Changes pondered for agency

June 22, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County's Fire Department would get a new name, the fire administrator would get a new title and his authority over volunteer firefighters would be carefully spelled out in a proposed charter amendment that has been submitted to the County Council.

Instead of the traditional "Fire Department," the county will have a Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Medical Services if voters approved the amendment in November. And Fire Administrator Stephen D. Halford will be addressed as "chief" under the proposed changes.

Passage of the amendment would allow the restoration of the position of volunteer fire chief, but the county chief would have more control over volunteer units at a fire scene.

The amendment is designed to enact some of the key recommendations of the 10-member Fire Department Study Committee, which submitted its report to County Executive Robert R. Neall in April.

It also is aimed at easing the strained relationships among the county's volunteer fire companies, the career firefighters and Fire Department administration.

The volunteer companies, which are fiercely protective of their independence, have been at odds with the fire administration over the chain of command issue since March 1992, when former Fire Administrator Paul C. Haigley demoted volunteer chiefs to the rank of captain, pushing them below paid captains.

Mr. Neall's committee proposed restoration of the position of volunteer chief if the volunteer companies would submit to greater control over their operations.

The proposed charter amendment states that the "chief of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Medical Services may control and coordinate volunteer fire companies and their fire, rescue and emergency medical services personnel," but that he cannot "participate in the corporate affairs of any volunteer company."

The Fire Department administration supports the changes, said Battalion Chief Gary Sheckells. "We are very much in agreement with them," he said.

The proposal will not have a great effect on the day-to-day operation of the Fire Department, and aside from a new logo, will not be apparent to county residents, he said.

No cost is attached to the name change because uniforms, stationery, business cards and vehicle markings would be changed as they are replaced. The new logo is yet to be designed, and Chief Sheckells said the department is considering several options, including a contest.

While the fire administration supports the amendment, volunteers and paid firefighters remain at odds over its last clause, which emphasizes the volunteers' independence.

Lt. Robert J. Schappert III, spokesman for the volunteer firefighters association, said his organization has no problem with the chief exerting control over them as long as he does not interfere with the internal operations of the companies.

"He can't come in and impinge upon the sovereignty of the individual corporation," Lieutenant Schappert said. "When it comes to the sovereignty of the individual companies, [the fire chief] has to respect that, because the independent corporations would never relinquish that."

But LeRoy Wilkison, president of the Anne Arundel County Professional Fire Fighters, Local 1563, said such internal control is necessary because many career firefighters work in volunteer stations.

"The position the administration takes now is, until the fire equipment or ambulance rolls out of the station, they don't have any control over the volunteer fire companies," Mr. Wilkison said. "If I have people working in the station and the county does not have control over what goes on in the station, you've got real problems."

Before the amendment can appear on the ballot, however, the County Council must approve a resolution specifying its language. The council has scheduled a public hearing on the resolution July 5.

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