Californian named Balto. Co. fire chief

April 27, 1995|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III has hired Allen A. Thomason, San Diego's assistant fire chief, to run the county Fire Department -- the first time an outsider has been named to the post.

Chief Thomason, 49, will assume his new job July 3 at a salary of $91,522. The department has been run for the past year by acting chief James H. Barnes Jr., 40, who was in contention for the top job.

A 23-year veteran with a reputation for fairness and management skills, Chief Thomason is second-in-command of the 842-member San Diego department, a post he has held since 1993, when San Diego named Robert Osby chief.

Mr. Thomason was out of town and not available for comment yesterday. Chief Osby also was not available but Mr. Ruppersberger's announcement quoted the San Diego chief as saying, "Allen has been a superb assistant. He is honest, trustworthy, just an all around neat guy. Your gain and our loss."

That assessment was echoed by local officials and union leaders here and in San Diego.

Mr. Ruppersberger said his choice was based on Mr. Thomason's strong "people skills" and his knowledge of fire and emergency medical operations.

"He's a leader who can motivate," Mr. Ruppersberger said. "He can pull people together to act as a team."

Kevin B. O'Connor, president of the Baltimore County Firefighters Union and a member of the selection committee, said Chief Thomason is well-equipped to deal with county firefighter morale problems from several years of budget cutbacks.

"He's very, very good with the troops," Mr. O'Connor said. "He's fair, and pretty evenhanded. He's a very, very sharp guy. Our only concern is he has to learn the system."

Mr. Thomason also got high marks from San Diego's fire union, said Jeffrey M. Stumbo, labor relations representative for San Diego City Firefighters Local 145.

"He's by far the most well-regarded chief in the department," Mr. Stumbo said. "He's the most fair and equitable chief we ever had."

The new chief, who is married with grown children, received his undergraduate degree in business administration from San Diego State University in 1973.

He will be moving from a city of 1.1 million to a county of 705,000 that sprawls over more than 600 square miles and includes urban, suburban and rural areas.

The San Diego Fire Department has fewer sworn firefighters than Baltimore County's 1,004 members, but a larger budget -- $72 million to the county's $51 million.

However, San Diego has no volunteer fire companies, while Baltimore County has 33 volunteer companies with 2,000 active members.

San Diego's emergency ambulance service is run by private contract, while the county operates its service. Emergency calls account for 40 percent of Baltimore County's operations.

The executive said hiring a chief from out of town was not a reflection on the county department, but a function of his own style.

"We have a good solid fire department," he said.

Mr. Ruppersberger praised Chief Barnes for running the department for a year after the retirement of Chief Elwood H. Banister.

The selection was the result of a four-month long national search. Chief Thomason was one of seven finalists culled from 64 applicants by a committee chaired by former county Fire Chief Paul Reincke. The committee interviewed all seven finalists and assessed their qualities, but did not recommend one to the county executive, who made the final choice.

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