Panel urges restoration of volunteer fire chief job

March 27, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

A citizen committee charged with making recommendations to improve relations between career and volunteer firefighters has called for restoring the position of volunteer chief.

The recommendation, one of 31 in a 108-page draft report, represents a compromise that does not entirely please either career or volunteer firefighters.

The Fire Department Study Committee was formed in September by County Executive Robert R. Neall to evaluate Anne Arundel's dual fire department, composed of full-time career firefighters and fiercely independent volunteers.

Tensions came to a boil a year ago when then-fire administrator Paul C. Haigley Jr. demoted volunteer station chiefs to beneath the rank of paid captains. Previously, volunteer chiefs reported directly to battalion chiefs and had authority over paid captains.

That was followed by a demand for Mr. Haigley's resignation last April by the volunteer firefighters association.

Mr. Haigley left the county at the end of last year for a job in Florida. He was succeeded by acting fire administrator Stephen D. Halford, who has better rapport with the volunteer firefighters.

In the draft report issued last week, the committee added a condition to its recommendation that the rank of volunteer chief be restored. The committee said volunteer fire companies would have to accept more supervision by the county fire administrator.

Career firefighters are unhappy because they do not think the position should exist.

"Fundamentally, we have some problems with the volunteers being in the chain of command," said LeRoy A. Wilkison, president of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 1563, which represents the county's 560 career firefighters and paramedics.

"We've always espoused that position. That we have not changed," he said.

Career firefighters argue that many of the volunteer chiefs did not have the same qualifications as career chiefs or other career officers.

Volunteers want the chain of command restored, but they are not happy with the conditions that would be attached. Only those volunteer companies that complied with the committee's recommendations would get the chief positions back.

Other conditions include granting the fire administrator authority assign career personnel to volunteer stations, the right to inspect volunteer facilities when he wants and the power to move fire equipment to other stations if he sees the need.

Volunteers fire companies, which are private corporations, consider this an illegal intrusion on their affairs.

"It's like holding a sledgehammer over your head, that if you don't comply with this, then your company can't have a chief," said Thomas Nevin Jr., president of the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firefighters Association, representing 27 fire companies with about 1,400 members.

"Everything is at the county's discretion," Mr. Nevin said. "That's not the way the system has operated in the past, nor is that the way it should operate."

Many of the other recommendations of the committee deal with health and safety issues, as well as staffing levels. The recommendations include:

* That the county strive to maintain three firefighters on every piece of equipment. Further, it urges that the department stop dispatching fire engines staffed only by a driver.

* That the Fire Advisory Board be maintained, but that it be reconfigured with three volunteers, two career firefighters, one fire officer and three civilians appointed by the county executive.

Previously, the board had three volunteers, one career firefighter and one civilian.

The committee will continue reviewing its report at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the student center cafeteria of Anne Arundel Community College.

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