County Fire Administrator Paul Haigley says he intends to go ahead with plans to introduce a new chain of command in the Fire Department by the end of the year, although volunteer firefighters say they will oppose any changes.
Mr. Haigley is considering a plan proposed by the Neall administration's transition team that would demote volunteer station chiefs to captain and place them beneath the rank of paid captains. Currently, the volunteer chiefs report directly to paid battalion chiefs and have authority over career captains. The present chain of command has been in existence about 15 years.
The transition committee said a new command structure was needed to resolve conflicts between paid and volunteer firefighters and called for "improvements in at-scene command and control force structures." In the report, the committee recommended a chain of command of, in descending order, battalion chief, career station commander, volunteer station commander, career captain, volunteer captain, career lieutenant, volunteer lieutenant, career firefighter and volunteer firefighter.
Mr. Haigley said the ranks of paid and volunteer station %o lTC commanders are traditionally held by captains.
"I'm trying to bring order to what we are doing," Mr. Haigley said.
Giving the heads of the volunteer stations the rank of captain will help avoid confusion at the fire scenes, Mr. Haigley contends.
Mr. Haigley said that while he favors the recommendations of the report, he is hoping to work with the volunteer firefighters to devise a plan with which they can agree.
"I don't want it to appear that this is a unilateral decision on my part," he said.
The volunteers say they are worried that a change in the chain of command will reduce their stature. Although battalion chiefs have always had authority over volunteer chiefs, in reality they often allowed the volunteer chiefs to command the fire scene. Louis D'Camera, president of the Volunteer Firefighters Association, said the volunteers believe they will lose control if their chiefs are demoted to captains.
"It would destroy the volunteer fire service," Mr. D'Camera said.
Robert J. Schappert III, spokesman for the Volunteer Firefighters Association, said volunteers also oppose the change because it shows a lack of trust in the volunteer chiefs. He said that the change could create a situation in which a more highly trained chief would have to follow orders from a paid captain with less training.
The chain of command issue is but one in a series of disagreements the volunteers have had with Mr. Haigley in recent months. The volunteers have been at odds with the fire administrator over the placement of ladder trucks in certain stations, insurance for the volunteer fire fighters, and the expenditure of state grants.
Some volunteers have threatened to go on strike or expel paid firefighters from volunteer stations if Mr. Haigley tries to impose the chain of command recommended by the transition report, Mr. Schappert said.
Such actions have a precedent in the county. The Lake Shores and the Glen Burnie volunteer fire companies expelled paid firefighters from their stations in the late 1970s and early 1980s.