Staffing problems, funding more critical as population of area continues to grow
By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(Oct. 12, 2023) Public safety is a priority for most Berlin residents, and the Berlin Fire Company and EMS play a critical role in ensuring that the town and surrounding areas continued to be protected.
But challenges in staffing and funding continue to make providing that service difficult
The Berlin Fire Company and Emergency Medical Services consists of 55 fire and rescue volunteers and 16 EMS career positions.
While the company only has one position open at this time, Dave Fitzgerald, the president of the fire company, said it’s hard to recruit volunteers firefighters and EMS staff.
The time commitment is intense, according to Fitzgerald, who said these personnel are required to undergo hundreds of hours of fire and EMS training.
“It’s a good career if you want to serve the public,” Fitzgerald said. “But with 24 hour shifts, it’s a whole different lifestyle,” he said of the 24 hours on and 72 hours off EMS shifts.
The Berlin Fire Company answers about 400 fire calls a year. Add the meetings, training time and other duties, like keeping the engines and the fire house clean and cared for, and washing equipment, and it can be hard to find people who can balance that with a full-time job and a personal life, according to Fitzgerald.
For the paid positions, the company tries to be competitive with Ocean City and Salisbury, where personnel have unions with collective bargaining. Berlin must keep up with those pay scales or lose people to those companies.
As the population of the Berlin service area expands, so too do the needs for fire and EMS services.
An example is the Oceans East development, which turned an empty field into 732 residents.
Fitzgerald said the company writes an impact report for every development that outlines how many more emergency calls can be expected.
The town has impact fees for other services, but not for public safety. Fitzgerald said impact fees could pay for equipment costs. He said apparatus costs have almost doubled since covid. In 2019, an ambulance cost the company $295,000, but now, according to Fitzgerald, a 2025 model will cost the company $425,000. Fire trucks cost about $1 million.
The town’s comprehensive plan has provided for impact fees for years, he said, adding that the mayor and council just have to implement them.
The company’s station and administration building are adequate, but there are always unmet needs, Fitzgerald said.
The station was built in 1965 and an addition was added in 1991. Recently, the company has moved into the administration building next door, which used to be the town library.
“The administration building is a good stopgap measure,” Fitzgerald said. The building has room for meetings and places for volunteers and staff to study, read or relax.
The fire company mails an annual donation letter each July that includes a recruitment letter and additional donation opportunities for special fund such as $1000 donors.
An increase in emergency call volume and training that requires additional volunteer manpower and the increase in material costs have reduced fundraising capabilities. The Fire Company banquet hall and conference center are available for rent.
EMS will mail their annual donation letter in late November. EMS will accept additional donations towards the costs of replacement ambulances and medical equipment.
The company used to hold big events, such as a casino night. He said that ended when Ocean Downs Casino opened.
“Who wants to come here, with volunteer dealers and small bets when you have Ocean Downs?” he asked.
Fitzgerald noted that police don’t have to fundraise, but fire companies are expected to in Berlin and many other communities. To learn more visit https://www.berlinfire.com/