Merger of emergency services is considered

Washington County Director of Emergency Services Joe Kroboth favors merging fire and ambulance companies throughout the county,

Washington County Director of Emergency Services Joe Kroboth favors merging fire and ambulance companies throughout the county,

October 07, 2002|by TARA REILLY

Washington County Director of Emergency Services Joe Kroboth said he favors merging fire and ambulance companies throughout the county because the moves would save money and allow the companies to operate more efficiently.

Kroboth said last week none of the companies would shut down unless supported by others. Rather, companies located near each other would move into the same building and continue to operate as separate companies, he said.

Some fire and ambulance companies are currently located down the street from each other, he said.

"That's just an inefficient way," Kroboth said.

Kroboth said the consolidations would save the county in utility costs. The county reimburses the companies for utilities such as heat, natural gas, and water and sewer expenses. Those costs would be lower if some companies shared the same buildings because there would be fewer facilities to operate, he said.


"We need to try to encourage these companies to reduce costs," he said. "Consolidation is really the biggest bang for the buck."

The county's 27 fire and rescue companies rack up several hundred thousand dollars a year in utility costs.

Washington County Commissioner Bert Iseminger said last week the decision about whether to consolidate the locations would be up to the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, to which the county's 27 fire and rescue companies belong.

"We certainly encourage cooperation wherever possible," Iseminger said. "But they're the experts. They're the ones that run the numbers."

Fire and Rescue Association President Jason Baer said Sunday he supports companies sharing the same buildings and would try to encourage the companies to support the idea as well.

Baer said he also doesn't oppose fire and rescue companies merging because most firefighters are trained in the emergency rescue field and vice versa.

He said, however, that idea would probably generate resistance because some workers would have to give up their officer titles if fire and ambulance companies became one.

"Each one just wants to have their own kingdom, their own domain," Baer said.

Kroboth and Baer said the consolidation of fire and rescue locations is a state and national trend.

"Washington County is one of the few that have separate companies," Baer said. "Most other companies throughout the state do that together."

Towns consider idea

The Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Co. and the town's ambulance company were negotiating a consolidation, but talks fell through in July 2001.

The fire company wanted the two companies to merge into one entity, but the ambulance company wanted to share the same location and continue to operate independently.

The fire company has said it plans to build a $500,000 facility that would include two ambulance bays in case a merger were to happen.

Kroboth and Iseminger said the Williamsport fire and ambulance companies are also considering working out of one building.

Baer said he would like towns to help the companies fund new consolidated buildings. Towns have access to more grant money for such facilities than the fire and rescue association, he said.

Maybe in Hancock?

In particular, Baer said he'd like to meet with the Hancock officials to discuss moving the Hancock Fire Co. and the Hancock Rescue Squad into one building. He said he's concerned about the conditions of the current facilities.

Hancock Mayor Daniel A. Murphy said Sunday that the town's fire company and rescue squad are looking for new, separate buildings. He said the companies are located within five or six blocks of each other.

"It's an interesting concept," Murphy said of the consolidation idea.

He said, however, that it would be up to the companies to decide to join forces.

Chief Chris Harvey of the Hancock Rescue Squad said the squad and the fire company have not discussed a possible consolidation.

"This is something I honestly don't know about," Harvey said. "That would be a big move, and we haven't discussed it."

Harvey said he had no comment on whether he would support such a move.

Hancock Fire Chief Ernest Truax said the fire company has discussed sharing buildings but that nothing ever came about, and that the fire company and rescue squad currently share some personnel. He said it would cost about $400,000 to $500,000 for a new facility.

If the fire company had space, the building could also be expanded to house the rescue squad, he said.

"The people who are in office right now probably wouldn't have a problem with doing that," Truax said. "It's certainly a way for the county to save money, and it's my money they're saving. I'm a taxpayer."

The current rescue squad building is in poor structural shape and could use a new location, Truax said.

"You can stand on the inside and look on the outside through the cracks," Truax said. "They probably have one of the worst structures in the county."

Baer said the County Commissioners would have to offer the county's fire and rescue companies money to make the moves.

"There's got to be a financial incentive for them to do that, or they wouldn't do it," Baer said. "It would still be cheaper for the county."

The Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway has been successfully operating as a combined fire and rescue company since it formed in 1995, spokesman Alan Methany said Sunday. He said he supports other companies following along the same lines.

"It would cut down buildings and a lot of the extra expenses," Methany said. "In some places it won't work and some places it will."

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