Fire Department revamp proposed

Anne Arundel needs new firefighters, panel says

December 12, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County's Fire Department should hire more firefighters, better use its volunteers, restructure its paramedic system and limit the number of firefighters who can take vacation time on a single day, members of a task force said yesterday.

The group, assembled this summer by County Executive Janet S. Owens, will soon make formal recommendations about how to overhaul Fire Chief Roger C. Simonds' embattled department and reduce its overtime spending.

"I'm not here to bury Roger Simonds," task force member Joseph Novotny said, "but I'm here to praise him and ask him to keep an open mind."

The task force will ask Simonds, top volunteers and firefighter union officials to respond to its informal list of ideas before presenting a report to Owens as early as next month.

During yesterday's meeting, it also recommended that the department switch to shorter work days, more closely monitor sick-day use, and reconfigure the way firefighters accrue and use vacation time. Task force members said their recommendations are intended to cut overtime costs, provide better service and heighten safety.

Owens formed the task force after The Sun reported that Simonds, after being denied capital funding, spent about $130,000 in overtime to complete an unauthorized renovation of a county warehouse. The department ran a $7.2 million overtime tab for the fiscal year that ended June 30, exceeding its overtime and overall budgets by nearly $1 million. Some firefighter supervisors doubled their pay with overtime and 23 earned more than Owens.

Firefighters union president Keith W. Wright said yesterday that he's generally pleased with the task force's initial ideas. "There are a couple of particular items that cause me a little bit of concern," he said after yesterday's meeting.

The task force recommended that the Fire Department do away with 24-hour shifts, creating a combination of 10- and 14-hour shifts. Paramedics, who are the department's busiest employees, should get more days off than other firefighters, members said.

In order to create the new system, the department would need to hire at least 11 paramedics, Novotny said.

The department should also hire more firefighters so that it has the flexibility to deny vacation time that would create overtime, said County Councilman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a task force member. He did not say how many firefighters the county would need to hire.

Such a change would prevent a repeat of the situation that occurred July 5, when nearly half the firefighters scheduled to work were granted the day off. They were replaced by firefighters who were paid nearly $35,000 in overtime.

Sun staff writer Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.

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