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Hagerstown votes to hire 9 firefighters

January 30, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- Nearly 20 Hagerstown firefighters seated in the audience of Tuesday's City Council meeting applauded as the council voted 4-1 to spend about $535,000 to hire nine firefighters between April 14 and June 2.

Hagerstown Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said the hires will increase the fire department's strength to 83 personnel and ensure that the department will be able to assign two firefighters per truck.

Depending on the shift, the fire department staffs one or two firefighters per truck, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said last week.

"It's been a long battle ... It's good to see an end tonight," said Hawbaker, referring to several months of debate by the council to hire the firefighters. "We believe as a fire department that this is a safety issue for our citizens and firefighters."

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Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said city officials will have to make cuts in the budget to be able to afford to hire the firefighters without raising taxes. The city is projected to face a $1.2 million deficit next year, he said last week.

"I realize this budget season will be difficult," Bruchey said. "We will find a way to fund them, and we will find a way without raising taxes ... There will be some tough decisions to be made."

Councilman Martin Brubaker cast the dissenting vote, saying after the meeting that he favored waiting to hire the firefighters until city officials were more certain about the economic future.

Brubaker said he thought the council also should have considered hiring police officers.

Councilwomen Kelly S. Cromer and Penny M. Nigh said past city councils and administrations failed to adequately staff the fire department and, as a result, the burden to fund the firefighters will rest with the existing city government.

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