At a workshop prior to the regular Milford City Council meeting, Tor Hazzard, President, and Duane Fox, member of Carlisle Fire Company presented information on how the company utilized $140,000 in grants provided annually by the city.
“Tor was voted president in November, but I told him I would sit with him through this and help him since I have done it before,” Fox said. “We received our funding for 2019 in June 2019 and we have not received the funds for 2020 as of now. When we spent the money we received in the middle of June, we were within 15 days of our fiscal year being over.” Mayor Archie Campbell stated that the check for the 2020 funds was signed the previous week.
Fox explained that the fire company pays water, electric and trash fees to the city. For 2019, they paid $30,501 for those fees, leaving a balance of $100,499 which was used to cover salaries for the EMT staff.
“Last year, we ran 572 fire calls and those are all run by volunteers,” Fox said. “There were 3,046 EMS calls for a total of almost 4,000 calls per year. That is about 11 calls per day and roughly 75 percent of them are in the city limits. Our paid employees handle the EMS calls during the day. Our fire police also assist Milford Police Department with funerals, accidents, traffic control and more, totaling about 1,000 man-hours per year.”
Currently, Carlisle Fire Company is operated by volunteers with three full-time and a few part-time employees. Fox presented information on what it would cost for the city to switch to a paid company. According to his computations, a paid staff of approximately 37 firefighters would cost the city $1.9 million and a 17-staff EMS crew would cost $740,000 per year.
“Every year that goes by I get grayer and grayer,” Fox said. “That happens to all of us. We don’t get a lot of people in here because there is a lot of commitment. Young folks are busy. To do all the training you have to do, just to get trained so the chief is confident throwing you on a truck, it takes two months of weekends. That is just for training, not experience. We don’t get a ton of people applying. At some point, the city is going to have to look into a paid fire company.”
Fox pointed out that the city is growing rapidly, listing more than a dozen new developments that were in the process of construction. He also stated that many of the new residents were moving from areas where fire companies are paid and when they arrive here, they expect the same services. Mayor Campbell asked about the fire company fund drive and Fox stated that they raise only about $35,000 per year. Councilman Dan Mirabello expressed concern that the residents of Milford were not supporting the fire company, stating that it was almost “embarrassing.”
“We pay a company to mail this two times per year,” Fox said. “People get it out of the mailbox and, most of the time, it goes right in the trash. People simply don’t realize that we run on a strictly volunteer basis.”
Councilman Mirabello suggested that the city do a better job of advertising the fund raiser in order to promote donations.
“Most of the people moving here are not young kids,” Fox said. “Many are retired and, as we get older, our body gives out a little which means the need for medical services goes up. We are already at nearly 4,000 runs and finding help is getting harder and harder. Ambulance runs have also increased about six miles round trip due to the location of the new hospital. In addition, the old hospital is now an assisted living facility with rehab and other medical offerings. That will also increases our ambulance runs due to the age of those who will now be living there or using the facilities.”
Mayor Campbell asked about charges for ambulance runs, stating that his wife had been in an accident and was billed for the ambulance even though she had joined the ambulance club, requiring a call to the fire company.
“That does happen because we use an outside company to bill and they get it wrong,” Fox said. “I had to do the same for my aunt. How the ambulance club works is that you are not billed for anything your insurance does not pay. If you are not a member, you pay what the insurance does not. We also get payment from Medicare and Medicaid, but they only pay a limited amount. Last year, the income we received from the county, state, city, the ambulance club and fund raising totaled $1.5 million but our expenses were $2 million. When we have a shortfall, we either have to find the money somewhere or we have to cut something. That means equipment, which needs to be replaced every five to seven years may be delayed. The ladder truck we are purchasing now is $1.4 million. We have to have the money set aside or borrow it. If you borrow it, you have to pay it back because people are funny that way.”
Fox stated that Tom Wagner, the former state auditor, did a report a few years ago showing how much volunteer fire companies save the residents of the state each year. He explained that in New Castle County, fire companies join together to cover alarms. However, New Castle County is much smaller than Kent or Sussex County and that for Milford to assist Harrington, that is a 30-minute round trip. For those who work, it is difficult to cover an alarm like that on a regular basis.
“You made a good point about the growth of Milford,” Mayor Campbell said. “I have been here 14 years and we have definitely grown. We are aware of what is needed and what you guys need. This growth will have a huge impact on you guys.”