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Town leaders dispute
Fire Academy budget cuts

Chris Patterson

(2/10) Emmitsburg's town leaders sent a message this week to the U.S Fire Administration and the National Fire Academy strongly opposing further budget cuts, but officials from the Fire Administration say concerns about the cuts are over-inflated.

Since 2002, 13.5 percent of the administration's budget has been cut and the town's board of commissioners fear further cuts will undermine the stability of an agency they feel plays a pivotal role in the identity and stability of the town.

Town Commissioner Dianne Walbrecker spearheaded the resolution, which was unanimously approved by the town commissioners at Monday's town meeting. She said she expects it will be sent to the state's elected officials.

But Fire Administration Press Secretary Tom Olshansky said concerns about the academy's welfare do not take into consideration the big picture and instead focus on the few areas that are affected by cuts.

While there will be cuts in areas such as course development and fire prevention programs, the number of training classes and sessions will actually go up, he said.

In a normal year, about 32 communities get specialized training for their fire and emergency leaders, but this year the academy is scheduled to train 120 communities between the current facility in Emmitsburg and a new facility in Anniston, Ala., he said.

And, he added, to evaluate the impact of any possible cuts, it is important to know all the facts about them.

One fact is that the budget in 2002 was inflated due to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That means the 13.5 percent cut from the 2002 budget appears much larger than it really is, he said.

"[The budget] never looked that way before and it never will again. That was a response to 9-11," Olshansky said.

Walbrecker said she understands Olshansky's point, but it does not diminish her concerns that cuts in prevention and course development erode the foundation of an organization dedicated to keeping the nation's emergency services workers trained with the latest information.

Without new and updated course work, the future of the Fire Academy and the quality of emergency services will weaken, she believes.

Olshansky said no changes will impact the town and, at present, no classes have been cancelled. Most programs in affected areas will not actually be cut, but will be moved into a "non-funded" status, he said.

For now, however, all discussion about the next budget or potential cuts are pure speculation, he said.

The new budget proposal was just released this week and has months of angling in Washington, D.C., before anyone will know how it will affect the academy.

As far as he knows now, he said, the budget should be basically the same as last year.

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