Maryland Volunteer Firefighters Say They Are Being Forced Out.
Firehouse.com, 9 Sep 2008 (Dave Statter, WUSA 9).
For more than 120-years Prince George's County has been protected by volunteer firefighters. The first volunteer fire company was incorporated in Upper Marlboro in 1887. Over much of that time, the volunteer firehouse has been a political and social center for many communities. Now, leaders of the Prince George's County Fire & Rescue Association believe the end is near.
Vice-president Bill Smith tells 9NEWS NOW a series of recent moves by Prince George's County officials has cut off the main sources of revenue that support the volunteer departments. According to Smith, "We are looking at the demise of the volunteer system".Volunteer fire officials surprised by billing ban; Companies worried that funding drop-off will doom stations.
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While the volunteers feel they are being squeezed for money, Chief Sedgwick has give them new responsibilities. An order last Thursday directs the volunteers to fill-in shifts to avoid paying overtime money to career firefighters. Sources tell 9NEWS NOW it also expected a similar method will be used to cover for the possible furlough of firefighters.
County officials are reported to be making plans to furlough firefighters and other employees due to a $48 million budget gap.
Bill Smith says, "On the same day the county is taking money from us they are asking us to do more".
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Gazette, 5 Sep 2008 (Noble).
Volunteer fire leaders said they were blindsided by a new county law that bans their companies from collecting emergency transportation fees, a practice eight companies have used for as many as 15 years to pay for apparatus and operational costs.Comment: It certainly seems like county public safety director Vernon Herron has no clue about the workings of the agencies for which he is responsible. Do not forget that Keith Washington, currently in prison for murder, became Mr. Herron's deputy director despite a well-known history of violent and brutal behavior.
The executive order was signed into law by County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) on Aug. 12, in the midst of negotiations with county officials on an agreement to keep the fees in place. The county began charging for all ambulance services in July and wanted to establish a uniform billing service, said Public Safety Director Vernon Herron. Previously only advanced life support incurred a charge.
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Although eight volunteer companies charged for service prior to the implementation of the county billing plan, including West Lanham Hills, which has charged for 15 years, Herron said it was a revelation to the county government that volunteers were charging.
"Once I realized they were billing, I wanted to sit down with them to mitigate this," said Herron, who found out volunteer departments were charging several months ago as the county pursued its own billing plan. "Shame on us for not knowing [sooner]."
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Money from billing has been a primary source of revenue for volunteer departments, with volunteers purchasing approximately $4.5 million worth of equipment with the funds over the last couple years, said Robert Russell, president of the Prince George's County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. But volunteer leaders now worry the departments that charged will fold without the money.
"You're shutting us down slowly but surely," Russell said of the executive order.