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Ordinance to create Carroll County fire and EMS department ‘falls short,’ CCVESA president says

Carroll County’s government is on the verge of achieving a yearslong effort to establish a combination paid and volunteer fire and emergency medical services department, but the proposal does not have the full support of a representative for the volunteers.

During a public hearing Thursday on the proposed ordinance that will establish the department, a leader in the volunteer fire and EMS community pointed to what he believes are shortcomings in the proposal, while also expressing hope for the future.

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“The fire service is a complicated organization, and the brevity of your ordinance falls short in fully articulating this critical piece of information,” Bruce Fleming, president of Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association, told the Board of County Commissioners.

The ordinance spans four pages, though the first two pages contain the meat of the proposal, establishing the department, plus the director position and its responsibilities. Bob McCoy was announced as the department’s director in July.

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Fleming said in an interview he is concerned the ordinance will concentrate power within the county, power that he’d hoped would be shared with CCVESA during the transition.

The proposed ordinance gives the director the responsibility of establishing and enforcing “rules, regulations, directives, and procedures of the Department and its organizational components,” which includes CCVESA and its member companies. Volunteer fire companies remain independent, legally designated nonprofits under the ordinance, and are responsible for their own administrative affairs.

Fleming suggested the document could be improved if it included the draft language, put forth by a work group of CCVESA members and county officials, that outlined the roles and responsibilities of the volunteer companies in relation to the county department. He acknowledged CCVESA knew the county had the final say in crafting the ordinance when the work group presented its draft.

“I do not think it is unreasonable to articulate the county’s commitment to all of the members of the newly created combination system by clearly codifying the role, responsibility and rights,” Fleming told the commissioners, who did not directly respond to his concerns.

Outside of this criticism, Fleming said CCVESA is “ecstatic” to work with McCoy and said the ordinance is “desperately needed” to establish the department and empower McCoy to make decisions. Two other people called in to the meeting to voice support for adopting the ordinance, with one man saying he represented career firefighters and paramedics in Carroll County.

After the meeting, McCoy said the key to the proposed ordinance was to establish the department and the director position. Other provisions in the draft ordinance will “definitely be revisited" in the future, he said. For now, the department is just trying to get started.

“This streamlines the overall administration of the departments,” McCoy said. “It’s still my goal to ensure volunteer service remains for years to come.”

A historic moment

Commissioners Dennis Frazier, R-District 3; Richard Weaver, R-District 2; and Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, are among the commissioners who were there when the push to create a combination paid and volunteer county fire service began. This week, they remarked at how far the idea has come.

Wantz, who ran on this issue dating back to 2012, opened the public hearing to receive comments on the proposed ordinance.

“This is history in the making here today, gentlemen,” he said. “We often talk about what your legacy’s going to be … this one will be at the top of my list.”

In accordance with public hearing procedure, the commissioners will leave the record open for 10 days before voting whether to adopt the ordinance into the county code. Wantz said it will be on the Oct. 1 meeting agenda.

This document, Fleming said, will “go down in history” as one of the most important government decisions related to the fire service.

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