A proposal by Harford County Executive David Craig to establish a fire and emergency medical service commission was tied up by a controversy among several of the different stakeholders, specifically the Harford County Fire & EMS Association, which is opposed to the bill.
The Harford County Council spent several hours during a public hearing Tuesday night dissecting the details of the bill, including the commission's member make-up, as several fire and emergency service officials said they did not agree with the county's proposal or had issues with the fire study that authorized the commission last year.
The council would not vote on the bill that evening, Council President Billy Boniface said.
"I think I have heard probably eight different stories from eight different groups," Boniface told Craig, who made the unusual move of appearing before the council to discuss proposed legislation. "You have quite a task; there's no consensus whatsoever among everyone who's involved in fire and EMS in this county right now and I think it all stems back to the fear of the unknown."
The commission would include 11 members who are Harford residents, six of whom would be fire or EMS providers and five who are not. One of the fire service appointees would represent the Harford County Fire & EMS Association.
The members would be appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the county council, with a charter designated by the county executive. They would serve three-year staggered terms.
The group would advise the county executive and other county officials on operations and training issues, and submit an annual report, although Craig said he would like that in quarterly form.
The bill came with seven amendments Tuesday night.
Bill Dousa and attorney John Gessner, who said they were the only ones officially allowed to represent the Harford County Fire & EMS Association, spoke against the bill.
"I am concerned this establishes the commission in a vacuum," Dousa said, explaining the bill has no language on how the commission would interface with the association.
"Bill 12-18 was written by the administration with no input from the association," he said, accusing the county of spending $85,000 on a fire study when other studies have been done in the past.
He said the association has already implemented 15 recommendations from the study.
"We're doing our part," Dousa said. "We are not opposed to accountability, we are not opposed to change, we are not opposed to a fire and EMS commission if it's formed in the right way."
Boniface questioned language regarding an organization called the Harford County Fire Chiefs Association and whether it is defunct.
He noted county law gives responsibility to that association.
Tony Bennett, of the Aberdeen Fire Department, one of four people Craig selected to speak on behalf of his bill, said although the new association may not be legally in a position of authority, "I think there's been a custom and tradition of how things move forward and the association has adopted that role."
Association officials said they replace the chiefs association.
Gessner said he does not see why this commission is necessary.
"We think that's the wrong approach," he said. "What will this cost the taxpayers? What is the ultimate goal?...We don't need to form this commission to fix a typographical error."
Cooperation between the county administration and fire or EMS officials, including a union recently adopted by fire and EMS companies, seemed in short supply Tuesday evening, as official after official testified against Craig's bill, or had issues with how it might be carried out.