Trying to reduce friction between volunteers and paid firefighters, the Howard County fire service will give volunteers nearly complete control of the Savage fire station but shift control of two Columbia fire stations to the paid fire service later this month.
The unusual step for the county fire service, which has blended paid and volunteer staffs at most of its 10 fire stations, has received the blessingof County Executive Charles I. Ecker, though he doubted similar swaps would be made at other fire stations.
Ecker said he backed the decision to give volunteers control of the Savage station because other jurisdictions, such as Baltimore County, have operated with separate paid and volunteer fire stations.
This would not be the first time volunteers have turned over a station to the paid fire service, said Richard W. Shaw, county fire administrator.
In 1980, the county fire service took over the Banneker Road fire station in west Columbia at the request of the Clarksville Volunteer Fire Company in 1980.
Shaw also said he wanted the public to know "that we will maintain the present level of service in the Savage and North Laurel areas under the new alignment."
Under the pact, volunteers would operate the Savage station from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m.Monday through Friday and on the weekends.
Paid personnel would provide coverage only between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays.
The new policy goes into effect March 29.
Tom Dougherty, volunteer fire chief at Savage, said the agreement "will end a lot of friction and will give our volunteer officers more chances to perform at the fire scene."
"With paid personnel working at Savage around the clock, itdid not matter if volunteers got there or not -- because the fire engine would get out in any case," he said. "We came to depend on the paid personnel like a crutch.
"Now that won't be the case. It is upto us. We will not jeopardize the citizens. We will be a stronger department because of it," Dougherty said.
He said the Savage fire company, some 130 volunteers strong, will have firefighters working inshifts at the station to respond to emergency calls.
"We will have all our volunteers at one station, and we will have one of the strongest stations in Howard County," the volunteer chief said.
In relinquishing control of the Long Reach and Rivers Park stations in eastColumbia, the Savage volunteer fire company will welcome its volunteers from those stations to work at the station in Savage.
However,Dougherty said some of the volunteers in the Columbia stations are unhappy over the move.
"Some volunteers at Columbia stations think they are being sold out and are emotional about it now, but 80 percent will come down to Savage and like it," he said. "They owe it to themselves to try it. A lot of them are worried about the unknown."
"This will end a lot of friction in the stations," Chief Dougherty added. "We were like visitors in our own building."
The volunteer chief maintained, however, that the divisiveness between paid and volunteer ranks ends at the fire scene.
"When the bell goes off and we are on the fireground, we work hand in hand as brothers," he said.