storm is brewing
By Thomas M. Cunningham
WTC Staff Editorial
A storm is brewing on who should be paying for emergency services to several Federal Government installations. The combatants in this arena are the Fort Myers Federal Fire Department and the Arlington County Fire Department over who should provide services, and who will receive the funding for services.
Arlington County, Virginia is located just across the Potomac from the hub of the federal government, the District of Columbia. 12.5 percent of Arlington County is federally owned land, which houses not only the Arlington National Cemetery, home of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and grave site of the late President John F. Kennedy, Iwo Jima memorial, and the Pentagon. Approximately 100,000 employees of the federal government work in Arlington. These federal sites being within the county, receive approximately 1,000 daily. The Arlington county fire department estimates that 11 percent of their 23,400 calls are to sites owned by the federal government. This would come to approximately 3000 responses per year.
Fire Chief Edward P. Plaugher of the Arlington County Fire Department with the assistance of Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) have written a request to Donald H. Rumsfeld, the current Secretary of Defense requesting that $4.5 million of this years budget be paid to Arlington County Fire for services that they provide.
Chief Plaugher and Rep. Moran have also requested that Arlington Fire also receive an annual budget of $1.4 million for future services. County officials have estimated that if the Federal Government did pay taxes that Arlington County would have an additional $10.5 million annually in their budget. As of right now the number of Arlington county responses is down due to the Pentagon undergoing an extensive renovation. A Pentagon spokesman has stated that it is “too early” to respond to the Arlington county Fire Chiefs request.
Chief Plaugher also states that if a catastrophe or terrorist incident were to happen on a federal government property that his personnel and equipment would be the first to respond. The chief makes a solid point here. Yes, while his personnel would be “first in” at the Pentagon if a terrorist attack or other calamity were to take place the chief must understand his responsibility is to the injured and dying and not his fiscal wallet. Chief Plaugher must come to grips with two important facts in this scenario. Within a period of two hours any personnel or equipment that he has on location will be overwhelmed by the onslaught of federal agencies that will come rushing in.
The Arlington Fire Department will be a small fish in a big ocean. In addition, services and expenses that Arlington County would put out for such a response would require the county to file for reimbursement provided for under the Robert T. Stafford Act. This would be the responsibility delegated under the direction of Mr. Joseph Allbaugh and the (FEMA) Federal Emergency Management Agency. In the realm of the Incident Command System this would be the duty delegated to the logistics officer and personnel under his command to account for expenditures. If an act of terrorism occurred, I predict that a “state of emergency” would be declared rather quickly and this will allow for the FEMA to allocate funding for the response and mitigation of the emergency.
Rep. Moran has called Chief Plaughers request reasonable. Reasonable yes, but also illegal and against the law.
The Fort Myers Federal Fire Department is up in arms over this matter as they have every right to be, after all they are first due into Arlington National Cemetery, the Iwo Jima Memorial and are second due at the Pentagon. Members of the department feel given the monetary resources and support they could provide the services at the same level that Arlington County does. I believe that given the funding that they could provide service just as well as Arlington County. The one thing that works in Ft. Myers favor is a bill passed by Congress years ago that is a law now prohibiting the contracting out of fire, police, and emergency services to federal installations. For the Secretary of Defense to give funding to Arlington County for services would be a violation of the law. Rep. Moran and Chief Plaugher should have researched this before the request of funding was made.
The attempt to backdoor the Ft. Myers Fire Department to gain funding that is not appropriated is rather reprehensible. For this I give both the Congressman and chief an “F” in researching their proposal to Mr. Rumsfeld, but an “A” for effort. The Ft Myers Fire Department is partly to blame as well for not foreseeing the need for an EMS unit within the department.
While the Naval Fire Departments have been incorporating EMS into their emergency service systems for some years now, the Army Division of Emergency Services has been reluctant or slow to take over EMS services at their installations and surrounding jurisdiction. Rather EMS service has been run separately out of the base hospital or clinic. It has been this way at Ft. Meade Maryland, but now that Ft. Meade is about to complete construction of their new station, the fire department will run the EMS delivery on base out of the station. At the Aberdeen Proving Grounds Fire Department the EMS service is also under authority of the fire chief. But now Ft. Myers must take on the challenge.
One way that Ft. Myers can not only save taxpayers money, but also deliver quality service is by developing and “action plan.” Checking out acquisition of EMS units should be rather simple, seeing that they can be ordered through the GSA catalog. This will also require the creation of positions to be filled by either career, temporary or on-call employees. For a paramedic slot, Ft. Myers will have to pay at the rate of a GS-7/8 for ALS providers.
This has been the going rate for EMT-P announcements over the USAJOBS web site for the past year. If full time employees are not required part time employees may be the key. I am sure that there are paramedics in the Arlington, Maryland, and D.C. area who would not mind making some extra money on the side, seeing that overtime budgets have decreased in previous years.
Accomplishing this would not only make fiscal sense, save millions to the tax payers, provide emergency service to those installations, but would also reduce the drain being placed onto the Arlington County Fire Department. A comprehensive plan must be developed first, starting with a “needs assessment” and finishing with a “strategic plan” and they will put it into action. Once accomplished Rep. Moran could now support Ft. Myers request in gaining what support they need to provide the service.
I find Chief Plaughers figures to be rather suspect. I believe the chief is being squeezed by budgetary constraints put onto him by the Arlington county government. The ever-increasing demand on his EMS division, and the cost of maintaining that service is becoming expensive in today’s economy. One way that he sees relief is by attempting to gain additional funds by charging the DoD for services, while boosting the quality of his services through the additional funding. Chief Plaugher is not alone, most fire chiefs are under the same pressure from the local governing bodies.
Also for the chief to think that there is $5.9 million dollars laying around for this cause is simply ludicrous. Being a chief and working through the budget process he should realize that funding anything needs to be submitted as part of the budget request process. If this were to be allowed it would be about fiscal year 2005 before Arlington County would see any of this money. I work for a federal fire department with 40 personnel, 3 engines, 1 BLS ambulance and various support units.
Our total budget is under 2 million a year for the whole show, and not just for service provided. Once Rep. Moran realizes that there is a law prohibiting such payment the Congressman should recant that support for the chief’s request. But Rep. Moran should take a more active role in remediation between both sides and assist Ft. Myers in the establishment of a system that provides not only quality service, but is effective and efficient as well.
As for Chief Plaugher's catastrophe and terrorism response, the best suggestion I have for him is to train all commanders in terrorism incident management and the need for a quick unified command structure to be initiated.
Response and incident command will only be a portion of the whole scene, think about the media response. Being as close to the nation’s capital as Arlington is there may be a real need for “media management” since every big news agency has a Washington office. Controlling them may be the real challenge for the Incident Commander and their staff. All Incident Commanders should be well versed and prepared for such an emergency, updating all mutual aid agreements because they are going to need more assistance than their resources could possibly provide. And especially specific training of personnel in the use of the WMD CONPLAN issued in January of 2001, this can be found on the FEMA website. Remember, the federal government in most cases is a re-active body, not proactive.