Joanne R. Rund was sworn in during a ceremony as the first permanently appointed female Fire Chief of Baltimore County Fire Department.
Joanne Rund rose through the ranks of the Howard County Fire Department in emergency medical services and firefighting. She said fighting fires was her favorite part of the job — though it wasn’t the action that drew her.
“I like to connect with the family,” Rund said. “And I like to ask them, ‘Is there anything in there that you would like me to look for?’” She said she has gone into burned buildings and brought out a little girl’s doll, a jewelry box, a photo album.
“It’s all about knowing that in the worst day of their life, you did something small and wonderful for them,” Rund said.
Rund took the oath of office July 1 to become the first woman to permanently lead the Baltimore County Fire Department.
The self-described “people person” said she will lead by connecting with people in the department.
Rund replaces Acting Chief Jennifer Aubert-Utz, who took over after Chief Kyrle Preis retired.
With Rund officially taking office, all four of Baltimore County’s public safety agencies have a woman at the helm. Police Chief Melissa Hyatt was sworn in last month, and the Department of Corrections and 911 Communications Center are also led by women.
Angela Hughes, president of the International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Service, or Women in Fire, said Rund’s appointment marks a historic moment in Maryland.
Two other women also rose to lead area fire departments in Maryland in the past year — Chief Christine Uhlhorn in Howard County and Chief Trisha Wolford in Anne Arundel County. Another woman, Tiffany Green, was appointed second in command in Prince George’s County’s fire service in December.
“These four women are quite a power team,” said Hughes, who is also a captain in the Baltimore County Fire Department. “And they bring so much to the fire service, not only in the fact that they’re well-deserving of the positions. They’re the leaders of the future.”
Hughes said representation in top leadership is important for fire departments, where women are vastly underrepresented, even compared to other physically demanding jobs in fields like police, military and construction. Only about 7 percent of career firefighters and 11 percent of volunteers are women, she said.
Olszewski said in his speech that about 20 percent of Baltimore County firefighters are women, higher than the national average, but that there was still more work to do.
“About 40 years ago women were virtually nonexistent in Baltimore County’s fire department,” Olszewski said. “And while we’ve come a long way, we recognize that we still have much further to go in the recruitment and retention of women and other areas of diversity within the department.”
Rund, a nearly lifelong Carroll County resident who resides in Westminster, said she took an interest in becoming a first responder when her cousin, a volunteer firefighter in Sykesville, came to live with her family. Hanging around the fire station, listening to volunteers talk about their work, made her want to be a part of it. Rund was a volunteer EMS provider in Carroll County until she joined the Howard department in 1987.
Her husband, Michael Rund, a lieutenant in the Howard department, participated in the ceremony at her request, presenting her with her badge.
After the ceremony, Rund said she had always hoped to rise through the ranks, but never expected to be the first woman to lead a department.
“I thought we would have done that before,” Rund said.
Rund’s appointment puts her in charge of a department of more than 1,000 career first responders and more than 2,000 volunteers working from 25 career stations and 29 volunteer stations, according to the department website.
Rund said her priority in office will be to enhance safety protections for first responders. In emergencies, responders are at risk because they get “tunnel vision,” focusing on the safety of others while neglecting their own, Rund said.
Hughes, who said she has known Rund for several years, praised her work on safety issues for firefighters. Multiple people have praised the new chief’s work with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to reduce line-of-duty deaths.
Sibiga, with the firefighters’ union, said a renewed focus on safety is welcome at a time when people are becoming more aware of the risk of cancer firefighters face from being exposed to toxic substances during fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association, firefighters are 14 percent more likely to die of cancer than the general population.
The union is already pleased with Olszewski’s recent commitment to fund washers and dryers in every station and a second set of turnout gear for firefighters, allowing them to decontaminate their gear and still have something to protect them for the next emergency, Sibiga said.
The union also hopes to work with Rund to push for upgrades to fire stations approaching 50 years of age, Sibiga said.
Although Rund is still getting to know the department, Sibiga said the fact that she comes from a nearby county will help her get up to speed quickly.
Rund said she is sad to leave Howard County, where she “grew up” in the department.
“God has another mission for me, and it’s to help Baltimore County, to move Baltimore County to the next level,” Rund said. “They’re already a great department, but I’m supposed to be here to work with them for a reason.”