Last month, Darl R. "Mickey" McBride saw a newspaper story with a color picture showing grim-faced and disgruntled Savage volunteer firefighters, who were embroiled in a heated power struggle within the county fire service.
"The picture was positively grim," said McBride with a laugh. "I'm hoping I'll be able to pose with those guys next time and they'll all have smiles on their faces. It was a depressing shot."
McBride, 53, who was named last week as director of the county Department of Fire and Rescue Services, said he is hoping that he'll beable to mediate disagreements between the fire service's two warringfactions, the volunteer and career firefighters.
Tension between the two groups has been on the rise in recent years, with volunteers claiming that they are being slowly squeezed out by career administrators. McBride said his main objective is to minimize the rivalry and animosity between them.
"I don't envy him in that job," said Jim Arndt, the president of the Savage Volunteer Fire Company. "He's a personable guy, real easy to talk to. We're hoping he'll have success inmaking everyone feel part of the team, but it won't be easy."
County officials say McBride's primary appeal will be his background in both career and volunteer firefighting. He served for 25 years as chief of the Takoma Park volunteer station in Montgomery County, all thewhile working as a career firefighter in the District of Columbia department.
McBride said he doesn't expect to make sweeping changes in the Howard County fire service, which he described as "running smooth with some ruffled edges. We need to pause and take a look at somethings."
Prior to his appointment to the $69,400-a-year job last week by County Executive Charles I. Ecker, McBride served as fire marshal in charge of the D.C. Fire Prevention Division. He lives in the Burtonsville area of Montgomery County.
"I think both sides will find me easy to deal with," he said. "I can socialize with the guys onFriday night and get down to business on Monday. I want to sit down with everyone at a round table, make them look each other in the face, and work this thing out."
McBride will take office April 8, succeeding Richard W. Shaw amid one of the more abrasive eras in county fire department history.
Volunteers and career personnel often man the county's 10 fire stations together and perform many of the same duties during emergency calls. Career members handle nearly all of thedepartment's administrative duties.
In recent years, the two groups have become confrontational and turf battles have been a problem, said Ecker, who chose McBride from approximately 50 applicants.
"Ireally think he (McBride) will get the two groups working together,"Ecker said. "They need to be integrated, and he's the man to do it."
McBride said he plans to "mesh together" the rank structures, although he hasn't worked out any specifics yet. The disparity between the ranks of the two groups, he said, is "certainly an unusual situation" that may require a reworking of the rank structure.