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Williamsport's fire service a bargain for Marlowe area

December 27, 1999

The Fire Board of Berkeley County, W.Va. should jump at the chance to renew a lapsed agreement with the Williamsport Fire Company. By any reasonable measure, the service is being provided at a bargain rate.

Located across the river from the Marlowe area of Berkeley County, Williamsport's fire company has responded to 122 calls there this year. The Williamsport company estimates its cost of service at $100 a call, and but is asking just $5,000 a year.

Why is this a bargain? The National Fire Protection Association estimates the average fire call costs the responding company $250. Williamsport is estimating its cost at less than half of that, and instead of billing per-call, at a cost of $12,200, the volunteers are only asking for $5,000.

Jay Grimes, president of the fire company, says this bargain is possible in part because of the help the company gets from the Ruritan Clubs on the West Virginia side of the river and because of the $1,800 to $2,200 it gets in citizen donation from Marlowe area folks.

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Could insurance companies be billed for the cost of service to the Marlowe area? On many calls, like auto accidents, where the fire company is called to stand by, there's no billable service rendered, Grimes said. Sorting through all the calls to see which could be billed would cost more than it would yield, he said.

There is a precedent for the arrangement that Williamport is seeking. For five years, the company had a $3,900-a-year contract with the Fire Board, a pact which expired two years ago. Earlier this year, Williamsport discussed terminating service to West Virginia if some arrangement wasn't worked out, but no decision has been made at this time.

What we're talking about is a tiny sum that the county should dig out of its general fund budget if the Fire Board can't cover it. This is a service that protects lives and property, and no one should expect Williamsport to provide it for free.

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