Two or three decades ago, local volunteer fire departments were flourishing in terms of membership and finances. People wanted to join them not just for the sake of the community, but also for the prestige associated with what was then one of every town’s most powerful organizations.
They were politically powerful, socially connected and, because of the danger and excitement that was part of every fire call, appealed to young men looking for adventure.
Things have obviously changed since then, as the demands of the job, the pool of potential members, and the communities themselves have experienced numerous changes, some of which continue to affect small town fire departments today.
These are difficult times for many of these smaller departments, leading them to become increasingly reliant on local government for assistance.
This is why the Worcester County Commissioners made the right call this week when they voted to advise neighboring county governments that the time has come for them to pay for services that this county’s companies have been providing them for years for little or no charge.
As much as helping a neighbor in need is the right thing to do, it is no longer practical for this county’s fire departments to reach out to county government to subsidize their responses to out-of-county emergencies.
The commissioners know the day is coming when much of the financial burden of providing emergency services in Worcester will be county government’s responsibility, and they know it’s going to be expensive.
To delay that eventuality, the commissioners are asking the neighbors to pay their fair share, as Ocean City has done with the county for serving unincorporated West Ocean City.
These neighboring jurisdictions — Sussex County, Delaware; Accomack County, Virginia; and Somerset County, Maryland — have two options: They can expand their own departments at a high price or pay a more reasonable amount to Worcester’s companies for services rendered.