Fire volunteers protest demotion Order drops rank of their chiefs

April 15, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Hundreds of angry firefighters from Anne Arundel County's 23 volunteer companies picketed outside the County Council chambers in Annapolis last night, protesting a recent decision by the county fire administrator to eliminate volunteer fire chiefs.

Fire Administrator Paul Haigley did nothing to cool tempers with his order yesterday that volunteer firefighters from neighboring counties, who were covering for the local companies, would not be allowed to respond to emergency calls.

It was unclear whether Mr. Haigley had dispatched paid firefighters to the stations to work overtime. Several volunteers said the units from other counties, who routinely fill in for Anne Arundel stations through a mutual-aid agreement, would disregard Mr. Haigley's order.

However, Thomas Tharp, a past president of the state and county volunteer firefighters associations, announced during the council meeting that Baltimore County units filling in for Riviera Beach and Earleigh Heights volunteers went home after being "badgered" by Mr. Haigley's paid officers.

Volunteers from those Arundel stations were forced to return there immediately.

County volunteers packed the council chambers and appealed to lawmakers to pass a resolution calling on County Executive Robert R. Neall to reverse Mr. Haigley's decision to demote the volunteer chiefs and eliminate the position of assistant chief.

"It takes away our authority and demoralizes the volunteers," said Louis D'Camera, president of the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firefighters Association, which represents 1,500 volunteers.

The non-binding resolution was adopted, 4-3, with Mr. Neall's three strongest allies on the council -- George Bachman, Diane Evans and Carl G. "Dutch" Holland -- voting against it.

Both Mr. Holland and Mr. Bachman said they sympathize with the volunteers, but said only the county executive and the fire administrator can decide on the chain of command.

On March 16, Mr. Haigley demoted the volunteer chiefs to the rank of volunteer captain, which places them below paid captains.

Under the old system, they reported directly to the paid battalion chiefs.

Administration officials said paid captains are better qualified to supervise fire scenes. They also said the change eliminates a level of bureaucracy.

The move was recommended two years ago by Mr. Neall's transition committee that included volunteer firefighters, administration officials said.

About 1,000 firefighters and supporters with 70 pieces of fire equipment, including 40 engines, lined the sides of Rowe Boulevard and Calvert Street before the 7:30 p.m. meeting.

Meanwhile, Battalion Chief John W. Riggin Jr. delivered a memorandum to the volunteer stations manned by the out-of-county units. The memo stated, "You are hereby officially notified that you are not to respond to emergencies in Anne Arundel County or act as emergency unit of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department."

Council Chairman David Boschert called last month's decision a "slap in the face" to county volunteers and derided the fire administrator for barring the back-up units from responding.

Mr. Boschert asked a Prince George's County firefighter, who testified in support of the resolution, "Does your fire administrator call you and say, 'don't go anywhere'?"

Councilwoman Maureen Lamb said, "This doesn't pertain to economics. It's just a power play."

Mr. Neall did not attend the council meeting.

But he sent the members a memo yesterday afternoon, urging them to reject the resolution.

"Such a resolution gives the wrong impression and perception to our citizens that there is something wrong with our fire and emergency medical services," the memo stated.

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