Volunteer firefighters get new benefits

Local,Jason Flanagan
An unnamed Anne Arundel volunteer firefighter responded to an emergency call that exposed him to “some pretty traumatic stuff” that fire officials did not want to disclose.

The event was so startling that the firefighter asked for post-traumatic stress counseling.

“When the volunteer went to seek assistance, we found out volunteers were not qualified to seek post-traumatic stress disorder counseling — only [paid] firefighters received it for free,” said Craig Harman, president of Anne Arundel Volunteer Firefighters Association.

That firefighter inspired the Anne Arundel administration to extend benefits enjoyed by paid or career firefighters to their volunteer brethren.

Now all 800 Anne Arundel volunteers can receive free PTSD counseling as well as money management help and other programs, such as smoking cessation.

“It’s great to have this kind of parity, and for our volunteers to maintain a collaborative career,” said County Executive John R. Leopold.

Volunteers do not receive the full slate of benefits career firefighters get. Volunteers do get free use of wellness and fitness programs even though heart-related illness is the No. 1 killer of active-duty firefighters. About 500 volunteers are active firefighters.

The benefits went into effect Oct. 1, and were negotiated by former Fire Chief Daryl Stokes and the administration through an existing contract. The $9,900 needed to extend the benefits was pulled from the existing fire department budget, officials said.

“This is a big deal in the emergency service community,” said fire department spokesman Battalion Chief Matthew Tobia.

Harman said he and other leaders plan to advertise benefits to volunteers.

“This is a proactive measure taken by the administration, and I believe this service will be utilized beyond just the counseling,” Harman said.

Volunteer and career firefighters are historically known for having an adversarial relationship, but Harman and Tobia said the groups in Anne Arundel enjoy an unusually friendly connection.

Harman said no other benefits or major issues are lacking for volunteers.
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