Harford County Executive David Craig condemned fire and emergency service leaders for letting internal politics stand in the way of advancing public safety during a press conference Monday afternoon.
Craig justified Friday's decision to pull the bill that would create a county fire and EMS commission and said that by the end of this week he will announce a new plan for the future of public safety.
In his 30 years in the county, Craig said, "I cannot say I have had such foolishness in the last 60 days [as] I have seen over how to improve public safety. The status quo is not acceptable. We will have a decision by the end of the week."
The press conference included many county department heads and four members who Craig planned to have sit on the commission, including prospective chairman Les Adams, a former Montgomery County fire chief who is now on the Eastern Shore.
Public safety officials had a "major role" in the fire and EMS study released last year, he said, adding that although it is a study, "it clearly offers a plan also."
Craig said unfortunately some public safety officials have chosen to nevertheless condemn the study and the administration's efforts to improve safety.
He said he saw in 2005 how much the volunteer service needed help with equipment, volunteer recruitment and a host of other issues.
Craig said he would not let the county stay stuck in the past, and that if his opponents had been around while the Declaration of Independence was being written, "we would have still been part of Great Britain."
"This is the 21st century. We need to get on board," he said. "We are not in any way going to eliminate the volunteer fire service. They are dedicated, they do a great job, but we need to make sure we continue to expand what we do."
"We will be taking action this week to make sure we are continuing this," he said.
Craig said the fire study was not about the individual fire companies, but "about the overall good for Harford County," and accused public safety leaders of making the bill into "what I would call a political safety issue rather than a public safety issue."
He also criticized Sen. Barry Glassman's comment to The Aegis that the commission might essentially be a duplication of the role of the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Association, which also advises the county.
Craig said the county has many other commissions on a variety of issues, and it needs an independent group to review public safety, not just a group of fire and EMS officials.
He noted that having such a commission was one of the top priorities listed in the study's results.
"Leadership often means making difficult decisions," he said, warning against the desire to "kick the can down the street."
Craig said he is committed to ensuring the county has the best possible fire and EMS service.
"I take that responsibility seriously and I believe it is one of the fundamental roles of county government," he said.
The Harford County Fire and EMS Association did not have any immediate comment about Craig's remarks, association spokesperson Dave Williams said Tuesday afternoon.