ANNAPOLIS — Carroll volunteer firefighters were angered at a hearing here Tuesday because Maryland State Police opposed for a third consecutive year their efforts to outfit certain personal vehicles with flashing lights.
The volunteer firefighters are hoping a change in the color of the lights will sway some House Judiciary Committee members, who in the last two years have voted overwhelmingly against the measure that would allow Carroll fire-police officers to use portable flashing lights on their vehicles at accident or other emergency scenes.
But opposition from the state's premier law enforcement agency isa major blow to the bill, said Carroll's delegation chairman, Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll.
Upon recommendation from the county sheriff and commander of the state police's Westminster barracks, the delegation requested the use of flashing red-and-white lights, rather than the amber lights it had sought the last two years. Maryland law designates red-and-white lights for fire and rescue vehicles and amber lights for service vehicles.
The lights, which would be used only on stationary vehicles at the scene, have been requested to protect the fire-police officers and motorists heading toward an accident or fire. Fire police from Carroll's 14 volunteer companies direct trafficand aid police at emergency scenes. The officers are designated as deputy sheriffs.
"We have no protection whatsoever," said John B. Bowman Sr., of the Union Bridge Volunteer Fire Co. "People just run right over the flares we put down."
Fire-police officers can cautionand detour oncoming traffic only by using flares, hand-held flashlights or car blinkers. Three who attended the hearing say it's difficult to get motorists to heed warnings, especially at night.
"I've jumped out of the way many times to avoid getting hurt," said Fred Hooper of the Pleasant Valley Fire Co.
The state police say use of theflashing lights could confuse the public and "further fragment" existing laws designating certain lights for certain vehicles. The agencyalso expresses concern that fire-police officers could abuse the privilege and flick on the lights on the way to an emergency scene.
Eugene Curfman, legislative chairman for the Carroll County Volunteer Fireman's Association, is disturbed by the state police's position. Police often ask fire-police officers to stay at accident scenes to direct traffic and protect the area while they conduct investigations, Curfman said.
"They want to continue to ask for help from volunteer firemen for traffic assistance and to get the scene cleared up quickly, then they oppose us when we come to ask for help from them," he said. "They can't have it both ways. If they want it that way, then when firemen leave the scene, fire-police officers will leave also."
Curfman said he will consider writing Col. Elmer H. Tippett Jr., the state police superintendent, after next month's volunteer firefighter's meeting. He said he believed state police wouldn't oppose the legislation, judging from meetings at a firefighter's association conference last year.
Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman submitted written testimony supporting the bill. Former County Sheriff Grover N. "Sam" Sensabaugh did the same the past two years.