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Harford public safety panel to focus on policies over operational issues

Emergency services head has own group working on fire-fighting protocols

BY HAFIZ RASHID, Special to The Aegis

10:39 AM EDT, July 30, 2013

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Members of the Harford County Public Safety Commission discussed focusing on policy issues rather than operational issues at their monthly meeting at the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company Thursday afternoon.

In doing so, the commission was also told the county director of emergency services has his own group working on operational systems and related concerns.

"The commission should be a policy recommending body to the [county] executive," commission chair Tony Bennett said. "Some of the issues might cross boundaries to both areas of focus, but we'll deal with those on an issue-by-issue basis."

Specifically, Bennett said, the commission would look at every recommendation outlined in the 2011 Harford County Fire and EMS Services Master Plan and determine which of the more than 130 items could be classified as operational or more tactical/policy-oriented.

Commission member and Director of the Department of Emergency Services Russell Strickland said the department has laid out an organizational chart that "is the umbrella for all emergency services in the county."

The chart establishes a hierarchy from the county executive down through the leaders of the county's chapter of the Chief Officers Liaison Committee, the commission, the Harford Volunteer Fire and EMS Association and Dr. Timothy Chizmar, associate medical director for the Fire and EMS Association and for the Volunteer Fire & EMS Foundation.

Ad hoc group meeting

"That group of folks, along with the director and deputy director of the department [of Emergency Services] are the senior leadership of the [fire and EMS service]," Strickland said, adding that the heads of these groups are meeting once a month to develop a strategic plan for the department inclusive of each party.

Strickland also said the group is working on a policy and procedures manual based on the structure of the department and tackling the issue of the authority to create a fire and EMS service in the county from the county government's perspective. He said this typically comes from a county charter, but the charter doesn't have any such language.

Strickland also said the department already has a summer intern researching and getting "examples of how other jurisdictions have done this," specifically other counties in Maryland.

He added that Harford County Executive David Craig wants to see the commission legally given a permanent status and the intern is also researching how commissions were legally established in other jurisdictions in Maryland as well as other states.

Strickland explained that the intern is preparing two papers, one of which would review and analyze how commissions function in Maryland and the other would compare Harford County's demographics to those of other counties and recommend how the county should establish its commission.

Strickland said a chart showing basic information about "what a commission may or may not do," based on research, has been put together by his department and would be shared with the commission to determine if any additions to the chart are necessary.

Recommending body

Strickland also reiterated Bennett's point about the commission being a recommending body to the county executive.

"They are not an operational body. The association is the operational body that works with the companies to take care of operations, and we're trying to get that language into future legislation," Strickland said.

Bennett said the commission would like to come back to the county council in September or October "with code corrections relative to how the fire service is viewed right now," one major correction being to name the current association of private fire and EMS companies in the code.

Per instructions from County Council President Billy Boniface, Bennett said, this and other issues need to be addressed by the association, the foundation, the Chief Officers Liaison Committee, the commission and the department "in lockstep."

"[Boniface] does not want to address it until we, as the fire service have worked that process out," Bennett said. "[The county council] know what's going on, but they want to see agreement within the fire service relative to what it is they're looking for."

Apparatus recommendation

Commission member Steve Gamatoria presented the final base line fleet report of the Apparatus Subcommittee, which Gamatoria chairs. The subcommittee was established by the previous public safety commission to examine recommendations in the fire master plan regarding operational equipment used by the county's fire and EMS services.

Gamatoria said the report takes into account feedback from participating departments, and noted that funding wasn't in place from the county regarding new equipment needed to meet any new standards. The report also includes background information and the minutes from the subcommittee's meetings, Gamatoria said.

Specifically, the subcommittee's report recommends that baseline regulations be established on equipment purchased and used by the county's different emergency services "that are instrumental in providing fire, rescue and EMS protection in Harford County to include pumpers, aerials, rescues, special units and EMS transport."

The report also recommends implementing a formal written process for replacing equipment and also recommends the baseline regulations for equipment take into account needs of different companies and consider the closest station responding to emergencies.

The report also has recommendations for funding equipment purchases. A full text of the report will be sent to the county executive and uploaded to the commission's website, Bennett said.

CPR training

Bill Dousa, Fire & EMS Association vice president, said that he, Linda Dousa and Chizmar met with the Harford County Board of Education regarding having CPR training included in school curriculum.

Bennett asked if the commission should send a letter of support to the school superintendent regarding the effort, and Dousa said that would be a good idea.

The commission's next meeting will be Aug. 22 at the Jarrettsville Volunteer Fire Company on Federal Hill Road. The panel will meet Sept. 26 at the Aberdeen Fire Department.