Panel to investigate fire chief's actions

September 30, 1992|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

County Executive Charles I. Ecker will appoint a panel to decide whether action should be taken against the Savage Volunteer Fire Co. chief charged with assault and disturbing the peace.

Mr. Ecker said he expects the five-member panel to be appointed and start meeting by the end of the week. The group does not have a deadline, but the executive said he wants its recommendation promptly.

The panel will be directed to investigate charges that Savage Fire Chief Ernest W. Foster threatened a professional paramedic after a community meeting Sept. 22.

In a complaint filed in Howard District Court, Andrew T. Lester alleges that Mr. Foster charged toward him with his fists raised and threatened to harm him.

The chief, the complaint says, confronted Mr. Lester over the "media circus" surrounding the arrest of James Scott Botschen, a Savage volunteer who was dismissed after he was charged with rape and attempted rape.

Mr. Lester serves as spokesman of the county Professional Firefighters Association, an organization that represents Howard's career firemen.

Mr. Foster, who has been chief on and off for a total of eight years, is scheduled for a District Court trial Feb. 2.

"At this point, we're not taking any disciplinary action," Mr. Ecker said. "There is an investigation. There are two sides to the story."

The panel is expected to interview Mr. Foster, Mr. Lester and any witnesses of the alleged confrontation, Mr. Ecker said.

The group will then recommend what -- if any -- disciplinary action should be taken.

The group is to consist of two volunteer chiefs and two professional firefighters, one of each to be appointed by the county and Mr. Foster.

The panel will be led by a chairman chosen by Mr. Ecker and the Department of Fire and Rescue Services.

Chris Shimer, president of the Professional Firefighters Association, said the group will support the panel, but had hoped the county would have taken immediate action.

Mr. Lester, who works at the Rivers Park station in Columbia, has been temporarily reassigned to the Bethany Company in Ellicott City because of the confrontation, Mr. Shimer said.

But Mr. Lester is to return to his regular assignment next week, meaning he may have to assist the Savage company during medical emergencies and would have to follow Chief Foster's orders, Mr. Shimer said.

"It wouldn't be a very good situation for [Mr. Lester] to be in," Mr. Shimer said.

Meanwhile, officials at the Savage company have decided against taking their own disciplinary action against Chief Foster.

"We're confident that when the facts are established, it will clearly show the alleged incident did not occur," company spokesman Douglas Levy said. "We found no reason to take any specific action."

Mr. Levy said the company conducted its own investigation of the incident, but he declined to explain what actions were taken.

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