Study Finds Berlin Fire Company ‘Not Sufficiently Funded’ For Services Provided

Study Finds Berlin Fire Company ‘Not Sufficiently Funded’ For Services Provided

BERLIN – The consulting firm tasked with studying Berlin Fire Company funding released a report this week identifying more than two dozen recommendations for the organization.

On Tuesday, Berlin officials released the fire and emergency medical services funding study completed by Matrix Consulting Group. The firm recommends numerous changes, ranging from reducing use of the outdoor warning siren to providing the town with a five-year financial plan, for the Berlin Fire Company (BFC).

“It’s quite comprehensive,” Mayor Gee Williams said. “I think I can say with confidence the funding study addressed all the topics and subjects of concern or of interest to the Town of Berlin.”

The 88-page document provides recommendations for the fire company in regard to operations, financial resources, organizational structure, operational management and physical resources. The “overarching” issues identified in the report relate to funding and the lack of a formal agreement between the town and the fire company.

“The Berlin Fire Company is not sufficiently funded for the level of services they have chosen to provide to Worcester County and the Town of Berlin,” the report reads. “Worcester County has a funding formula that is used to determine the funding for the Company. The Town of Berlin does not have a specific formula for the funding of services but rather provides a flat rate for the services.”

The report also alludes to the lack of communication between the town and the fire company.

“The fire company is not held accountable for how they allocate the funding provided from the county or the town,” states the report. “The company receives the funding and spends it as the they deem appropriate. There is a lack of dialogue between the town and fire company as it relates to the budget and funding for services. There is little to no discussion about the services being provided and the cost of those services.”

The report also provides 28 specific recommendations for the fire company. While a handful relate to operations—the fire company should establish benchmark performance objectives, for example—and physical resources—the fire company should convert the current library building to a rental facility—the majority are tied to operational management and financial resources.

The BFC receives the bulk of its funding from Worcester County, the Town of Berlin and EMS billing. The fire company also receives donations.

“The comingling of these funds creates confusion and concern for anyone who reviews the financial records,” the report reads.

Matrix Consulting goes on to encourage the fire company to establish written policies and procedures for billing, evaluate the EMS fee structure annually and maintain a five-year financial plan. The report notes that for years the fire company simply asked the town for money and the town provided it.

“In years past the fire company has not been held accountable for the monies spent on fire suppression and emergency medical services…,” reads the report. “With the tax funding between the town and county reaching over one million dollars, there is a need for more transparency and accountability.”

The consulting firm also recommends that apparatus and equipment purchased with money from the town’s capital fund be approved by the town and owned by the town.

In the area of operational management, the report urges the fire company to consider a retention program to get new volunteers, set up stand-by emergency medical services for the town’s larger special events and continue using county and state training resources. Because of the town’s narrow streets, the consulting group recommends staging an ambulance at the fire station during special events and suggests that paramedics use a specially designed golf cart to access the festival area.

The report also calls for a reduction in use of the town-wide warning siren.

“Use the outdoor warning siren only for emergencies that will affect the public in cases of severe weather or other calamities as designated by the Worcester County Emergency Management Division and not as a notification system for the fire company,” reads the recommendation.

The BFC acknowledged the Matric Consulting report in a statement on its website this week.

“Berlin Fire Company reviewed the entire Berlin BFC Funding Report as submitted to the Town of Berlin by Matrix Consulting Group at our business meeting,” the statement reads. “This is a detailed 90-page document which cannot be analyzed in a single meeting.  As it took several months to compile the report, we anticipate it may take several months for us review Matrix’s report and suggested recommendations.”

The fire company is expected to provide additional information to the consulting firm.

“We have made the Town of Berlin and Matrix aware of some fire company data that is not accurate or needs further clarification,” the statement reads. “Berlin Fire Company looks forward to continuing its work with Matrix to provide clarifications.  Some of these corrections and clarifications include the organizational chart, financial and billing processes, and response locations.  Unfortunately, there was not an opportunity to review a draft report before a final version was released.”

The fire company also noted that the report confirms that the BFC is not sufficiently funded and that the bulk of its calls for service were in the Town of Berlin rather than Worcester County.

“Berlin Fire Company looks forward to continuing to work with the mayor and council during the budget process so we may continue providing fire, rescue, and emergency medical services,” the BFC statement reads.

According to the mayor, the report — which comes just a week before the town begins budget work sessions — will aid the town in its relationship with the fire company going forward.  He said it would allow the parties to work together with funding and policies “based on the current standards in this nation.”

“I’m very hopeful,” Williams said. “Much of the report does deal with the issues and concerns we’ve had.”

Williams said the town council would be meeting with the fire company during a closed session this week to go over the report. He also hopes to have a representative of Matrix Consulting present the report at a public meeting for the community’s benefit.

“The evolution of bringing the fire company and the town to a better place will be largely a public process,” he said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.