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Tomorrow’s vote on “Question A” will shape Montgomery County, Maryland’s future

From Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett in an October 28 message to residents:

County Question A. The Question gives voters the opportunity to decide whether County Council Bill 13-10: Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Transport Fee, which passed in May, should remain law.

Under the law, the County would be allowed to recover ambulance transport costs from premiums already paid to insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid — $14 million this year and $170 million over the next 10 years. All revenues would be dedicated, by law, to strengthen our Fire & Rescue Service. No County resident will ever get a bill for ambulance transport, co-pays or deductibles — whether they have insurance or not.

IAFF Local 1664, Montgomery County Career Firefighters, have assembled information on the ambulance fee (HERE)

The Montgomery County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association opposes the fee and has engaged in an all-court press to defeat the proposal. Their dedicated website: Stop Ambulance Fees

OLD ENEMIES, NEW ISSUE

Montgomery County is just outside Washington DC and adjacent to Prince George’s County.

Like PG, there is a long and arduous battle between the volunteer and career personnel for control of the fire department.

Unlike PG, where these issues are punctuated by fireground fisticuffs and flaming discussion boards, Montgomery County resolves issues as white-collar workers.

For example, during the two-hatter wars a decade ago, Montgomery obtained a binding opinion letter from the US Department of Labor, allowing career Montgomery County employees to continue to be volunteers in their hometown Montgomery County fire station … as long as their volunteer rank did not exceed their career rank.

During the two-hatter issue I realized that a 20-something volunteer in Montgomery County, still in Firefighter I training, had more influence on federal policy than the big city fire chief who testified on Capitol Hill. That is because the 20-something worked on the Hill for an elected representative or the federal government.

On October 21, fire chiefs from surrounding jurisdictions joined to support Fire Chief Richard Bowers in the effort to implement the ambulance fee. Montgomery County is the last jurisdiction in the DC area to implement a fee, a decade after Fairfax County – another wealthy DC suburb – implemented their fee.

Michael Laris covered this gathering for the Washington Post (HERE). The gathering was to counteract the claim by the volunteers that people will not call 9-1-1 if there is a fee.

Self-disclosure: I advocated for the Fairfax County ambulance fee when I was on the job in EMS administration.

PAYBACK FOR 2004?

While there are some legitimate issues raised by the volunteers, it appears to me that the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association is trying to reverse their 2004 loss.

Councilman Michael J. Knapp presented Bill 36-03, which revamped the county’s fire and rescue services. This bill established the county as the final authority in fire and rescue operations, removing the autonomy enjoyed by the 19 volunteer organizations since their creation.

It also created the first county fire chief.

The other urban counties outside Washington DC made the same transition in the 1970′s. Delaying the inevitable for three decades demonstrates the effectiveness of white-collar Montgomery County volunteers – lawyers, federal employees, and knowledge workers.

GAZING DEEPLY INTO OUR NAVEL

Past career-volunteer disputes resemble a bad marriage, with he-said-she-said accusations and issues that are so inside or trivial that no one else can understand (or care) about the insults and slights.

I get the bad marriage vibes when reading the Michael Laris follow-up article in Sunday’s Washington Post: Fight over Montgomery County ambulance fee continues

I respect that Charlie Moyer, interviewed by Laris, has been a Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad volunteer since 1962.

BCC, in terms of international reputation, workload and history, is to Montgomery County EMS as Kentland is to Prince George’s County firefighting. Both are outliers and fiercely opposed to local governmental oversight.

Don’t believe me? Read their history (HERE).

IF QUESTION A IS DEFEATED

The county has outlined the impact of not enacting County Council Bill 13-10:

  • Take 11 Ambulances Out of Service
  • Lay Off 89 Fire Fighters & Paramedics
  • No Staff at New Fire Stations
  • Remove Police Officers from Schools
  • Eliminate Senior Programs, Close Libraries and Cut Transit

The lay-offs are not for vacant positions, that represents 89 existing county firefighter/paramedics.

The volunteer leadership says that this is a scare tactic from the county executive. I think many of the volunteer leaders want to go back to 1962-era fire and ems service.

Mike “FossilMedic” Ward

Comments - Add Yours

  • Fireman234543

    “The county has outlined the impact of not enacting County Council Bill 13-10…
    * Take 11 Ambulances Out of Service
    * Lay Off 89 Fire Fighters & Paramedics
    * No Staff at New Fire Stations
    * Remove Police Officers from Schools
    * Eliminate Senior Programs, Close Libraries and Cut Transit”

    This is Ike Leggett’s wish list not what will actually happen. The County Council approves budgets, not the County Executive. The real problem here is a County Executive that thinks he can do anything he wants since he face no real political opposition in the elections in heavily Democratic Montgomery County. Here is a thought for him, build one less over budget theater or bike bridge in the County and then we can have this “$14 million” that apparently is so make or break to the budget.

    • http://www.firegeezer.com Mike “FossilMedic” Ward

      I remember when the board approved a model airplane park instead of increased staffing for a north county fire station.

      My experience is that the county executive has a fair amount of control over the budget process. Even with the change in the make-up of the county board of supervisors, this issue still appears to me to be the old-school volunteers versus everybody else.

      I see the judge has dismissed the challenge to the ambulance fee campaign by the county.

  • Fed Up Fireman

    Montgomery County should feel luck that the Ambulance Fee will go back to the FD. Those of us fisticuffs fire fighters in Pee Gee are breaking our backs providing public health care while the funds recouped go back to the counties general fund for the County Council to spend. Pee Gee FD doesn’t see it.
    As far as people not calling 911, switch those mutual aide radios over to any of your neighbors Dispatch channels and take a listen…they haven’t forgotten how to get ahold of us.
    Lets quit bickering and place the citizens first. We all (career/volunteer, street beaters/desk jockeys) need to work together to create intelligent solutions to ensure the citizens receive service from appropriately trained, staffed, equipped and positioned personnel and apparatus.

    • http://www.firegeezer.com Mike “FossilMedic” Ward

      “We all (career/volunteer, street beaters/desk jockeys) need to work together to create intelligent solutions to ensure the citizens receive service from appropriately trained, staffed, equipped and positioned personnel and apparatus. ”

      Excellent point!