Anne Arundel's Firefighter Feud

July 18, 1992

In Anne Arundel County's firehouses, bickering between paid and volunteer firefighters has escalated to new levels of pettiness. While the volunteers cry about being tyrannized "like certain minority groups in Nazi Germany," the head of the paid firefighting force shouts back that he's "bent over backwards" to please the volunteers -- when, clearly, he hasn't.

They all look bad.

Inane feuding between paid and volunteer firefighters is nothing new in Anne Arundel; they've been at each other's throats for 20 years over such momentous issues as whether fire trucks should be red or lime green. Contentions waned under then-executive O. James Lighthizer, mainly because Mr. Lighthizer gave the volunteers everything they wanted. Now, the two groups are at it again over the same old argument: Who has more power.

Tensions erupted last month, when the volunteers filed a law suit to get $370,000 in state aid. They feel it's rightfully theirs, but Executive Robert R. Neall believes the county should control it. Fire Administrator Paul Haigley, a Neall appointee, has twice ignored volunteer requests to use the money on trucks and chiefs' cars for volunteer companies. Last year, he bought face shields for paid firefighters as well as for volunteers. This year, he is buying a ladder truck for the Glen Burnie fire station.

The president of the Volunteers Firefighters Association, Louis D'Camera, wants the public to know how fed up they are with Mr. Haigley. So this week the volunteers are sending the county executive a resolution of "no confidence" in Mr. Haigley.

Now, Mr. Haigley has not exactly been the volunteers' best friend. But he has a point when he says he hasn't done anything he wasn't asked to do by Mr. Neall's advisers. They suggested more county control of state aid; they suggested a new chain of command for fire scenes that pushes volunteer officers down to a lower rung.

The volunteers like to portray themselves as the beleaguered victims of a conspiracy. The truth is they don't have it so bad. Most companies are profitable and popular with the community. The county pays for maintenance on their firehouses and trucks. And, though they may not be getting all of the state money, the law gives the counties authority to dole out the money. Besides, the volunteers need those face shields.

It's time for these firefighting factions to make peace. Their quarrels are silly. The public equips them to take care of more important matters.

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