Fire chief retiring July 30

Heller has held top job since 1993

search for successor to begin

March 30, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Deciding when to let go of a lifetime's work can be hard, but Howard County Fire Chief James E. Heller said he's finally done it -- he'll retire July 30.

"I've been wrestling with it. I decided Friday, I've wrestled enough," the 64-year old Lisbon resident said.

County Executive James N. Robey, a former county police chief, said: "I know very well the strain public safety places on those who choose to serve."

Robey said he would begin a national search for a replacement in the $100,000-a-year job.

Heller, who has been chief since 1993 and a county volunteer firefighter since 1967, said his health is good and he wants to spend more time with his family and travel to Germany to "track down some relatives."

Heller was a volunteer firefighter in Baltimore County before he and his wife, Liz, moved to Lisbon and he joined the volunteers there. He became a paid Howard firefighter in 1974, when the county force totaled 40.

Robey reappointed Heller head of the 270-member force last year.

During his career, Heller has helped the Howard department grow in size and professionalism, bolstering emergency medical services and gaining national accreditation last year, county officials said.

Howard's fire service, a combination of paid and volunteer members, has grown over the years as the population has increased.

Heller said he has been considering retirement for some time.

"This has been a topic of conversation almost every day" with his wife, he said. Although jovial as he talked about retirement, he added: "Right now, I have mixed feelings. It gets to be part of your life."

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