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County offers Fairplay more EMS, fire help

March 04, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

FAIRPLAY -- After Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co. failed to respond to at least two recent calls due to daytime staffing shortages, Washington County officials offered to provide additional firefighter/EMTs to work out of the station during the day, Washington County Director of Fire and Emergency Services Kevin Lewis said.

As of Wednesday, the company had not accepted the offer, Lewis said.

Bill Pennington, the company's president, said Wednesday he was not aware of the offer and would not comment on whether the company would be open to the idea.

Pennington said the company has responded to all fire calls in its territory. The company generally does not respond to medical calls and sometimes has not responded to fire calls outside its territory, he said.

The county has been working with the company to improve response and staffing levels since November, when at least 12 of the company's members either resigned or were told their memberships would not be renewed.

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County officials continue to hear from residents concerned about the company, Lewis said.

One of the incidents mentioned in e-mails to County Commissioners was a cardiac arrest in the Fairplay company's first-due area to which the company did not respond. The next-due company responded and, because the incident was at one of the state prisons south of Hagerstown, rescue staff was available to respond on site, Lewis said.

Pennington said the prison is supposed to handle its own EMS situations.

Another incident was an oven fire in the Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co.'s first-due area. Fairplay was called to support Funkstown, but did not respond, Lewis said. The fire was out when firefighters arrived, he said.

Lewis is compiling additional data on Fairplay's response rate for County Commissioners, which he plans to share at Tuesday's meeting.

"We are concerned," Lewis said. "We've been adamantly concerned since the beginning."

The county is dispatching a backup company to all calls in Fairplay's coverage area because of those concerns, Lewis said.

Lewis said he met with officials from the fire company and the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association in late January and has had several discussions with them since.

He said he reviewed the company's personnel list and training records and determined that the company met the state requirement to have at least 10 active personnel who have completed firefighter I and II and hazardous materials training.

However, some have not passed a "fit test" required by the county to ensure they are physically able to operate in dangerous atmospheric conditions, Lewis said. In addition, some have not taken the emergency vehicle operation course that will soon become a requirement for anyone who drives an emergency vehicle, he said.

Only six to 10 company members are certified first responders, which is part of the reason the company stopped responding to medical calls other than cardiac arrests, Lewis said.

Several company members have expressed interest in getting additional training, and Lewis said his department is scheduling the vehicle operation course and a basic first responder course for them.

"This is not just about being able to provide a minimum level of accepted services," Lewis said. "It's about being able to provide the level of services based upon the needs of the community."

Pennington said all the company's active members have been certified by the state.

"I've no doubt that our county requires many more things than the state requires," he said. "I'm not sure exactly why."

Pennington said he was appreciative of the county's efforts to schedule training courses.

"We have tried for a year to get some of those things accomplished, and now they claim they're going to get around to it, so that would be good," he said.

In addition to the training issue, the company is also having trouble finding enough volunteers to respond to calls during the day because of members' work obligations, Lewis said.

The company acknowledges daytime staffing shortages, but asked to be taken off dual dispatch for evening hours, Lewis said. The county denied that request, he said.

Lewis said Fairplay isn't the only company facing a daytime staffing shortage as members attempt to balance volunteering with the need to work full time.

"In today's economic times ... balancing their ability to provide services and having adequate staffing is going to be a big discussion," he said.

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