Harford County's volunteer fire and EMS companies have received a draft of a new executive order creating a county department to oversee their operations, as well as all existing county emergency operations.
Executive Order 12-8 by Harford County Executive David Craig is expected to be introduced by the Harford County Council at its legislative session Dec. 18.
Although the council had expected to introduce and hold a hearing on the latest executive order Tuesday, everything was pushed back another week to give the fire companies more opportunity to review the order and comment on it, county government spokesman Bob Thomas said Saturday.
"This gives the fire service an opportunity to review [the order] and get back to the county executive and the president of the county council," Thomas said.
The latest order has several important changes from Order 12-7 that Craig sent to the council in early November. The earlier order never was formally introduced because the fire company leaders and their umbrella organization, the Harford Fire and EMS Association, objected to its wording.
There have since been meetings involving the association, the county administration and Council President Billy Boniface and the council's lawyer, Thomas said, adding that the association "has worked with the administration on the wording of the order to try to come to a consensus on a department the fire service and the county can live with."
One change in the latest order is the name of the new department. Originally, it was going to be called the Department of Public Safety, but now the name will be the Department of Emergency Operations.
Also gone from the latest order is any reference to the department's director being responsible for "the coordination, command, control and oversight of the fire and emergency service operations," which raised the principal objection with county fire service leaders.
The latest order states: "The Director shall coordinate with and support the Harford County Volunteer Fire and Emergency Medical Services Association on issues regarding fire and emergency medical services."
The order then goes on to list areas in which the Department of Emergency Services will be responsible "for the oversight of the affairs of the County in:
"Providing a high quality of Fire/Rescue protection, prevention, suppression, training and quality assurance;
"Providing a high quality [of] Emergency medical services delivery, training and quality assurance;
"Volunteer fire company funding, support and coordination;
"All other aspects of Emergency Services."
Another feature of the new order is the addition of justification for the new department, citing two previous county government actions in 1989 and 1993 that created the Harford County Emergency Operations Center and placed the agency under the supervision of the county executive's director of administration and later expanded its responsibilities and powers.
After receiving the draft of the new executive order on Friday morning, the fire and EMS association began circulating it to various officials, after which the order also made the rounds of local fire companies via e-mail.
William J. Dousa Jr., the association president, was not available to comment; however, Rich Gardiner, spokesman for the association said Saturday the situation with the new order "is progressing well."
"The Association and the Executive are currently working together on the order's language to come to an amenable document to present to the County Council," Gardiner wrote in an e-mail. "Once the language is finalized the leadership/officers of the Association will have a special meeting of the member [fire] companies to present to them the final document. This meeting could occur sometime late this coming week."
He also confirmed the association is having its lawyer, John Gessner, of Bel Air, review the document.
Gardiner said he couldn't speak to specific language changes in the latest order, but added: "The Association is extremely pleased to have the opportunity to work with the Executive on this. Together we look forward to moving fire and EMS to a higher level of service in Harford County."