Council rejects firefighter resolution

August 02, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

The County Council voted last night against a proposed charter amendment that would have spelled out the fire administrator's authority over volunteer firefighters.

The resolution proposed by the Neall administration to get the charter amendment on the November ballot was defeated on a tie vote, 3-3, despite an 11th-hour concession by supporters that substantially weakened it through amendments.

Representatives of the county's volunteer firefighters asked the council to reject the resolution, as the council did to a similar measure last month.

"The authority [of the fire administrator] must be absolute within the scope of public safety needs," said acting Fire Administrator Stephen Halford. "I urge you to let the citizens of our county vote on this very important issue."

But the volunteers once again told the council the matter should wait until after the November elections, when a new county executive and council take office.

"I feel that making a change to the Charter of Anne Arundel County is very important and should not be taken lightly and hurried through as this resolution obviously has been," said Wylie L. Donaldson, who represented the Anne Arundel Volunteer Firefighters Association.

"The thoughts and opinions of all parties concerned should be heard and that was not the case in the preparation of this resolution. The volunteers had almost no participation in the production of this document," he said.

The proposed amendment gives the fire administrator, who would receive the new title of chief, the command and control over the personnel, equipment and resources of the volunteer fire companies "both during and outside emergencies."

County attorney Judson P. Garrett Jr. told the council that as written, the amendment would give the administrator authority over the volunteer companies in matters that relate to readiness and performance of their firefighting duties -- which would include activities inside their fire houses.

That raised red flags with the volunteers. "Although 'outside an emergency' is somewhat described as 'matters affecting readiness and performance,' it is not clear what that includes," Mr. Donaldson said.

The proposed charter amendment codifies some of the 40 recommendations made by the 10-member Fire Department Study Committee, which was appointed by County Executive Robert R. Neall. That panel was created to address tensions between the volunteers and the fire administration that stemmed from Mr. Neall's March 1993 decision to reclassify volunteer chiefs as captains and place them below career captains in the chain of command.

The committee recommended that the rank of volunteer chief be restored, but only on a company-by-company basis after each volunteer company signed an agreement that it would abide by the department's operating policies.

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