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Officials seek ways to generate fire funds

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Rescue recovery program among options considered by a Frederick work group

By J.R. Williams -- jrwilliams@nvdaily.com

CROSS JUNCTION -- A team of county fire and rescue officials continues to explore the merits of implementing a revenue recovery program, and the results of the group's work could be presented in the fall.

Chester Lauck, chief of the Round Hill Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, is co-chairman of a committee studying the issue. He gave a brief progress report at a meeting of the county Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association on Monday night.

Under review are methods for the county's 11 companies to generate funds in a tougher economic climate. A future program could include fees for ambulance rides, repeat false fire-alarm calls or other services, but no decision has been made.

Surrounding jurisdictions -- Winchester and Warren County, for example -- have their own programs in place. At the last meeting of the Frederick work group, Warren County Fire and Rescue Chief Richard Mabie presented an overview of that agency's program, which began in January 2006.

"I thought Chief Mabie's presentation was well done and well received," he told the group. "It seemed to be very positive."

Breakout groups are responsible for studying different areas of impact, including legal issues, equipment and replacement costs, and training. Two topics -- public education and distribution of funds -- will be explored in greater depth at the group's next meeting May 19.

The group could present its findings to the association in August or September, depending on productivity.

"It's still a work in progress," Lauck said.

The renewed discussions, formally requested by two county companies last year, have been rebooted since the topic last came up several years ago.

The Frederick County Board of Supervisors voted against a fee-for-service program in July 2008 after a prolonged and protracted debate.

Critics have said residents who cannot afford an ambulance ride may think twice about calling for help. Lauck said that concern is one at the forefront of debate. He said some people were relieved to hear that Warren County doesn't charge residents out of pocket -- only the insurance providers are billed -- and the cost of transporting patients without insurance is written off.

"We've got people in our communities that have lived there all their life, and they may be on a fixed income," he said. "We don't want them not to call 911 if they're sick because they're worried about an ambulance bill."

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