Cecilton Fire Company Seeks Modernization, but Cecil County Budget Advisors Could Snag Plan

April 10, 2012

The Cecilton volunteer fire company is seeking Cecil County support for a modernized approach to fire-fighting—selling off a fairly new fire engine and a very old one and instead buying a new ladder truck to meet southern county needs—but a new report by a budget advisory panel could scuttle the proposal.

Robert Plato, who became the new Cecilton fire chief last year, outlined his plans at a Cecil County Commissioners’ worksession Tuesday as part of a broader initiative to modernize emergency services in the county’s southernmost town, which also serves a sprawling rural area east and west of the town.

“I’m trying to upgrade Cecilton so nobody gets killed,” Plato said.

Cecilton is at the top of the countywide volunteer fire association’s priority list for replacement of an aging 1991 fire engine currently in service. But Plato said he wants to sell off that antiquated engine, as well as a much newer, six-year old fire engine that does not meet local needs, and instead acquire a new ladder truck that would best serve the local community as well as other areas. The fire company is willing to go into debt or raise community funds, at no extra cost to county taxpayers, to achieve the goal.

“There is no ladder truck south of Elkton” in the county, he said, adding that such equipment can also function as a fire engine but has greater flexibility for fire-fighting on higher terrain as well as water-related rescue operations.

He said the newer engine “sits in the fire house” most of the time because its capacities and staffing requirements do not match up with the needs, and available number of volunteers, in the southern county town.

“This is a very forward-thinking philosophy,” Richard Brooks, the county’s director of Emergency Services, said Tuesday in supporting the modernization proposal. “It’s an appropriate purpose they’ve identified.”

Fire and emergency medical services in the south county have become a subject of concern, and debate, recently.

Last week, the nearby Hack’s Point fire company outlined a plan for a jointly-operated ambulance program with Cecilton that would employ part-time, paid emergency medical technicians to improve lagging response times in daytime hours in the broad, rural Earleville area covered by both volunteer fire companies.

[SEE previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/04/cecil-county-volunteer-fire-companies-propose-cecilton-ambo-solution/ ]

During a budget meeting last week, Monica Penhollow, president of the Cecil County Fireman’s Association, presented to the County Commissioners requests for county funds to purchase four new pieces of emergency equipment. The equipment requests, totaling $1.1 million, covered three new fire engines—one each for Cecilton, Charlestown and Rising Sun, at a cost of $325,000 each—and an ambulance for Elkton, costing $125,000.

But the County Commissioner-appointed Citizen’s Budget Advisory Committee offered a proposed budget-cutting plan to the Commissioners Tuesday night, recommending that those new fire equipment purchase requests “should be reduced by $800,000.” However, the advisory panel’s statement offered no details and did not specify which of the proposed equipment purchases should be approved or scuttled. And the report’s numbers do not match up with the amounts requested for new equipment.

The county government provides equipment and annual stipends to the volunteer fire companies, under state law requiring counties to provide adequate fire and emergency medical services. However, the volunteer fire companies cover much of their operating costs through their own fundraising activities, state grant programs, and fees charged to insurers for ambulance transport of patients to hospitals.

Plato, of the Cecilton fire company, told commissioners he had had conversations with “banks” about possibly helping the fire company to acquire the new ladder truck, which could cost as much as $600,000. After offsets of a potential $190,000 in revenues from sale of the two fire engines, and the potential county contribution already scheduled for replacement of the aging fire engine, the local fire company would still have to borrow, or obtain donations, of a significant sum on its own.

But if the county commissioners yield to the unspecified budget cuts of their advisory panel, the question of modernization and meeting community needs could be moot.

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2 Responses to Cecilton Fire Company Seeks Modernization, but Cecil County Budget Advisors Could Snag Plan

  1. Rick O'Shea on April 11, 2012 at 9:39 am

    The Citizen’s Budget Advisory Committee is a valuable asset to the County Commissioners in that they take an analytical, non-political approach to the financial condition of the county. Ultimately, the final budget is a political decision whereby winners and losers are determined.

    Sadly, the Three Amigos (Broomell, Dunn, and Mullin) will control the outcome. They have proven to be vindictive and short-sighted in their decisions. The $300,000 cost of a study of wastewater options would have been paid by Artesian and that money could have been used for a Cecilton fire truck. The Three Amigos have put their personal agenda ahead of the safety of those citizens living below the canal.

  2. SchoolMarm on April 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    It was good to read this article and the previous one, giving readers important information concerning our local fire departments. We all do not know when we will need their services but we expect them to come to our aid when the occasion arises, and promptly. The expense of maintaining equipment, meeting State regulations, and serving growing communities is enormous.

    One problem is that serving the smaller areas of Cecil County cost just as much as serving those with larger populations, the expense of required equipment being equal. Our volunteer, and the few paid, fire personnel deserve our support. Whether they get the support of the Commissioners, of course, remains to be seen.

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