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Extended fire service considered

May 28, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - To ensure Berkeley County gets complete fire and ambulance coverage, the Berkeley County Commission and Martinsburg City Council are considering extending the Martinsburg Fire Department's service area.

At a meeting with the commission Wednesday night, the council said it will consider a joint venture after the commission makes a formal proposal.

"Our volunteers have provided a tremendous service to our county for years, but due to logistics, some areas aren't getting the fire protection," said Mayor Earnest Sparks.

Commission President James Smith said volunteers have been invaluable to the community, but they are volunteers with full-time jobs, families and other commitments.

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"Our system has a 30 percent scratch record," Smith explained. "That means if a call comes into my station and I'm not manned, it takes five minutes to go to the next station."

Martinsburg Fire Chief Phil Martin said the department stopped running fire calls outside the city limits in 1988 because of expenses. Any proposal from the county for extended fire services will likely include funding to add 28 paid full-time firefighters to the departments.

"One of the issues is hiring," Martin said. "There will probably be a need for an expanded department because there's an expanded territory."

The station has the equipment to begin covering a wider area, he said.

"With a growing community and all the traffic on I-81, we can't afford to not have one of the best and most responsive possible fire services," Smith said.

Commissioners said a written proposal won't be submitted anytime soon. The proposed project is still in its infancy and discussions will be ongoing.

"This is a big project," said Commissioner Robert Burkhart. "There are a lot of big questions and a lot of big issues."

Commissioners and city council members said the idea is due in part to the growing population and should not be seen as a sign of volunteer incompetence.

"It's not to do away with the volunteer system," Burkhart said. "It's to supplement and make it better."

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