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Hagerstown fire chief says he needs to increase staff

February 14, 2001

Hagerstown fire chief says he needs to increase staff



By DAN KULIN / Staff Writer


The Hagerstown Fire Department needs to increase staffing, either through overtime or by hiring more firefighters, according to a report Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker presented Tuesday to the Mayor and City Council.

Additional staff is needed to ensure that enough firefighters get to emergency scenes quickly, especially at nights and on weekends, Hawbaker said.

Hawbaker said he is seeing delays in staffing at some night fires because it takes a little extra time to call volunteers to the scene.

He said the current staffing levels have not affected any fire responses and added he's hoping to head off any problems.

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"Our volunteers do an excellent job, but their resources are stretched thin," Hawbaker said.

"The main focus here is how to staff the utility vehicle" 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Hawbaker said.

The utility vehicle is a van that takes additional firefighters to the scene of emergencies. The vehicle is staffed now by two career firefighters during daytime hours on weekdays.

The report was developed by a committee made up of city Battalion Chief C. Kingsley Poole, and firefighters Franklin W. Ridenour and Richard P. Gilbert.

Hawbaker presented the council with several options and estimated costs for increasing staffing of the utility vehicle. The council did not indicate what option they might support.

The options presented by Hawbaker included:

-- hiring four additional firefighters, at a cost of $150,540 in the first year.

-- hiring two additional firefighters and having volunteers staff the vehicle on weekends, at a cost of $75,270 in the first year.

-- having volunteers staff the vehicle on weekends, and as many weekday night shifts as possible. Pay career firefighters overtime to cover the rest of the shifts. Depending on how many shifts firefighters had to work overtime, this option would cost $39,600 to $79,200 in the first year.

Hawbaker said volunteers probably could staff the utility truck on the weekends.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner asked if the firefighters' union would support members working more overtime. Hawbaker said he didn't know.

Other recommendations in the report included:

-- continue and perhaps increase the stipend given to volunteer firefighters for responding to calls. Hawbaker said that currently volunteers are paid $3 to $4 per response.

-- develop a paging system for off-duty career personnel in order to increase staffing levels as quickly as possible at emergencies.

-- encourage Washington County Fire and Rescue Communications to send two ladder trucks to the scenes of fires.

-- dispatch a second ladder truck to all scenes where an officer reports a working fire.

-- downgrade responses to automatic alarms to one engine and one truck, because most are false alarms. Two engines and one truck now respond to such alarms.

Longer-term recommendations were to hire additional personnel to meet expected new professional standards.

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