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Report impresses commissioners, Fire and Rescue officials

February 17, 2001

Report impresses commissioners, Fire and Rescue officials



By SCOTT BUTKI And KIM YAKOWSKI / Staff Writers


Washington County Fire and Rescue officials, along with the Washington County Commissioners, said they were pleased with some of the content of a new report by the Emergency Services Council.

"It takes a common sense approach," Maugansville Goodwill Fire Co. Chief Phil Ridenour said.

Of the five commissioners, only Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he had expected the report would contain a recommendation on whether the county should impose a fire tax. The rest said they did not expect the council to identify a funding source.

All five said they were impressed with some of the ideas.

However, they had different ideas on what steps to take next.

Commissioner John L. Schnebly and Paul L. Swartz said the first priority should be for the fire and rescue companies to meet the report's financial reforms suggestions, including filing uniform financial statements and audits with the county. After that, they said, the commissioners could start thinking about how to fund other recommended changes.

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While those documents would be helpful, Commissioner William J. Wivell said he had mixed emotions about emphasizing those first. It's important to recall that this is a volunteer system and the county should be careful to avoid ordering volunteers around, Wivell said.

Ridenour said the more the county gets involved with the companies, including by giving them money and helping with fund raising, the more open the companies will have to be with their financial records.

He said he has no problem making his budget public because there is little fat in it.

"We pinch our pennies," he said

The report suggests the county pay for apparatus fuel and utility costs for the fire and rescue companies, not including costs for auxiliary buildings and social halls. The cost for the 27 stations is estimated at $450,000.

Ridenour supports the county paying their utilities and fuel. He estimated it would save the company around $12,000 a year.

Dave Myers, assistant chief of the Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Co., agreed having the county pay for their utilities and fuel would be a big help.

"Anything they could give us would help greatly," Myers said.

Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services Chief Jason Sturm said it would save the company $20,000 a year if the county paid utility and fuel expenses.

Sturm said he has no problem with filing annual audits. Companies have to be willing to disclose their finances if they expect to receive county funding, he said.

The report also suggests having the county buy property for a countywide training facility for use by fire and rescue companies and law enforcement agencies and then design and construct it. The cost of the multi-year project is estimated at $1.8 million.

"It would be putting the cart before the horse," said Ridenour.

He said they need to spend more money on recruitment and retention to ensure there are people to be trained at the facility.

Hancock Fire Co. Chief Ernest Truax supports the idea of creating a countywide training facility and said the closest one was in Cumberland.

"It would be good to have our own," Truax said.

Sturm said a countywide training facility is "long overdue." He said it is especially important for EMS training because the medical field is rapidly changing and it is important to keep up with medical advancements.

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