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Hagerstown discusses hiring fewer firefighters in 2008

May 09, 2007|by DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh expressed her displeasure during a City Council work session Tuesday when the mayor suggested hiring five fewer firefighters next year than the city previously considered.

By hiring four firefighters instead of nine in February 2008, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said the city could save money to help stave off a $1.23 million deficit that the City of Hagerstown is projected to face in fiscal year 2008-09.

The mayor proposed waiting until April 2009 to hire the other five firefighters.

Nigh strongly disagreed, saying the city needs nine firefighters as soon as possible to provide Hagerstown residents with adequate fire protection as the city continues to grow.

"If I have a house on fire, I want that response to be there ... I will not say 'no' to nine firefighters that this city desperately needs," she said.

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Fires are likely to consume more than one house at a time, considering many of the homes in Hagerstown sit close together, she said. The city needs an adequate number of firefighters to keep that from happening, she said.

Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker passed City Finance Director Alfred Martin a note during the work session that said the city could initially save about $110,835 by hiring four firefighters instead of nine.

As the discussion continued, Councilman Martin Brubaker said the need for firefighters in Hagerstown wasn't linked to the city's growth, but a decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters.

The city grows at about 1 percent to 2 percent per year, which doesn't equate to a proposed 30 percent staffing increase within the fire department, he said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner disagreed.

"The driving force is gross understaffing (in the past several years) - not the lack of volunteers," Metzner said.

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