County Council approves raises for highest-ranking fire officials

March 21, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

A year after an early retirement program thinned their ranks, Baltimore County's highest-ranking fire officials will receive salary increases and, in some cases, promotions.

The County Council approved a new Fire Department job structure this week, creating six division chief positions, with a salary of as much as $91,696 a year. The maximum salaries of battalion chiefs will be increased from $79,210 to $87,330.

The new structure comes less than a year after a major department reorganization.

Last spring, county officials offered an early retirement package designed to streamline a bloated management structure and divert the salary savings into additional medical units.

At the same time, the department reduced the geographic battalion districts from five to three, a move that prompted criticism from current and former fire officials who worried about delays in commanding officers responding to large fires.

Fire Chief John J. Hohman said yesterday that the battalion chiefs who remained after the retirement incentive should be compensated for additional duties.

"This rewards them for accepting those responsibilities," Hohman said.

"We're not adding any positions," he said. "It's kind of like a conversion."

The higher salaries will be phased in. County officials estimate the changes will add $64,000 to next year's budget.

Hohman said he expects to promote six of 16 battalion chiefs to division chief. Three will serve as ranking officers in the west, central and east battalions. The other three will head the training academy, fire marshal's office and the emergency medical services division.

The division chief position is needed in each geographical area, he said, to provide consistent management decisions among shifts.

The job of deputy chief is being eliminated. No fire officer currently holds that title; in December, Mark Weir, son of Del. Michael H. Weir, was promoted to assistant chief.

Council members approved the latest reorganization without questions, although in written comments, the council auditor's staff asked: "Considering the short amount of time the current structure has been in place, why is the department undertaking another reorganization?"

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