He also said to the county officials in the room: "Please take it back to the county executive: We are willing to work with you."

"We have a great system. We have excellent people, top-trained people in the state, and it's a service that can't go away," Woods said.

Jim McMahan held up a Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company button he said was from a fire chief at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"It's a symbol of pride to me. My father had one just like it," McMahan said. "What it represents has never failed a citizen in need."

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McMahan said the volunteer service is as strong today as ever.

"Can it be improved? Sure. It's not broke," he said.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti simply asked everyone to remember that despite their passions for specific issues, everyone must work together.

"I hope we all put aside all those things that have happened over some of those days, weeks, months," she said, adding that tomorrow, a siren will go off and someone will respond to yet another person in need or be dispatched to a robbery or a person with a heart attack.

Cooperation pledged

After the meeting, association president Bill Dousa said he would continue to work with Craig and serve Harford County.

"We will continue to provide our services. We will continue to operate as we do, until things change," he said.

Asked for his reaction to Craig's accusation that fire leaders tried to turn the bill into a political issue, Dousa said: "I am apolitical."

"If the county is willing to work with us on operations and make services better, we are willing to work with them," he said.

He also disagreed with Craig's assertion that a fire and EMS commission should not have too many representatives from the association.

Dousa said the association made a spreadsheet showing that nearly all Maryland jurisdictions that have such a commission, have plenty of representation from a fire and EMS association on the commission.

During his press conference Monday when he criticized the council and the fire and EMS association, Craig had said he would come back with a new public safety proposal shortly.

The county executive had tentatively planned to hold a press conference Thursday to discuss details, but nothing came of it.

"The county executive has a conflict in his schedule for today, thus postponing any further announcement with respect to the status of the Harford County Fire and EMS Commission," Craig spokesman Bob Thomas wrote in an e-mail shortly after noon Thursday.