Chief revives `Fire Department' from its mystifying `EMS' name

Two-year label unpopular among firefighters, public

May 06, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Less than a month into his new job as Anne Arundel County fire chief, Roger C. Simonds has changed the name of his department from the county EMS/Fire/Rescue back to the more conventional Fire Department.

The switch reverses a change made by former Chief Stephen D. Halford two years ago and marks an apparent shift in thinking for Simonds, who led a committee that recommended the earlier name change.

The fire transition team headed by Simonds was the impetus for the name shuffle, according to fire spokesman John Scholz. It recommended that the name revert to Fire Department, as it is listed in the county charter.

"Some of the rationale is since we used the name EMS/Fire/Rescue, there has been some confusion because citizens don't know what EMS is," Scholz said. "One question that was asked is, `Are you the Fire Department or not the Fire Department?' "

Still, some people think the change is a "regression" and "a mistake."

"I think the department name should represent what the department does," said Raymond Turner, who headed the all-citizen Fire Department Study Commission that first recommended the department put EMS in its name in 1994.

With about 75 percent of the emergency calls last year requesting medical services, the department is "an EMS department that occasionally fights fires. Even if it is confusing, there is an education process there. To change it back is not going to help the education process," Turner said.

"There is a crying need for EMS and the Fire Department has delivered," he said. "That department saves lives."

Halford, who retired last month after 28 years in the department, did not criticize Simonds' decision.

The EMS name was unpopular among firefighters, but Halford and Turner said it was important in promoting a culture change.

"We needed to prepare the people in our organization for more change because it's coming," Halford said. "I was hoping the new recruits would see the name and recognize EMS as part of their mission. It portrays organizational values. They need to come to value that role as well as the fire role."

As vice chair of the EMS 2000 committee, Simonds supported the name change in 1997. But this year's transition team polled volunteer, professional and management associations and the groups all called for a return to the traditional name, Scholz said.

"The Fire Department is steeped in a lot of tradition," said James H. Edwards, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1563. "The thing about firefighters is, we want to be called firefighters, not technicians."

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