By DON AINES
8:43 PM EST, February 5, 2013
Washington County will provide temporary medical support service to the Fairplay area and pay surrounding fire companies for fire response until a permanent solution is found for serving the 42-square-mile area in the wake of Fairplay Volunteer Co.'s termination by the county, according to a plan outlined Tuesday by Director of Emergency Services Kevin Lewis.
The plan Lewis detailed for the Board of County Commissioners is to station an advanced life support chase vehicle at the Washington County Agriculture Center in the next week or so. The county has a reserve vehicle that can be used for that purpose, he said.
It could be staffed by county personnel and supported by volunteers, Lewis said.
For the county to permanently staff the service without volunteer support for the rest of this fiscal year would cost $121,000, or about $290,000 for a full year, according to a report Lewis gave to the commissioners.
“Ideally, we would have a full volunteer force,” County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said. “We want to make sure we have immediate implementation, so we can use people we have available until we can work out the details of full staffing.”
With volunteers, the cost to the county would be minimal because the county already provides reimbursements for fuel, supplies and other equipment costs, Murray said.
On Jan. 29, the board voted 4-1 to no longer recognize the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co., or to provide it with funding or in-kind services. The vote came seven months after the fire company was suspended from responding to fire and emergency medical calls because of a 26 percent rate of failing to respond in a timely manner to calls from Jan. 1 to May, 31, 2012.
The 42-square-mile area served by Fairplay includes 7,000 residents, plus about 7,000 prison system inmates and three schools, Lewis told the commissioners.
The surrounding fire companies Williamsport, Sharpsburg, Boonsboro and Funkstown have been filling the gap since the commissioners suspended Fairplay in July. Each of those companies is to receive nearly $9,000 in compensation for their efforts during that time, Murray said.
Those companies will continue to provide fire response to the Fairplay area and will each receive quarterly payments until the issue of providing permanent fire and rescue service to the area is resolved, Murray said.
Over a year, each company would receive about $17,500 in funding from the county for fire coverage, Murray said.
Last week the board of directors of the Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co. sent a letter to the county stating, in part, that it would begin billing the commissioners $500 per fire call and $250 for each emergency medical assist call “for which we are alerted within the first due response area of the Fairplay Fire Company.”
The letter stated the billing would begin Feb. 1, but Funkstown First Vice President A. Larry Iseminger Jr. said Tuesday evening that the board “never approved billing the commissioners.”
Funkstown President Dale Hill, who also heads the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, later discussed the additional funding proposal with at least one commissioner, Iseminger said.
Although Funkstown has yet to receive the offer officially, Iseminger said, “A reasonable proposal by the commissioners to fund the fire and rescue service would be acceptable to us.”
A permanent solution to serving the Fairplay area could take several forms, Murray and Lewis said. Those could include Fairplay meeting task force recommendations and being re-established to provide service; dividing up the Fairplay response area between various companies; or establishing a new fire company.
“Each option has its advantages and disadvantages,” Iseminger said.
Fairplay Fire Co. voluntarily relinquished its gaming license on Feb. 1, without being prompted by the county, according to emails from county spokeswoman Sarah Lankford Sprecher. Fairplay had a tip jar operation, but not bingo, she said. With its gaming license relinquished, Sprecher said “the county is not examining Fairplay’s tax exempt status at this point.”
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