Embattled Anne Arundel County fire administrator holds the line Love of firefighting fuels Haigley's loyalty to department

June 13, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

The gongs from the Holland Street firehouse resonated in young Paul Haigley's bedroom in Southwest Baltimore. He counted the number of bells, to figure where the fire was.

"Sometimes, as a kid, my father and I would go watch the big fires of Baltimore. He enjoyed it," says Mr. Haigley, now the chief of Anne Arundel County's combined paid and volunteer fire service.

The experience also made an impression on Mr. Haigley, 51. For 31 years, he has helped mold a county Fire Department that, with about 1,100 paid and volunteer firefighters, is among the largest in the nation.

For the past two years, since he was promoted to fire administrator, volunteers have accused him and County Executive Robert R. Neall of trying to eliminate them from the firefighting ranks. In April, the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firefighters Association called for Mr. Haigley's resignation in a

dispute over

what authority volunteers should have at a fire scene.

The dispute frustrates Mr. Haigley. "Yes, I ultimately believe we're going to have an all-paid service, but it's not going to happen in my tenure," he says.

He says he wants to forestall the volunteers' decline but insists on having rules. "Someone has to do what's right without being parochial, without hidden agendas," he says.

Ironically, Mr. Haigley's career began as a volunteer in Cape St. Claire in 1959. His family spent summers and weekends at their cottage there, whiling away hours at the firehouse.

"Back then, it was the center of the community," Mr. Haigley says.

At 16, he joined his father and uncle in the department. Within days, he was racing to his first emergency, a small house fire.

"I thought it was kind of chaotic," he says. "I was really more concerned with hanging onto the back of the fire engine than what I was

going to do when I got there. For a kid 16 to 17 years old, that was quite a thrill."

In 1961, he entered law school but dropped out a year later when Anne Arundel County offered to pay him to use the skills he learned as a volunteer firefighter.

Mr. Haigley's career received an indirect boost in 1964 when Anne Arundel voters approved the charter that merged the 23 volunteer stations into a centralized department.

"That's one reason I came into the Fire Department," Mr. Haigley says. "Anybody could see it was going to expand, probably into a very large department."

Ambitious and bright, Mr. Haigley was the department's rising star. He was promoted to lieutenant in the Bureau of Fire Prevention and Investigation in 1965, assistant fire administrator 1966 and deputy chief in 1968.

At the same time, he rose in the volunteer ranks to be chief at Cape

St. Claire. But he does not list that among his professional accomplishments. "It was just a popularity contest," he says.

Perhaps more important to him was his association with Harry W. Klasmeier, then the fire administrator. "To a certain degree, I was his protege," Mr. Haigley says. "I also was his hatchet man."

It was as the "hatchet man" that Mr. Haigley became known to volunteers countywide. He was the one who cut the budgets the volunteers submitted for financial assistance from the county.

Thomas Tharp, a past president of the volunteers' association and a member of the Odenton Volunteer Fire Company, remembers more than one disagreement with Mr. Haigley over budgets, particularly over equipment and clothing that the county provided its paid officers but would not finance for volunteers.

"He enjoys socializing with volunteers, but when it comes to the busi

ness end, I've never felt Paul was interested in maintaining the volunteer force," Mr. Tharp says.

Gerard Britton, chief of the Earleigh Heights Volunteer Fire Department, said, "I never did care for the guy. He was kind of brash."

Mr. Haigley describes himself as "blunt" and says that rubbed some volunteers the wrong way. "Nobody likes the guy who cuts the budget, but some outfits took it personally," he says.

Ironically, Mr. Haigley says, those decisions often were made by then-county budget officer Joseph M. Connell, who later was embraced by the volunteers when he became fire administrator under former County Executive O. James Lighthizer.

While Mr. Connell was administrator in the late 1980s, Mr. Haigley had little contact with the volunteers. He was transferred out of the department's Millersville headquarters to the Arundel Center North, where he was assigned to "special projects."

Rather than accept defeat and abandon the department, Mr. Haig

ley weathered his "exile."

"He really is a person who is 100 percent loyal to that Fire Department," said Robert Dvorak, who was fire administrator in the early 1980s. "He has a real love affair with it."

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