need 600 hours, she added.

"We already meet and exceed state standards," Heller said.

One of the biggest challenges facing fire and rescue departments in Washington County is staffing shortages during daytime hours, Grimes said. It is difficult to get volunteers during times when most people are working.

While some have suggested paying backup drivers during these times, Grimes said money is an obstacle.

"That's all well and good," he said. "But it comes back to the same thing: Who pays for the people to back these people up?"

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