Mention of a paid fire service, which the administration has previously insisted it is not planning to create, came up during the meeting.

At the end of his testimony supporting a separate, unrelated fire and EMS funding bill, Dousa said it was "a stopgap until the count actually does have a paid service."

Craig justified his original request of 11 members on the commission. The amendments would create a nine-member commission, with five fire or EMS providers instead of six, and four general residents instead of five.

The amendments would also require the group to meet at least nine times a year and merely recommend rules or regulations, after consulting with the association.


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Speaking about other jurisdictions, Craig said: "Howard County has a paid service and fire tax instead, so the county executive doesn't need as strong an advisory board because he has a paid chief... Every county is slightly different."

Gene Worthington, head of the association, explained the "defunct" chiefs' organization is the result of a mistake that has been fixed.

"We goofed. We failed to submit to the state our nonprofit tax forms," he said.

Worthington also said he has seen "a dozen" studies similar to the recent one and had expected a document more similar to one produced by the state.

"There is no disagreement that we all want to improve the services for our citizens, so let's get a work group," Worthington said. "Let's create the real fire and EMS master plan, one that is reviewed here in Harford County."

David Lewis, president of the Maryland State Firemen's Association, said he supported the fire companies and their request to amend or withdraw the legislation.

"It's not clear how another legislative body overseeing this would improve its effectiveness," he said about emergency service.

Craig emphasized that the commission would be strictly advisory, and the amendments tried to make it even clearer that various groups would not lose control over emergency service.

"We have a lot of commissions that are out there that are appointed by the county executive and selected by you, and they are advisory," he said, adding the administration supports groups like the association.

"This is not something to replace them, to move them aside, it's to ensure we do what we need to do to help them," he said.

The commission was suggested after a temporary fire and EMS committee, put in action by the fire study, had been meeting for about a year.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti asked Craig: "Is it required, is it necessary, is this something that could be done just as the existing commission was done under the executive order?"

Craig replied: "This is one of the first things the commission came back and said we need to make this permanent."

Councilman Jim McMahan noted he put together a good commission, met with many stakeholders and provided answers with "unprecedented speed."

"When the legislation was introduced, why did we create such a firestorm?" he asked, wondering why no one seemed to be on the same page.

"I guess cause it's a fire study," Craig joked. "I've been on the same page the whole time, page four: create a fire commission."

"It is still an advisory group for us to make recommendations," he continued. "In the long run, I still think it continues to make our system a great system… We have a great system but it's stressed. We need to get it all working together so it protects the citizens we represent."

Councilman Joe Woods, who has been with the Fallston fire company, said he definitely believes having some type of commission is beneficial but had issues with the proposed size and make-up of the group, as well as wording that makes it more regulatory than advisory.

Craig agreed issues like that are "workable," and agreed with Woods that decisions should not be made without consulting fire chiefs.

"I am not an elected official who pulls things after years of study," Craig told the council. "I could leave all of this on the table for someone else. I think it needs to be done."

"There's always going to be someone saying 'don't move that forward yet,'" he said.