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September 19, 2020

Washington County awarded multi-million dollar grant to help volunteer firefighters

Credit: WDVM, Katie Rhee

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) — The Washington County Division of Emergency Services has just been awarded over $8 million dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The funding comes from the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response or SAFER grant funding program.

Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen stated that the funding is solely from the federal government and that it comes at a time when firefighters and fire stations are stretched thin due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Right now, our firefighters are doing double duty. They have their ongoing lifesaving mission. They’re also on the front lines of fighting COVID-19.”

This funding will be used to hire 33 full-time firefighters over the next three years at four fire stations around the county.

Congressman David Trone, who represents Washington County, emphasized the importance of volunteer firefighters. He stated that growing up in a small town, the volunteer fire department was revered highly by the community. He also highlighted that this funding comes at a crucial time when volunteer fire departments are struggling to fund their operations due to the lack of fundraising events.

He also cited both the pandemic and the growth of the county as factors to the decrease in volunteer firefighters.

“But as the county has grown, it is more and more difficult for the volunteers to recruit and retain firefighters. So by going to a professional force, with 33 additional firefighters, the whole county, it will be better served.”

David Hayes, the director of the Division of Emergency Services of Washington County, applied for the grant funding and was elated that the application was accepted by FEMA. He echoed Congressman Trone’s sentiments about the stress that is being put onto volunteer firefighters.

“You know we still have a very active volunteer system but social demands have created burdens on our volunteers that make it more difficult for them to be available the number of hours that we need to handle the increasing call volume.”

The firefighters hired under this grant will place three firefighters on duty each day at four strategically located volunteer fire stations throughout Washington County. Hayes stated that the new full-time firefighters will provide much-needed support to the volunteer fire departments. He also highlighted that while these new firefighters will be stationed at fire departments in Sharpsburg, Clear Spring, Williamsport, and Leitersburg, they are going to be assets for the entire county, not just one specific town or city.

The four fire stations will likely see the new full-time firefighters as early as next year. Hayes stated that the County Board of Commissions must first accept the funding before the hiring process of the firefighters can begin.