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Study calls for overhauling fire and rescue services

June 10, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Dozens of recommendations in a $90,000 study of fire and rescue services in Washington County would create a countywide system that would reduce the independence of individual departments and hold them accountable for spending tax dollars.

Under the suggestions presented Tuesday in the 400-page study by Carroll Buracker and Associates Inc. of Harrisonburg, Va., county fire and rescue departments would follow county standards on everything from training requirements to bookkeeping to vehicle specifications.

The individual departments would lose some autonomy but services to county residents would improve, said Leslie Adams, the lead consultant.

He also recommended that the county fund fire and rescue services based on need. Now, fire and rescue companies each receive a fixed payment from the county plus a small percentage of utility costs without regard to other needs.

Adams said each company should be audited yearly and its books opened to the public. Each company should have to justify its budget to the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association and to the County Commissioners, he said.

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On the key issue of whether paid firefighters are needed, the study said a task force should be formed to discuss the issue.

Adams said companies didn't give the consultants enough information to make a recommendation on paid personnel. Any paid personnel that are hired, however, should be employed by the county and not the individual departments, he said.

Adams said that the cost of fire and rescue services in the county is $6.3 million a year, and said the county's 1,100 volunteers were saving the county about $30 million a year compared to the cost of replacing them with paid personnel.

The study doesn't say whether the current level of funding is too much or too little, or whether a fire tax should be imposed.

The study also recommended that Civil Defense be eliminated and its personnel, apparatus and duties transferred to other departments.

Other recommendations include:




-- Elimination of three fire engines, five ambulances and a rescue squad car for a savings of $1.8 million.

-- Changing the way emergencies are handled to make sure the closest available fire or rescue unit is dispatched. Adams said that that's not always the case now.

-- Development of a countywide volunteer recruitment and retention program.

-- Creation of a countywide purchasing system.

-- Elimination of the fire department at Fort Ritchie after the base closes.

-- Updating the study every three years.

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