Md. EMS officials ask for more equipment, personnel
More funding is needed in the county's capital budget to replace gear and renovate fire stations
By David Anderson
HARFORD COUNTY, Md. — Harford County officials have increased the amount of money the county will allocate to fire and EMS services in fiscal 2017, but representatives of both groups have said more money is needed to provide an adequate number of first responders, and to keep vehicles and equipment up to date to meet the growing demand for firefighting and medical services.
"I always look at the volunteer as not getting enough credit for what he does; he's invaluable to this county," Sharon Worthington, the budget chair for the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association, told members of the County Council during a budget review earlier this week.
"You can't put a price on the life and the work that a volunteer does for the fire service," she continued. "Every day that job is getting more and more intense, with more and more risk."
The council reviewed Harford County Executive Barry Glassman's proposed $2.88 million allotment for the county's nonprofit EMS Foundation and his proposed $6.78 million allotment for Harford's 12 volunteer fire and EMS companies.
Glassman's total operating and capital budget proposed for FY2017 is $735.2 million.
Next year's fire service allotment of operating funds is $60,000 more than the $6.72 million allocated for the current fiscal year to cover an increase in worker's compensation insurance costs, according to the budget.
Fire companies, which are private, not-for-profit organizations, supplement their county allotments with money each company earns through fundraising events and billing for medical services.
Worthington stressed EMS billing no longer fully funds emergency medical operations the way it did "years ago," as the population and demand for EMS increases in Harford County.
"We just ask you to take a look at the future of the fire and EMS [system]," she said during Monday's council review. "The county is not decreasing in numbers, and it's not decreasing in calls; we're getting more and more all the time."
Worthington said more funding is also needed in the county's capital budget to replace firefighting and EMS gear and renovate fire stations.
Glassman allocated $500,000 in the proposed fiscal 2017 capital budget to the Department of Emergency Services to replace outdated self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA, used by first responders to work in areas filled with smoke or hazardous chemical fumes.
Worthington estimated it will cost "close to" $4 million to replace all SCBA gear used by volunteer firefighters.
Glassman also put $400,000 in for repairs to 13 fire company facilities around the county, although the full cost of all repairs, renovations and expansions for fire stations is projected at $4.1 million, according to the capital budget.
Worthington said fire officials told Glassman they need money to purchase new Lifepak cardiac monitors/defibrillators for ambulances, as the manufacturer has developed a new version of the unit and will not provide replacement parts for older Lifepaks.
Capital funding, however, is not available for Lifepak replacements in fiscal 2017.
"It's a lifesaver," Worthington said. "You're putting a county resident at risk if you don't have the most updated equipment when it comes to Lifepaks and so forth."
The EMS Foundation's allotment for fiscal 2017, $2.88 million, is $87,186 more than the $2.79 million allotted for the current fiscal year. The higher amount reflects "parity" with Glassman's proposed 3 percent merit-based salary increase for county employees, according to the budget.
The Foundation, which provides paid paramedics to volunteer fire and EMS companies to augment their EMS volunteers, has 97 employees, including seven administrators and supervisors, 37 full-time Advanced Life Support and Basic Life Support providers and 48 part-time providers, Jeff Shearman, the Foundation's treasurer, told council members.
They are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, working in shifts.
"Those dollars are very much appreciated," Shearman said. "What it's going to do is, it's going to position us to be competitive with our neighboring partners in regards to the pool of ALS and BLS providers."
Harford County must compete with other counties in the Baltimore metropolitan area to hire paid EMS providers – providers certified in Advanced Life Support can give patient care similar to what a paramedic can provide, and BLS providers are an "everyday street EMT," Shearman said.
He said the merit increases will help the foundation pay an annual income of $44,211 to ALS providers and $30,888 a year to BLS providers, which gets Harford closer to what Baltimore County pays, such as $35,125 a year to an entry-level firefighter/BLS provider.
Glassman put money in the current year's budget for the purchase of a third EMS chase vehicle. Paramedic 13 is based in the Fallston Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Company's Upper Crossroads station, and its crew responds to calls in Fallston as well as parts of Jarrettsville and Norrisville.
Paramedic 13 crews handled 1,079 calls as of Monday, since it went into service July 1, 2015, Shearman said.
Two other units, Paramedic 1 and Paramedic 6, are based at the Level Volunteer Fire Company and Whiteford Volunteer Fire Company stations, respectively. Their crews handle calls throughout northern Harford County, according to Shearman.
He said Foundation leaders need additional funds to purchase a LUCAS CPR machine and replace vehicles on a regular basis. Shearman said the Foundation also plans to place ALS crews in additional northern Harford firehouses and eventually retire Paramedic 13.
Councilman Chad Shrodes, who lives in Norrisville and represents northern Harford, said he was glad to hear about the potential retirement of Paramedic 13.
"To me, it does not make sense that we have an EMS unit in Fallston going all the way to Norrisville for these EMS calls," he said.
Shearman said the Foundation is monitoring overtime pay for its providers, but it is challenging when there are a limited number of available workers.
"If we don't have enough personnel to fill the rosters that are requested from the volunteer fire companies, the only way to do that is to fill it with an overtime person," he said.
Operations Manager Lisa Norton said the Foundation recently instituted a policy in which employees who have already worked a 24-hour shift must take a 12-hour break before starting another shift in Harford County.
"It's a safety problem, so we limit that," Norton said.
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