Neall to introduce another amendment on volunteer firefighters

July 14, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Rebuffed once, County Executive Robert R. Neall will try again to get the County Council to approve a charter amendment for the November ballot to give the fire administrator more control over volunteer firefighters.

The new version of the amendment, which will be introduced at Monday night's council meeting, gives the fire administrator the command and control, both during and after emergencies, over the personnel, equipment and resources of the volunteer fire companies.

But it prohibits the chief from controlling, coordinating or participating in the corporate affairs of the volunteer fire companies. And it allows the council to clarify or limit the authority of the fire chief.

The council voted 4-3 to reject a similar charter amendment at its July 5 meeting. Mr. Neall says he hopes that the retooled amendment will win over at least two of the members who voted against him last week.

"I think it's a much better written bill," said Myron V. Wotring, Mr. Neall's legislative liaison. It is based on a 1975 Court of Appeals decision that clearly defined Prince George's County's relationship with its volunteer firefighters.

"I don't think that there's any question at all that we can take control of the fire service and we have the right to do that," Mr. Wotring said. But the county "would have to stay away" from the volunteers' internal operations, he added.

The amendment is an attempt to place in the charter changes recommended by the 10-member Fire Department Study Committee, which issued its report in April. Mr. Neall appointed the committee in September to address tensions between the volunteer fire companies and the fire administration that stemmed from his March 1993 decision to reclassify volunteer chiefs as captains and place them below career captains in the chain of command.

The study committee recommended reinstating the rank of volunteer chief on a company-by-company basis if the companies acknowledge the fire administrator's operational control over their personnel, equipment and resources.

But the amendment would not resolve the two major points of contention -- whether volunteer companies can bar a career firefighter who is assigned to their station, and whether the fire chief can inspect volunteer equipment at his pleasure. Mr. Wotring said it would allow inspections and forbid volunteers to bar career firefighters.

But a leader of the volunteers disagreed.

"The volunteer fire companies are private corporations," said Tom Nevins Jr., president of the Anne Arundel Volunteer Firefighter's Association. "They want control over the fire department in nonemergency situations."

Mr. Nevins said he was not impressed that the council could limit the fire administrator's authority under the revised amendment.

"Then we'd have to go back and play politics with the County Council," he said.

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