As private organizations, the volunteer fire companies in Harford County are run by a leadership structure that is elected by the volunteers. If a particular company ends up being dominated by people who think it's appropriate to make threats like the ones unveiled this week, it is possible such Neanderthal behavior could go unchecked. It also is possible a chief like Hopkins, who takes swift and appropriate disciplinary action, could end up finding himself voted out of office. Meanwhile, the public at large, which pays a lot of money into the fire and ambulance service, is left without a voice.
In recent months, the county executive has begun a process aimed at providing a measure of public oversight of the public money that goes into emergency services, a move that frankly is long overdue, given the occasional outbursts of unprofessional behavior on the part of a few volunteers.
The executive branch has faced opposition in this oversight effort from county council members, who are impressed by the high caliber service such as was on display in the aftermath of tornado, even as they turn a blind eye to escapades such as the recent Facebook fiasco.
A realistic and balanced approach is called for not only in the response to this latest incident, but also with regard to public oversight of an organization that provides a vital public service and receives substantial public funding. It wouldn't be fair to condemn the volunteer service as a whole, but neither is it reasonable to presume the volunteers can do no wrong and, therefore, need no public oversight, especially considering the public money they receive and the public service they provide.