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Two UpCounty Fire Engines Saved From Cuts Aimed at Closing County’s Budget Gap

When County Executive Ike Leggett introduced a Savings Plan to make up for the County’s $120 million budget shortfall, earlier this month, among the cuts was the elimination of two fire engines in the UpCounty, one stationed in the center of Germantown and the other in the Hyattstown Fire Station 9.

Those fire apparatus, and all the Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service units which had been included in Leggett’s initial cut were saved from elimination after County Council members took up Leggett’s Savings Plan in committee last week.

The proposal would have eliminated two fire engines from the 5th Battalion of the Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service.

Most of the shortfall, which was announced in December, comes from a decline in projected income tax revenue. The County Executive's plan includes $60 million in savings from the fiscal year 2018 budget and about $13 million from the capital improvements program. If the gap is not closed through cuts to current services, it may have to be cut from the fiscal year 2019 budget.

Leggett’s proposed plan makes cuts to almost all County departments, but one that would have been troubling to residents of Germantown was the proposal to eliminate Germantown Engine 729, which runs out of the Fire Station 29 on Crystal Rock Drive next to the Montgomery County Police 5th District Headquarters.

The plan would have also eliminated the paid crew and Engine 209 based in Fire Station 9 in Hyattstown, which is located on Rt. 355 just south of the border with Frederick County.

“When it comes to the Germantown Engine 729,” said District 2 County Councilmember Craig Rice. “I did not support that, and I told members of the Public Safety Committee that absolutely under no circumstances was that cut okay with us.”

“The Public Safety Committee recommended 3-0 that all response units be maintained,” said Susan Farag, a Legislative Analyst with the County in an email to Germantown Pulse. “None of these are being taken as savings. That recommendation goes to full Council, and they will decide on that on Tuesday.”

While the full County Council could still vote to eliminate the fire apparatus and their crews when it takes up the County Executives’ Savings Plan at its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 30, it is very unlikely the members of the Council will go against the Public Safety Committee’s recommendation.

“The only savings taken from Fire was approximately $54,000 that would have been distributed to Local Fire and Rescue Departments through our Emergency Management Services Transport (EMST) fund,” said Farag. “The savings plan had proposed that this reduction be $268,458, or 10 percent of the budgeted amount for FY18.

The proposal would have eliminated the crews running those fire engines, which according to a memo from County staff to members of the Public Safety Committee would’ve impacted three positions at each fire station. Those six firefighters would have been reassigned within the MCFRS.

Fire Station 29 houses Engine 729, Rescue Squad 729, Ambulance 729, and Swift Water Unit 729, all of which are owned by Montgomery County and manned by professional firefighters on the county payroll. Fire Station 29 also houses Engine 729B, which is owned and manned by members of the Germantown Volunteer Fire Department, which works in conjunction with professional firefighters in Montgomery County.

According to DataMontgomery.com, in 2017 Fire Station 729 responded to 607 fire-related incidents, which include structure fires, brush fires, vehicle fires, gas leaks, and personal injury collisions. That equals about 51 runs per month, or 1.7 runs each day. Those runs do not include the times when Engine 729 responded with paramedics on board to medical incidents. In total units from Fire Station, 29 responded to 14,620 emergency calls in 2017.

DataMontgomery.com data shows that Fire Station 34 responded to 629 fire-related incidents in 2017, or 52 per month, or 1.8 per day. As for Fire Station 22 it responded to 397 fire-related calls in 2017, as per DataMontgomery, which equals 33 per month or about 1.1 per day.

The elimination of Hyattstown Engine 709, would have been less drastic. In fact, Engine 709 is the unit in the MCFRS with the lowest call volume. “In calendar 2017, the station had 189 calls in its first due area. Of those, Engine 709 responded to 162 calls, only two of which were for structure fires,” read the Public Safety Committee Staff memo.

While Engine 709 responded to a far lower number of fire-related calls than that of Engine 729 — the cut would have increased response times to emergency incidents in the far UpCounty areas of Clarksburg, Boyds, Barnesville, and Damascus.

Fire Station 9, located at the intersection of Frederick Road and Old Hundred Road in Clarksburg, houses the Hyattstown Volunteer Fire Department. Aside from Engine 709, there are four other units which operate from that location; Tanker 709, Brush Engine 709, and Ambulance 709.

The council is expected to vote on the savings plan on Tuesday, January 30.

Photos by Germantown Pulse.

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