Fire companies vote unanimously to support new Harford fire agency order

The executive order creating a new Harford County Department of Emergency Services, that will give the county executive greater oversight of the privately run fire and emergency medical service, was formally submitted to the Harford County Council Tuesday.

The whole process might be anti-climactic, however, after the county's fire and EMS association voted unanimously Monday night to support the latest draft of the executive order.

Executive Order 12-8 by Harford County Executive David Craig was sent to the council Tuesday, Council Administrator Pam Meister said. Because there is no formal process to introduce an executive order, it is up to Council President Billy Boniface to make mention of it at Tuesday evening's meeting, she said.

Representatives of the 12 fire companies voted unanimously Monday night to support the executive order, Rich Gardiner, spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association, said.

There wasn't much discussion at the meeting, Gardiner said, because the concerns firefighters had with the original order were worked out beforehand.

The only significant change in the bill submitted to the council Tuesday from previous versions is the provision that the county will only be responsible for oversight of "government" funding of the volunteer fire companies, not the funding from their private activities.

A public hearing on the order is expected to be held during the Jan. 8 county council meeting.

While a discussion on the order was planned for the Tuesday, Dec. 18 meeting, County government spokesman Bob Thomas said Monday the earliest the executive order will be discussed will be at the Jan. 8 council session.

Thomas said Craig requested the delay concurrent with a planned vote and discussion of the executive order by leaders of the Harford County Fire and EMS Association that took place Monday night.


Thomas said the latest draft, Executive Order No. 12-08, was circulated to fire officials who requested changes.

"We made changes that were requested and are now holding it to January," he said.

Craig submitted an earlier order to the county council in November that was withdrawn without formal introduction after fire service leaders objected to the level of control the county government would have assumed.

The newer order was crafted in the past two weeks, but still raised some issues for fire service leaders, several fire chiefs said, one suggesting the latest order contained too much vague language in detailing the county's future relationship with the county.

Harford has a dozen fire and ambulance companies, each one a private organization run by volunteers. The fire and EMS association is the companies' umbrella organization for dealing with the county and on matters of policy and standards.

Though Harford is the most populous county in the state with an all-volunteer fire service, county funds are still provided to augment the private companies.

According to figures obtained from the county, in the current fiscal year, the county is providing almost $11.9 million in direct or indirect financial support to the volunteer fire and EMS service, including $6.1 million for individual companies' operating and equipment budgets; $270,000 for the association's operations; $2.6 million for a paid ambulance service run by a private foundation set up by the association with the county's earlier blessing; $2 million for a volunteer firemen's pension fund financed solely by the county; $375,000 for firemen's workers compensation and $500,000 for capital improvements to the private companies' facilities.

In all, according to the county, the fire service has received $143.7 million for operations, pensions and workers compensation since the 1990 fiscal year and almost $21 million in capital improvements funds.

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