Steve Gamatoria, treasurer at Susquehanna Hose Company of Havre de Grace and a member of the public safety commission, said after Tuesday's meeting he agrees the wording of the executive order dealing with fire scene control is the biggest "bone of contention" and made people nervous.
"Once that's removed," he said, "the idea of the whole department of public safety, I think the whole county is on board with the executive order."
Gamatoria has been involved with the fire service since 1978. Today, he said, "there is more communication between the county and the [fire and EMS] association, and I think some of the credit is to the commission to being there, raising the questions and forcing both sides to come together."
He believes the intention of the proposed department is "not to take over anything — it is to advocate." The executive order, he continued, will "absolutely" help with that mission.
"There is so much the county has to offer that the fire service just doesn't get to take advantage of," Gamatoria said, such as a conduit for the fire and EMS service to the county administration and purchasing power. "That's where I see a huge advantage that a lot of people aren't thinking of at a macro level."
Waiting for new wording
Aberdeen Fire Department Chief Steve Hinch reiterated that there were initial worries with the wording of the executive order, but Craig has "assured us that it was a mistake and that it would be corrected."
The companies are, however, still waiting to see the corrected language of the executive order, he added.
"We are in support of a public safety division and a director of public safety," Hinch said. "As long as that wording is changed to put the operational stuff in the control of the chief officers from each of the companies, nobody is opposed to what he's wanting to do."
Hinch hopes these changes the fire service has requested are part of the discussion with the county council next week.
The fire and EMS association, however, has "different opinions on different aspects on what Mr. Craig is asking for," he said.
One of those aspects, Hinch explained: "The association has always been the contact with the county government for fire and EMS and now with a public safety director and department there is some speculation that the volunteer services are going to be pushed to the side or we will start losing volunteers in Harford County, and that is not what David Craig nor what many of the county council members want done."
The new department, he believes, will provide accountability for what the county gives to the volunteer companies and bring them all together as one group rather than 12 individual companies.
"It gives us more of a voice," Hinch said, "one powerful group that will be able to speak for everybody."
Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company Chief Eddie Hopkins said his company has known "since the study was released that this was the direction County Executive Craig was going to go."
The company supports the creation of the public safety department, he continued, and feels it will be beneficial in the long run.
Hopkins acknowledged the concerns many members have about the wording of the executive order, saying when taken at face value the wording can be "a little vague."
"As a fire chief and given whoever this person may be to fill this role [of director]," he said, "they may or may not know how my company responds to fire calls and members."
If the director came onto the scene of a fire or EMS call and attempted to take control of the situation, Hopkins said, it could quickly turn into a "dysfunctional scene."
Any ambiguities in the executive order will be addressed during the county council meeting next week, he said.
The bottom line of the executive order is to "bring adequate public safety services to the county," Hopkins explained. "If you do that as a coordinated effort your service is far more effective."
More talks needed
Like Hopkins, Dousa, the fire and EMS association president, said the command and control issue is the major sticking point with the executive order.
He also said that while Craig has met with many individual chiefs and some fire company presidents, "there hasn't been a meeting with everybody – trustees and [fire company] administrations."
Nothing had been set up as of late Thursday afternoon, but Dousa said he hopes they can meet before Tuesday's county council meeting.
"I think this will all work out," he said. "This [the department] can be positive for our fire service if we make it work right."
Aegis Managing Editor Allan Vought contributed to this article.