Fire chief Halford resigns after 28-year county career

Simonds, ex-deputy chief, named as his replacement

April 13, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Stephen D. Halford, the Anne Arundel County fire chief who led the department through a landmark lawsuit and a radical name change, resigned yesterday after 28 years, the last five as chief. A former deputy fire chief, 52-year-old Roger C. Simonds, will emerge from retirement to replace him.

"Walking away from something you've been part of for 28 years is hard," Halford said, his voice echoing in the empty fire headquarters hallway. "This probably has been the most sentimental day of my life. I'm really proud of what the department has accomplished."

During his 28-year career, the department's responsibilities in the growing county shifted dramatically from primarily putting out fires to handling heart attacks, car accidents and other medical emergencies. That shift in focus was the driving force behind Halford's decision to change the department's name in 1997 from the Anne Arundel County Fire Department to Anne Arundel EMS/Fire/Rescue.

Soon after he was appointed by then-County Executive Robert R. Neall, Halford changed the way firefighters responded to medical emergencies. He made firefighters, who are also trained as emergency medical technicians, responsible for all calls, leaving highly trained paramedics available for more serious emergencies.

Halford also set standards in the department that required both paid and volunteer firefighters to meet the same qualifications. It was the first combination department in the country to have both volunteer and paid personnel pass national certification.

As chief, he inherited a lawsuit brought by paramedics in 1990 that challenged the county and the department for overtime pay. Paramedics worked the same 53 hours a week as firefighters and police. Firefighters and police are allowed under federal statues to work such shifts without being paid overtime.

The paramedics took their suit to the Supreme Court, which upheld the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 1996 ruling giving them $4 million in back pay. The case is likely to have repercussions in fire departments nationwide.

Under Halford, the department became one of only 14 in the nation and the first in Maryland to receive accreditation from the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.

Halford also was the first chief in the department's history to rise from bottom to top rank. Simonds, who retired in 1997 after 35 years, will be the second.

During his tenure in the department, Simonds developed several specialized response teams. He serves as chairman of the Maryland Division of Occupational Safety Fire Services Safety Task Force and the Statewide Emergency Medical Services Advisory Committee and is a member of the Maryland Emergency Medical Services Board.

Simonds was on hand yesterday when Halford called together his command staff to announce his resignation. He turned in a letter of resignation earlier in the day to County Executive Janet S. Owens, who on Friday named her choice to head the county's police department, P. Thomas Shanahan. Of his successor, Halford said, "He's got a lot of personal charisma and I think he's going to be a good leader. I just wish him and Ms. Owens the best."

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