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County seeks to create emergency services agency

January 20, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

A group of elected officials and emergency services volunteers in Franklin County are trying to create a countywide umbrella organization that would modernize the county's emergency response system and guarantee that there will always be enough volunteers to serve it.

Such an agency could become a model for all Pennsylvania counties.

"This won't be easy, but if we can pull this off other counties will follow," said Randall Negley, president of the Franklin County Association of Township Officials.

"We're entering uncharted territory," said Negley, a Hamilton Township Supervisor and a leader of the effort to create a countywide emergency services agency.

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A group of elected and emergency service officials met Dec. 18 for initial discussions on the idea. Another meeting will be held sometime in February.

The council would include representatives from among Franklin County's 15 townships, seven boroughs, the Franklin County Fire Chiefs Association and the Franklin County Emergency Medical Services Council.

It could advise the county's 16 volunteer ambulance squads, help recruit volunteers, help with training programs, establish cooperation between the squads, write grant applications and lobby the state Legislature, Negley said.

Several townships and boroughs and the Franklin County Emergency Medical Services Council have endorsed the concept, he said.

It's getting harder to recruit, train and keep volunteers, especially emergency medical technicians, he said.

Training standards set by the Pennsylvania Department of Health are becoming tougher and require more hours of training for the volunteers, Negley said.

Modern lifestyles, two-income families, longer job commutes and more family obligations are also causing a drop in the number of people who volunteer, Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas said.

"The requirements just to be on a firetruck are much more involved today. It takes many more hours of training," Thomas said. "Now there's advanced training for handling hazard materials and chemicals. Everyone recognizes that we need to encourage and assist the volunteers more than ever.

"This is not our responsibility as county commissioners, but we are concerned about the future of volunteer services," he said.

"We're trying to pull together to solve the manpower problem," said Dave Jamison, a Greene Township supervisor.

"There are not enough volunteers on the street. Units are not getting out to respond to ambulance calls. Other units have to come in to cover them," Jamison said. "Every area is facing manpower shortages."

Negley said some companies have two ambulances but not enough trained volunteers to man the second units.

He said there appears to be little resistance among the volunteer companies to the idea of an organization to coordinate the system.

"A lot of ideas could come from this. It has a lot of potential," he said.

So far there have been no deaths stemming from the lack of volunteers, Negley said.

"It could happen, and that's what we're trying to prevent," he said. "Our population is growing. There's going to be a greater need for more ambulance service."

The Antrim Township Supervisors gave the plan their blessing last week. The Washington Township Supervisors are expected to follow suit Monday night, Township Administrator Mike Christopher said.

John Fleagle, chief of the Blue Ridge Summit Fire and Rescue Department, said one advantage of forming a council would be to tap the expertise of township administrators and borough managers in writing grants for fire and emergency squads.

If a fire department writes a grant application, it doesn't have as much weight as if the application comes from a borough or township, Fleagle said.

"They could also help us with the recruitment and retention of volunteers," Fleagle said.

Fleagle said he plans to meet with the Washington Township Supervisors Monday to promote the idea.

Negley said he spoke with officials in several state agencies for guidance in forming a Franklin County council.

"They weren't able to offer any help," he said. "All they said was 'good luck.' It's a great idea."

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