"It just keeps growing as far as time commitment and when you're 100 percent volunteer, it becomes difficult," he said.

Sooner or later, he continued, the issue will have to be addressed if Harford's fire companies remain entirely volunteer or if they move to some paid, full-time employees.

Different agendas

"I think a lot of it comes down to how different factions view different communication and wording," Bennett, a 46-year member of the Aberdeen Fire Department, said. "There is some resistance to the executive order already, and that is created by the fact that when orders are drafted by people who may not be in the middle of a specific arena they're drafted from their perspective."

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Bennett believes part of the resistance comes from the different companies worried that the county will have too much control over what is done and part of it comes from the county council.

He remains confident, however, that everyone would be amenable to working out any wording in the executive order that people have an issue with and coming up with something everyone would be happy with.

In the long run, Bennett said, he feels the department of public safety "will allow us to focus the support of the system and build ultimately a better fire service for the citizens."

Questions for fire service

Bennett told the commission during its regular meeting, held in Aberdeen Tuesday, that he met with Craig and Director of Administration Mary Chance on Nov. 14 to discuss the executive order.

Bennett said Craig posed questions the county executive wants the fire service to address over the next few months. They include:

What would be an appropriate baseline fleet based on expected and current volumes throughout the county and in specific companies?

What would be a "true" financial cost for providing EMS service countywide and within each company?

With regard to the latter, Bennett said, Craig wants EMS only review of the companies' financial records to understand expenses and revenue they receive when their ambulances are deployed.

Bennett also said there has been "push back" to the executive order, but Craig has agreed to change the paragraph that has garnered most of the contention from the fire service regarding who would be in command of the fire and emergency service operations.

As the order currently reads, "the Department of Public Safety shall be responsible for the coordination, command, control and the oversight of the fire and emergency service operations, services and other support organizations to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Harford County."

The fire companies want to maintain control of their services and operations, particularly at the fire scenes within their territories, or fire boxes.

Bennett added that draft language has been offered to "correct" that paragraph.

"We're really pushing to get this taken care of," he added.

Bennett urged people to attend next week's county council meeting and "show support for this [executive] order."

Commission comments