Fire & Rescue Association aims to regain public trust
Group to begin opening up process this week, meeting with commissioners
Dale Hill, the new president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, talks to a small crowd Thursday night at a meeting with the Citizens for the Protection of Washington County. (By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer)
The change comes on the advice of the county’s legislative delegation, which told Hill that the association should be accountable for how the money is spent.
“We’re going to develop some type of a form for the departments that they’re going to have to submit back to the association, explaining what they did with the gaming funds,” Hill said. “That’s one thing I basically promised the delegation we would do.”
And, he said, as far as he knows, the companies are willing to file such reports.
Striving for accountability
Meanwhile, the finances of some companies have slipped even further this year, with their annual community fund drives “really down,” Hill said.
That of the Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co., of which Hill is in his fourth year as president, is down 10 percent to 12 percent, he said.
Hill said he doesn’t know whether such declines are a result of the area’s economy or are related to the newspaper’s focus on the companies.
But the newspaper has “a job, and some concerns that you have brought up about some departments, that shed a bad light,” he said. “And, unfortunately, we’re all in it together. We understand.”
The questions the stories raised about how one company, in particular, is spending its money did “pop up red flags,” Hill said. And, he said, he was concerned at learning that the number of volunteer firefighters in Hagerstown has dropped sharply.
Hill said that such questions make it even more important for the association and its members to work toward full accountability. He said that’s “the price” they must pay to regain the public’s trust and to earn the increased level of funding they need from county government.
The county already gives a basic subsidy of $48,000 a year to each of the fire companies outside Hagerstown. And, it reimburses them for what they spend on utilities.
But more is needed, Hill said.
“It’s at a critical point to make sure that we have somebody responding” during the weekdays when fewer volunteers are available, he said. Some of the companies, including Funkstown, spend all of the basic subsidy or even more to hire daytime drivers, an expense that’s draining money needed to maintain equipment, he said.
For the short term, Hill said he thinks the county could help all the fire companies and help them be accountable by paying for specific needs.
“You know, if they purchased so many sets of protective gear, where you could see tangibly what it’s going for, or picking up fuel reimbursement, or some of the maintenance costs of the apparatus,” he said. “To me, I think that would be a more workable program in the near future.
“But I still think they’re (commissioners) going to have to take a look at a more long-term plan for funding fire and rescue companies in the county. It’s just going to get more costly.”