Showing posts with label fire departments. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fire departments. Show all posts

Friday, July 22, 2011

Accomack Board Debates Stricter Reporting Standards for Fire and Rescue

Fire and Rescue Funding Accountability was a hot topic at the Accomack County Board of Supervisors Meeting on Wednesday, July 20.

But first, during the public comment part of the meeting, Belle Haven Resident and candidate for District 9s seat in the November election, Wesley Edwards addressed the board. He told them that the number one item on the meetings agenda should be the 13 million dollars of uncollected taxes, noting that it wasnt discussed at last months meeting and it wasnt on this months meeting agenda either. Edwards noted that the board did decide on funding another audit, something he said, the board was famous for. He went on to tell the board that a quote he made 5 years ago now seems appropriate; more paralysis by analysis. He added that the county doesnt need new taxes, but to collect the ones they have and suggested that by getting a judgment against those who owe could extend the collection period to up to 20 years.

Mark Baumgardener of Virginia Beach addressed the board concerning the proposed sewage treatment facility in Atlantic. He talked about why facility is needed stating that a study in 2008 showed that there was a dramatic need and one done in January of 2011 found that it was critical for the environmental condition of Chincoteague Bay and the Countys groundwater and for Chincoteagues businesses, noting there are people pumping weekly. He added that studies show that the best place for the system in on the mainland, northeast of Accomack County.

James Bagwell of Bloxom spoke to the board on behalf of the Accomack County Fire and Rescue Commission. He told them that the commission had met last month about the proposed accountability and that the majority was in favor of the policy with the exception of how the money would be distributed. He said they dont want the County holding the funds and asked the board to continue doing business the way it has been done in the past. He added that they were willing to do audits and to provide cancelled checks and receipts along with the year-end reports.

Mike Mason, Director of Finance made a presentation on that proposed accountability for the Fire and Rescue Commission as requested by the Supervisors in April. Mason stated that over 1.2 million dollars of County funds are distributed to fire companies each year and that the County needs a written policy that governs what the funds can be used for. Both the Board of Supervisors and Mason want it known that there as been no alleged inappropriate use of County funds or any other negative action that has prompted the policy. The fire companies have done nothing wrong. The primary purpose of the policy is to provide assurance that the County funds dispersed to volunteer fire and rescue companies are used only for the public good and are accounted for in a clear and transparent manner. Basically the proposed policy would require the fire companies to claim reimbursements, although the County recognizes the companies may have a cash flow problem. To avoid this, advances would be permitted for large purchases. Funds would be disbursed to the companies two times per year, as currently practiced. But if the fire company does not spend all funds awarded during the fiscal year, funds would be held by the County in the fire companys name and would be available for distribution the following year, assuming that report requirements are met. Any interest on funds held by the County would be given to the fire company.

Supervisor Robert Crockett was in favor of the proposed policy stated that he bears in mind an audit letter that another county received as a result of accountability similar to that of the County. He added again, that he wanted it clear that no fire company has done anything to prompt this policy. Supervisor Wanda Thornton felt differently. She reminded the board that the majority of the fire and rescue personnel were volunteers and she doesnt think enough is done to pay these people back for what they do. Thornton went on to say that to make them pay ahead of time creates more paperwork and she doesnt understand what the big deal is.

Noting that if the County had to pay for all these volunteers, the County would be bankrupt. Supervisor Ron Wolf agreed with Thorntons comments about gratitude for their service, but said that the Board is responsible for how tax payers money is used. The discussion ensued for about another hour but the issue ended up being tabled. Supervisor Donald Hart said that he thinks the policy is discriminatory and that all organizations receiving funds needs to be treated the same.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Struggling Cities Shut Firehouses in Budget Crisis

Fire departments around the nation are cutting jobs, closing firehouses and increasingly resorting to “rolling brownouts” in which they shut different fire companies on different days as the economic downturn forces many cities and towns to make deep cuts that are slowing their responses to fires and other emergencies.

Philadelphia began rolling brownouts this month, joining cities from Baltimore to Sacramento that now shut some units every day. San Jose, Calif., laid off 49 firefighters last month. And Lawrence, Mass., north of Boston, has laid off firefighters and shut down half of its six firehouses, forcing the city to rely on help from neighboring departments each time a fire goes to a second alarm.

Fire chiefs and union officials alike say it is the first time they have seen such deep cuts in so many parts of the country. “I’ve never seen it so widespread,” said Harold A. Schaitberger, the general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

The risks of cutting fire service were driven home here last month when Bentley Do, a 2-year-old boy who was visiting relatives, somehow got his hands on a gum ball, put it in his mouth, started laughing and then began choking.

“It blocked the air hole,” said his uncle, Brian Do, who called 911 while other relatives frantically tried to dislodge the gum ball. “No air could flow in and out.”

It is only 600 steps from the front door of the neatly kept stucco home where the boy was staying to the nearest fire station, just down the block. But the station was empty that evening: its engine was in another part of town, on a call in an area usually covered by an engine that had been taken out of service as part of a brownout plan.

The police came to the home within five minutes and began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, officials said. But it took nine and a half minutes — almost twice the national goal of arriving within five minutes — for the fire engine, with a paramedic and more medical equipment, to get there. An ambulance came moments later and took Bentley to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The San Diego Fire-Rescue chief, Javier Mainar, said it was impossible to say whether the delay contributed to Bentley’s death on July 20. But he said there was no doubt that the city’s brownouts, which take 13 percent of firefighters off the streets each day to save $11.5 million annually, led to the delay.

“You can just lock everything down and look at it sequentially, chronologically, as to what occurred,” Chief Mainar said in an interview. “There is no question that the brownout of Engine 44 resulted in Engine 38 having to take a response in that community, and because of that, Engine 38 was now out of position to respond to something that happened just down the street from their fire station.”

Fire service was once a sacred cow at budget time. But the downturn has lingered so long that many cities, which have already made deep cuts in other agencies, are now turning to their fire departments.

Some are trying to wrest concessions from unions, which over the years have won generous pension plans that allow many firefighters to retire in their 40s and 50s — plans that many cities say are unaffordable. Others want to reduce minimum-staffing requirements, which often force them to resort to costly overtime to fill shifts. Others are simply cutting service.

Analysts worry that some of the cuts could be putting people and property in danger. As the downturn has worn on, ISO, an organization that evaluates cities’ fire protection capabilities for the insurance industry, has downgraded more cities, said Michael R. Waters, ISO’s vice president of risk-detection services.

“This is generally due to a reduction in firefighting personnel available for responding to calls, a reduction in the number of responding fire apparatus, and gaps in the optimal deployment of apparatus or deficiencies in firefighter training programs,” Mr. Waters said in a statement.

Several fire chiefs said in interviews that the cuts were making them nervous.

“It’s roulette,” said Chief James S. Clack of the Baltimore City Fire Department, which recently reduced the number of fire units closed each day to three from six. Officials saw that the closings in the 55-unit department were in some cases leading to longer response times. “I’m always worried that something’s going to happen where one of these companies is closed.”

Early in his mayoralty, Michael R. Bloomberg of New York closed six fire companies to save money. This year, a threat to close 20 more — a 6 percent reduction in New York’s fire companies — was averted when the city found savings elsewhere.

Several cities — including Lawrence — have said that they were forced to cut service because the unions failed to make concessions. Mr. Schaitberger, the union president, who was here for a union convention, said that protecting the pensions his members have won over the years was a top priority this year.

The pension issue has an added resonance in San Diego. The city was forced to consider a bankruptcy filing even before the Great Recession, and was barred from raising money by selling bonds to the public after officials disclosed that they had shortchanged the pension fund for city workers for years, even as they improved pension benefits. San Diego’s pension fund has only two-thirds of the money it needs to pay the benefits promised to retirees, according to an updated calculation made by the city in the spring, and faces a shortfall of $2.1 billion.

So even before the recession and the brownouts, fire service in San Diego was stretched thin. A previous San Diego fire chief, Jeff Bowman, was hired in 2002 with a mandate to build up the department, but he resigned in 2006, after the pension-fueled fiscal crisis surfaced and it became clear that he would not get the money to build and staff the extra fire stations he believed were needed. “The question is whether fire protection is adequate, and in my opinion it’s not,” he said in an interview.

After Bentley Do died, the City Council agreed to put a question on the ballot in November asking voters to approve a sales tax increase, which could be put in place only if the city adopts certain budget and pension reforms. The money could restore the fire service and help close a deep budget gap projected for next year.

But it would come too late for the Do family. Bentley, whose father, Nam Do, an American, was working in Vietnam as an architect, was just visiting San Diego with his mother, Mien Nguyen. Ms. Nguyen, who was six months pregnant, was here to take the oath of United States citizenship. She was sworn in the day after Bentley died, Brian Do, the uncle, said, but she fainted when she got her certificate and was taken to the hospital. Nam Do left his job in Vietnam to come here to grieve for his son, and goes to a temple every day, Brian Do said.

He said that the family had no plans to sue the city. “We’re not blaming the city or blaming the Fire Department,” he said, “but the reason I speak out is because I want them to do a better job for other people.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Discrimination Lawsuit Against Town And Fire Department

CRISFIELD -- A woman who claims she was turned down three times by the Crisfield Fire Department to serve as a volunteer firefighter has filed a gender discrimination lawsuit.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Juanita Nelson claims fire department members voted against her because if a woman was in the department, "it will never be the same."

The lawsuit names the fire department, the city of Crisfield -- because it owns the department building and equipment -- and members Ronnie Hinman, Larry Tyler and Charles Cavanaugh.

But city attorney Robin Cockey said the fire department uses a democratic process to admit new members, and that events "did not occur as the plaintiff alleges."

"The fire department and the city vehemently deny any misconduct or wrongdoing," he said.

According to the lawsuit, Nelson enrolled in a firefighter training course and passed in the Top 10 in her class. She also met all of the physical requirements.

Nelson is a 9-year member and volunteer EMT with the Lower Somerset County Ambulance and Rescue Squad in Crisfield.

She first applied for membership in the Crisfield Fire Department in January 2008 but was told she did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority vote from members.

She was turned down again in August 2008 and February 2009, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges Hinman, known as "Pork Chop," began soliciting older, nonactive members of the fire department who don't normally attend meetings to turn out to vote against Nelson's application.

Among the older members reportedly attending were Bobby Tawes, Larry Tyler and Richard Scott, a former mayor of Crisfield.

"One of them openly expressed that 'if we let a female in here, it will never be the same again,' " the lawsuit claims.

But Scott said Monday he has not been to a fire department meeting in the past six or seven years.

After Nelson was denied for a third time, she asked Fire Chief Bill Reynolds for another application but was reportedly told the department was not accepting new applicants. The department allegedly admitted two male members the month before, according to the lawsuit.

Nelson is seeking $3 million in compensatory damages, $1.5 million in punitive damages and attorney fees and expenses.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New Firehouse For Bloxom Fire Department

Bloxom Volunteer Fire Company Begins to Rebuild Station

After being without a fire station for almost four years, the Bloxom Volunteer Fire Company has begun to build the replacement building. The new building was awarded to local contractors Crutchley Enterprises according to Fire Chief James T. Bagwell.

The Bloxom Fire Company purchased the adjoining lot with the original land and bull dosed existing buildings. It is on this now larger lot that the company will build the new 12,000 square foot complex. Currently, the site work is being done and preparing the place the building. Bagwell hopes next week concrete will be laid for the foundation.

The plans for the new building include community meeting rooms and a larger bay area for rescue and fire vehicles. Where the old Bloxom Station was built rectangular, the new building will more resemble the Parksley Fire Station. Bagwell says they are hoping to have the new building completed by August of this year.

The Bloxom Volunteer Fire Company Station was destroyed in a fire in 2006. Although originally believed to be a local arson that was terrorizing the Eastern Shore, investigations proved that to be false. Further investigation could not conclusively prove what caused the fire that ultimately claimed the historical station building.

On January 18,2006, as the Bloxom fireman returned from fighting a structure fire they found their own firehouse ablaze.