New $ for First Responders: Cecil Co. Gives $164K to Serve New Biz; Port Gets $407K Federal Aid

September 17, 2019

New Cecil County and federal aid for volunteer fire and ambulance services will boost funds for key first responders in the county, including a major federal grant for breathing apparatus for the Water Witch fire company in Port Deposit and new county funds for all local volunteer first responders to compensate for expanded demand for services from the many new businesses locating in the county.

The Water Witch Volunteer Fire Company, which traces its roots in service to the western county area to the late 1880’s, recently obtained one of the largest federal grants given in Maryland to fire companies under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) special grants program for local fire and ambulance services. Statewide, the program is providing over $2 million in aid to local fire services under a recently enacted federal appropriations bill, according to an announcement by Maryland’s US Senators Chris Van Hollen and Benjamin Cardin.

The local Water Witch aid will be used for firefighters’ breathing apparatus, to purchase 48 complete sets of turn-out gear and spare oxygen bottles and to replace the fire company’s air cylinder/compressor machinery that is used for refilling oxygen tanks.

The local volunteer fire company garnered more aid than many other much larger fire services in the state, even topping the paid/non-volunteer Baltimore City Fire Department that received a grant of $300,000 in the latest round of FEMA grants, according to announcements by the Senators.

Wayne Tome, president of the Cecil County Fireman’s Association as well as a longtime chief and emergency services director at Water Witch, told Cecil Times that he and a colleague in the Baltimore County fire department—where Tome is also a veteran senior EMS official in his paid job—have collaborated on writing many grant proposals in the past and have come up with winning applications. The Port Deposit company previously received a major $400,000 FEMA grant several years ago to purchase a new tanker.

Tome pointed out that for each federal or state grant that a local fire company obtains, it saves the Cecil County government and local taxpayers money it would otherwise be asked to provide for critical emergency services.

Several county volunteer fire companies were upset last budget year when County Executive Alan McCarthy did not initially give them all of the local equipment aid they had sought in the county budget. McCarthy said at the time that he wanted to wait to see how revenues were coming into county coffers before committing to major equipment purchases that could be postponed for several months while evaluating incoming revenues. Several months into the fiscal year, McCarthy directed, and the County Council approved, additional funds to meet all the fire companies’ equipment requests.

Tome, while upset at the initial delays in equipment aid, acknowledged in an interview with CECIL TIMES, that all of the volunteer companies’ equipment requests for the previous fiscal year had been fully funded by the McCarthy administration.

In the current Fiscal 2020 budget, McCarthy again did not provide funds for all of the local fire companies’ equipment requests, saying he wanted to await estimates of available revenues, especially as state and national economic forecasts suggested possible downturns. But Tome said he was hopeful that the balance of the fire companies’ equipment aid requests for the current budget year will be fulfilled in the next few months.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday (9/17/2019) the Cecil County Council supported legislation proposed by McCarthy to add $164,154 for the volunteer fire and ambulance services to compensate them for additional demands for services due to new businesses that have located in the county.

The need for additional aid stems from an error by the state Department of Assessments and Taxation in allocations to local fire company designations for properties developed recently. During a recent Charlestown town meeting held by McCarthy, who has held a “listening tour” of all of the county’s towns in the past few months, local fire company officials complained that some of the new employers in the county—such as the Amazon facility—were making calls for ambulance services that were straining local emergency services.

A review by county budget and finance department officials found that the state property tax assessment agency had failed to update its database that shows “codes” for local emergency services companies that serve individual properties. A detailed review by the county budget and finance officials found errors by the state that failed to update records to show new employment centers that should be designated for emergency services aid.

“We want to make sure that local fire and ambulance services are fairly compensated for their calls for services,” McCarthy told Cecil Times. “That is why we are re-evaluating the needs of our emergency responders to deal with the economic development we are continuing to encourage in the county,”

Under McCarthy’s proposal to the Council, local first responders will receive additional county aid, including the largest new allocation to Charlestown– $45,786– while Perryville would get an aid boost of $33,702 and Singerly in Elkton would receive $25,957, while all of the other companies in the county would receive smaller aid boosts.

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