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As you ride out this storm, remember area's volunteers

September 19, 2003

As this is being written, agencies all over the Tri-State area are preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Isabel. Maryland and West Virginia's governors have already declared a state of emergency and the National Weather Service is saying that the storm could dump 9 inches of rain on the region.

Elsewhere in this edition, readers will find instructions on what to do if power goes out and if water in local streams begins to rise. Please read those and take sensible precautions.

But as citizens do so, we ask them to remember that for this storm and every other disaster, natural or otherwise, an army of local fire/rescue volunteers will be doing whatever they can to save lives and take care of any who are injured.

We remind readers of this because while folks routinely send letters of praise after volunteers respond to a car wreck or a house fire, many citizens and businesses do not respond to the annual appeals for funds.

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Fire/rescue volunteers have long noted that while sheriff's deputies don't have to raise funds for police cruisers and sidearms, volunteers must raise funds to buy equipment and cover operating expenses.

Why is this so in 2003? Because that's the way it's always been. And most local government officials are reluctant to make a change that would force them to ask citizens to pay another fee.

The old way was adequate 30 years ago when training requirements weren't as stringent as they are now, and when more businesses were willing to let volunteers leave the job site to do life-saving works.

But now it can take more than a year's training before volunteers can respond to their first fire call. More rigorous training ensures volunteer safety and professionalism, but it also discourages many who might otherwise join a company.

As a result, companies have a tough time finding volunteers to run calls at certain times. And some companies must pay staff to cover those hours and bill insurance companies for the cost of the service.

We'll leave questions about things like a fire tax for another day. Today we have a simple request: When you or your loved ones are helped by a fire or rescue company, do send us a letter of appreciation. Then please send that company a check.

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