Dousing the fire bill Limiting options: House rightly buries proposal to hamper privatization of firefighting.

March 25, 1998

AT A TIME when Americans look favorably upon attempts to "reinvent" government, it makes no sense to outlaw such options. Yet a bill in Annapolis concerning local fire protection would do just that.

Fortunately, the House sent the bill, an Election Day priority of firefighter unions, back to committee yesterday, presumably for a quiet burial. It would make counties hold a referendum on any proposal to put fire and rescue services in the hands of private companies.

Privatization poses a threat to union membership. Two firefighter-legislators, Dels. James E. Malone Jr. of Baltimore and Howard counties and Brian R. Moe of Prince George's County, ignored an obvious conflict of interest to introduce and lobby for this bill.

Supporters say they want to let citizens decide how they wish to have an important public service provided.

But voters have the means to make their wishes known. If unhappy with plans to change the way fires are fought, constituents can contact elected officials, convene meetings or vote officials out.

No jurisdiction in Maryland is planning to move toward private fire and rescue operations, though Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County have mentioned the possibility. Some functions of government wouldn't work as well with private companies, but the option should remain.

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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