VA County Fire and EMS Service Studied, Overhaul Needed

Harford, VA – A study conducted by Carroll Buraker & Associates indicated that fire and emergency ambulance service operations in Harford County are due for significant overhaul. This study highlighted concerns including more efficient deployment of EMS units and construction of additional fire stations in more populated areas according to news from Explore Hartford.

The report generated from this study was released on Thursday, February 17th but has been in the possession of Harford County Executive David Craig for more than a year. The study and original transmittal letter to Craig is dated Sept. 12, 2009. Craig announced Thursday that a 16-member commission has been assembled to implement the recommendations of the study and continue review of both fire and EMS services.

The study first outlines serious concerns regarding emergency ambulance services. “The present deployment of EMS resources in Harford County is in serious need of overhaul to reduce the late responses and failures to respond,” the consultant, who studied 2008 response time figures, wrote,“No one calling 9-1-1 for an EMS emergency should have to wait for a second and third due EMS unit to be dispatched while the closest EMS unit stands unstaffed,” the report adds.

The issue of unavailable, trained EMS personnel which effected ambulance response times was supposedly addressed by an improved system of partially paid personnel which was implemented by the county during the last decade. The Buracker report also outlines a need for standardized protocols to be set by the Harford County Fire and EMS Association.
The process of decision making regarding ambulance service is currently handled company-by-company. “While [implementation of HCVFEA] standards will certainly be a change in practice, they need to occur if success is expected,” the report continues, saying that implementation in a timely manner should improve EMS delivery. The Buraker study states, “the study team believes that the transition to an increased paid EMS delivery system will have to occur much sooner than expected” should the county fail to implement such standards or mandate compliance with them by individual companies.
The Harford County government would need to spend $61 million annually for full-time fire and EMS personnel to continue providing services currently provided by an all-volunteer fire-fighting force and a partially paid EMS contingent according to Buraker’s estimation. Harford County had allocated $9 million in operating funds for fire equipment purchases and an additional $10 million in the capital budget for facilities improvements in 2011.

The Buraker study speaks of an “aging” fire apparatus fleet which should have a 20-year replacement schedule.  One recommendation points to a planned construction of new fire and EMS stations near Patterson Mill Road and Route 924 in Emmorton along Route 543 between Fountain Green and Hickory and in Churchville near Routes 22 and 136 and in Riverside. The study also recommends that the county and the fire and EMS association “implement separate fire station models for paid and volunteer.”

Other recommendations include a computerized system to catalog all maintenance records, improvements to existing fire stations, including bunkhouses which will help in recruitment and retention of volunteers.

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