How The County Made Fire And Rescue Services More Expensive And Less Responsive

There has been increasing tension between volunteer and professional firefighters in the county.  Meanwhile, due to a political spat, County Executive Leggett has been trying to use the budget to wipe out the little administrative support that the county provides for the volunteer services.

Fire and rescue services in Montgomery, until about 20 years ago, were largely run by local volunteer fire departments.  (MoCo has 19 volunteer fire and rescue departments around the county, administered and staffed as neighborhood organizations).   Some professionals were hired by the county to supplement the staffing.  In the late 1980s, the county began maneuvering to take the departments out of the hands of the volunteers, and place them in the hands of county government.  County employees are easier for the government to control.   Now, the situation has been reversed, and fire departments are staffed largely with county employees, with volunteers filling in remaining spots.   I haven’t seen any suggestions that the services provided by the volunteers are any different than those provided by the unionized firefighters.  It’s simply the standard Montgomery County assumption that things are better left for the government to do.

This transformation has a large fiscal impact, to be sure.  Salaries make up a large portion of fire and rescue expenditures.  But it also has an effect on the connection between the firefighters and the population, and the sense of local community that existed when departments were local volunteer associations.  In MoCo, though, voluntarism and community often take a back seat to the desirability of government control.  It’s a classic example of the subtitle motto of this blog:  government opposes and crowds out civil society.

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One Comment on “How The County Made Fire And Rescue Services More Expensive And Less Responsive”

  1. Harvey West Says:

    You are absolutely right, in fact taking out volunteers can destroy a department, especially when a lack of funding is present. Volunteers can be just as good as paid, unionized FFs. For instance on our department not one of us actually has a title, but everyone of us is trained for any position. You never know who will show up, so train everyone to be the engineer, captain, initial attack team etc. Giving each volunteer a broad set of skills. Then once you make a department have volunteer and half paid it always ends up that the paid FF bosses the volunteer around and tell him/her what to do. This goes on until the volunteer quits. Then you are understaffed with no leadership. The department and county departments will soon crumble apart. Than again the departments will cry to the city how they are understaffed and need money, raise your taxes and pretend like it was the only way to go.

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