About 20 Harford firefighters lose rank by failing to meet deadline for certifications

For The Baltimore Sun

About 20 ranking officers at Harford County volunteer fire stations lost those ranks after failing to submit new required certifications July 1.

Roughly 200 officers completed their certifications on time, said Rich Gardiner, a spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association. He declined to release the names of those who did not qualify.

The certifications requirement was first announced five years ago, touted as an effort to make training at the departments more uniform. The firefighters who did not submit their certifications can still respond to calls, but cannot hold ranks such as chief, captain or lieutenant until they qualify under the new standards, Gardiner said.

The association can fine departments who let uncertified officers keep their titles and face a fine of $1,000 per officer per month, taken from the department’s budget. They association has not levied any fines so far, Gardiner said Wednesday.

“Volunteer firefighters and volunteer fire companies wants to be treated the same as career,” said Scott Hurst, chief of the Susquehanna Hose Company in Havre de Grace. “Well, if you want to be treated the same, you have to be well trained.”

To get certified, firefighters had to complete classes in leadership, incident response and other topics. More experienced firefighters could instead write about how they learned the skills in their years of service instead of in a classroom and submit those letters to a county board which would decide whether that experience should count toward credit.

All but one class required for the certification were available for free. One customer service class, taken online, cost $50, Hurst said.

Not every person certified currently has a leadership position. Some got the certification hoping for future officer roles — a circumstance Hurst likened to a Major League Baseball’s farm team.

“Some fire companies only have a handful of people approved,” he said. “What about the future of that fire company? Where are your officers coming from in the next two, three, five years?”

The certification standards came out of a 2010 study of fire departments in the county. Before that, individual departments decided who was qualified for a promotion.

“It was up to individual fire companies to kind of police themselves. Some companies have higher standards, some of them had far lower standards,” Hurst said.

Firefighters from different departments often work together during emergencies, so association officials decided to put more stringent and uniform standards in place.

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