Cumberland Times-News

October 31, 2013

Commission agrees to fire/EMS financial study

System could bolster public confidence

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — A system in place to monitor the financial accountability of volunteer fire and emergency medical services companies would protect those services by bolstering public confidence that donated monies are being used for fire and rescue operations. That was the message presented by advocates of a county-funded study of financial accountability in the volunteer departments, which will provide recommendations to guard against bad practices which led to the floundering of two volunteer departments over the past few years.

“We have high confidence” in most of the volunteer departments, said Richard L. DeVore, the county’s director of emergency services. DeVore specifically pointed out representatives of the Bowling Green and Cresaptown departments present at the Allegany County Commission meeting on Thursday.

“What we’re hoping to receive is a list of recommendations,” DeVore said. The study proposal was accepted by county commissioners, who authorized a request for proposals to be issued for the study.

“Some of the bad choices being made hurt us,” said Clarence Broadwater, the current vice president and former president of the Allegany-Garrett County Fire & Rescue Association. “We depend on the public and to some extent the commissioners, for funding. We need some way to monitor the money ... because we could lose the faith of the community,” Broadwater said. The departments had nothing to fear from the study, Broadwater said.

“This is not to dictate to you how to spend your money ... but to make sure the money is being used for fire and EMS,” Broadwater said.

“I think this is a good idea,” said Commissioner Creade Brodie Jr., who pointed out that the volunteer departments are independent organizations not under the control of the county. DeVore said some departments already have formal audits, but most can’t afford to have audits prepared.

Both the Baltimore Pike and McCoole volunteer fire departments ran into serious financial troubles over the past two years. At the Baltimore Pike department, embezzlement by two then-members of the department caused financial problems for that organization.

The McCoole department was set up as an independent corporation and ended up more than $1 million in debt and the station in foreclosure. The cause of the department’s collapse remains under investigation by authorities. The McCoole department was essentially closed down by the county Department of Emergency Services in April.

 The cost of the study won’t be known until the county receives the proposals. The volunteer departments will not be asked to contribute to the costs of the study, county officials said. The county will attempt to use pre-existing funding for the study.

“We believe the vast majority of the departments are doing a good job, our goal is to raise the bar,” DeVore said.

The meeting took place at the county office building on Kelly Road. County Commissioner Michael McKay was not present at the meeting because of a family event.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.