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Beyond the fire/rescue report: Important 'next steps' to take

February 20, 2001

Beyond the fire/rescue report: Important 'next steps' to take



After hearing a long-awaited report on Washington County's fire and rescue services, Commissioners' President Greg Snook has asked for a meeting to decide which of the recommendations to implement and how to pay for them. Two areas need some immediate attention.

A paid consultant studied the system in 1998 and 1999 and produced a large report with more than 100 recommendations. The report was then reviewed by a citizens group - the Emergency Services Council, which winnowed the Carroll Buracker & Associates report down to about 30 suggestions, which ESC presented Feb. 13 - with no priorities attached.

Much has been made of the fact that the group has asked for a great many expenditures - like a $1.8 million fire/rescue training center - without suggesting any way to pay for them. The closest the group comes to a fiscal suggestion is the proposal that fire/rescue companies county-wide run a joint fund-raiser with county government's help.

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But as aggravating as it is to find out how non-specific this report is after waiting a year for it to arrive, no good can come of beating up the ESC for that now. It's time to concentrate on the most immediate and important needs of the system, which include:

- Response time. The ESC review suggests further record-keeping for this purpose, but central dispatch should already know which companies consistently respond on time and which have problems. For the short term, until there can be some reconfiguration of territories, companies which need personnel - paid or volunteer - to respond in a timely manner must get it as soon as possible.

-Recruiting volunteers. The ESC is committed to the preservation of the volunteer system, in part because it plans to phase in additional funding, an idea which wouldn't work without a stable core of volunteers. Giving those people some incentive to stay - the promise that they'd be first in line for a paid post later, if such a promise can legally be made - might buy county government the time it needs to figure out some of what this latest study did not.

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