2022 | Police & Fire

County fire and rescue service could get more first responders, increase salaries

County Council looking to add $18 million to budget for next fiscal year

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The Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service is expected to receive another $18 million in spending for the next fiscal year, which would be used to hire 34 more first responders, boost salaries and pay for fleet and building maintenance for the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad. 

The County Council members unanimously approved Tuesday a nearly 8% increase in spending for the service. The allocation won’t be official until the council votes on County Executive Marc Elrich’s budget proposal around the end of May. Given that happens, the county’s fire and rescue service will be allocated roughly $251.7 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1 

The additional funds will be allocated, in part, to fund nearly 34 new full-time positions in the fire and rescue service. Many will be for emergency medical service and paramedic staffing, along with positions to support mental health programs. 

During Tuesday’s council meeting, Council Member Andrew Friedson also highlighted $150,000 for fleet and building maintenance service for the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad. Friedson said that squad formerly served both the Bethesda and Chevy Chase communities and parts of northwest Washington, D.C. But now, it just serves the Bethesda and Chevy Chase areas, he said.

Friedson said the additional funding is in recognition of the squad’s efforts to provide life-saving services as well as community outreach. An example of its community work is the Nourishing Bethesda coalition, which provides food to underprivileged families throughout Bethesda and Chevy Chase, Friedson says. 

County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein also said some members of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad have had expertise in epidemiology, which was critical in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Susan Farag, a legislative analyst for the council, said the county’s fire and rescue service will also benefit from changes to the Maryland Emergency Service Transporter Supplemental Payment Program, which was passed by state legislators in Annapolis this year.

The changes allow local governments to receive more reimbursement money from the state for providing ambulance and emergency medical services to Medicaid recipients, according to council staff documents. Farag said the county is expected to receive an additional $9.3 million for the current budget year and $13 million in fiscal year 2023.

Some of the $11 million will be used to pay for a staff member to oversee the funds, along with an annual audit, according to a council staff report. But the bulk of it will be used to pay for staffing increases ($4.6 million) and ongoing structural budget deficits ($3.7 million).

Farag told council members that the fire and rescue service has faced structural deficits for the past several years because overtime costs have exceeded what has been budgeted. According to a council staff report, a 2018 CountyStat Net Annual Work Hour Update study showed that in order to fix this problem, the county needed to hire 180 more firefighters.

It’s likely unfeasible that the county will be able to hire that many, but hiring more would help alleviate the overtime issue, Farag said. And according to the council staff report, Elrich and his administration have taken multiple steps since 2018 to address the issue, including:

  • Hiring 20 more firefighters in fiscal year 2020
  • Adding about $2.2 million for overtime costs in fiscal year 2020
  • Adding 10 additional paramedic training positions in fiscal year 2022.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com