Harford County Executive David Craig announced Thursday he is appointing Russell Strickland, a Bel Air resident who has worked in public safety since the 1970s, as the county's manager of emergency services.
Strickland, 58, is replacing Brian Feist, who resigned last month after less than 19 months overseeing the county's emergency operations. The official announcement of his departure said Feist "is returning to Pennsylvania to pursue a business opportunity."
During a press conference in Bel Air announcing the new appointment, Craig said the selection of Strickland is not for any ulterior motives, including having him oversee the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association, whose members are local volunteer fire and emergency medical services companies.
Craig, who has about two years and four months left in his final term as county executive, did say, however, that the county could potentially get a fire administrator in the "mid-distant future."
"One of the issues that we are looking at is eventually having that [fire administrator]," he said, adding he would not take a stand until the public safety commission he appointed to study the relationship between the private fire companies and the county makes a recommendation.
Mary Chance, director of administration, added that the county administration is working closely with the commission. The emergency operations manager answers directly to Chance.
Craig and some leaders of the fire service have been a odds over the past 18 months over the county executive's requirement that the 12 fire and EMS companies provide the county with detailed financial statements. The county pays annual stipends to the companies and has also provided funding for some of their stations, but his demand was viewed by some as a first step toward a paid, county run fire service.
The new emergency hire is "just filling a vacancy," Craig said, adding he was happy to work with Feist, the outgoing manager.
"He has done a very good job at it," Craig said of the position, jokingly adding: "We did not push Brian Feist out because he was a Steelers fan."
Feist is not expected to leave until about mid-August, and Strickland will start in mid-September, Craig said.
Feist is paid $105,000 a year, county government spokesperson Bob Thomas said. The position's top posted salary is $124,800.
Strickland, who grew up in Elkton, was a finalist for the emergency services job when Craig selected Feist for the post in early 2011.
Strickland was with the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute at the University of Maryland until 2004, when he was transferred to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, which he left in 2008.
Since 2008, he has worked with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where he provided expertise on homeland security and emergency management.
Strickland thanked the administration for putting faith and confidence in him and pledged to live up to that.
"It's an incredible opportunity for me," he said. "I live in the county, I am part of the county."
"Russell's distinguished background in public safety and management will serve him well in his new position with Harford County," Craig said.
Strickland has also served as a police officer with the University of Maryland Police Department and later as a fire investigator and inspector with the Office of the State Fire Marshal. Additionally, Strickland served a member of the State's first Hazardous Materials Response Team while serving with the OSFM.