The Washington County Commissioners included $150,000 in the 2012-13 budget to pay for volunteer firefighter physicals and on Tuesday approved a method for paying the bill.
The board voted unanimously to reimburse the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association for the bills it receives for volunteers’ physicals performed by Health@Work, an affiliate of Meritus Health, which has contracted to perform the physicals at a cost of $317 each.
There will be a lot of physicals, especially for firefighters over 40 years of age who will get annual operational physicals to ensure they are fit for duty. There are 405 over-40 volunteers with county fire companies, association Treasurer Rick Hemphill said.
“We have an aging volunteer force,” association President Dale Hill said during the meeting.
Depending on age, younger volunteers will require physicals every two or three years, Hemphill told the commissioners.
From January 2011 to April 2012, the association spent more than $200,000 on more than 750 physicals, Hemphill said.
There are more than 850 “responding volunteers” in the county, according to a video Hill and Hemphill showed the commissioners.
The county wanted to see a plan from the association for recruiting and retaining firefighters as part of the deal to pay for the physicals, and Hill and Hemphill presented a new recruit orientation booklet and the video as parts of that effort.
The association also plans to expand its recruitment and retention committee, Hill said.
Commissioner William McKinley said the county wants to see a consistent recruitment plan for all companies.
The commissioners will discuss next week how the county can provide better oversight of fire and rescue services, McKinley said.
That would involve “a group that would report to us regularly on the state of the fire companies” and the issues they face, McKinley said.
Currently, the county has the Emergency Services Advisory Committee and the Fire and Rescue Advisory Committee, County Administrator Gregory Murray said. Next week’s discussions could include how to combine the two, how to redefine their missions and the makeup of a board that would advise the county on fire and rescue services, he said.
The health and safety of firefighters are the main reasons for the physicals, Hill said. Murray said that having volunteers who pass the physicals could also help with workers’ compensation costs, which rose about half a million dollars last year.