- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

SALISBURY, Md. (AP) State Labor Department officials say the concerns of rural volunteer fire companies about meeting the costs of recently accepted state standards are the result of a misunderstanding.
A letter sent this month to fire and rescue companies throughout Maryland and obtained by the Salisbury Daily Times states that the new regulations are intended to "develop a standard applicable to, and protective of, all firefighters and rescue personnel in the state, whether paid or volunteer."
The standards were drafted over three years by a committee of fire chiefs and representatives of the Maryland State Firemen's Association, the Maryland State and District of Columbia Professional Firefighters and the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR).
The Maryland Fire Service Health and Safety Consensus Standard includes guidelines for extensive physical evaluations, departmental fitness programs, substance-abuse programs, equipment standards, appointment of a health and safety officer, facility safety and even workplace violence prevention.
Some Eastern Shore fire officials claimed the costs of training and meeting the other standards would be hard to meet at small, volunteer fire companies.
However, DLLR spokeswoman Karen Napolitano said the standards which go into effect in two years include a contingency that funding must be available if they are to be implemented. That contingency was not mentioned in the letters that went out, Miss Napolitano said.
"We do want them to meet the standard, but we do realize there's a financial component to it," she said.
DLLR Secretary John O'Connor sent out a new letter June 14 to the Maryland State Firemen's Association restating that full implementation at volunteer companies is dependent on funding.
Miss Napolitano said it's too early to speculate on funding sources, but a financial committee including representatives of the same groups that agreed on the standards is looking into it.
Charles Fisher, a member of the Mount Vernon Volunteer Fire Company and a Somerset County commissioner, was one of those sounding the alarm after the letters went out about the new standards.
"If these regulations are enforced and it's carried through, there is no way local government or any county can afford to pick up the tab, and I think there's very few fire companies that are going to be able to pick up that tab," Mr. Fisher said.
Delegate Norman Conway, Wicomico County Democrat and a volunteer firefighter in Salisbury for 40 years, said it's not just the cost, but the time requirement of the regulations that has some volunteers concerned.
"There's a number of [standards] that potentially could be barriers to getting young people involved in the fire service," he said.

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