After much discussion Thursday, the Carroll County commissioners agreed to give preference to local candidates for the new county fire and emergency services director, and said experience plus training may be substituted in place of a bachelor’s degree.

Carroll is taking steps to transition to a countywide fire and EMS system, and the next task is hiring a director. The commissioners met with Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association (CCVESA) Sept. 10 to discuss the job description for the position. On Thursday, the commissioners went back and forth over whether a bachelor’s degree should be required to apply, with Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, leading the charge for the degree requirement.

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“I think you should have to have a bachelor’s degree to hold this position,” he said.

Under the position’s job requirements, it lists bachelor’s degree in a related field, with an asterisk that notes comparable training and experience may be substituted for the degree. Completion of Fire Officer Level III is also a requirement.

Other commissioners shot down Frazier’s suggestion to remove the asterisk, with Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, and Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, adamantly opposed.

“In many of these service-related positions, comparable training means a lot,” Wantz said. “Some would agree that it’s at the level of a college degree.”

Frazier suggested a person could get college credit for their first-hand experience toward a bachelor’s degree. He argued a degree should be necessary for a director’s position.

“Because of the certifications and experience that comes along with being a fireman or woman, it outweighs that degree and that has to be considered," Rothstein said. "I mean, I just could imagine a 30-year fireman having a handful of certifications, along with that experience, outweighs that 27-year-old with a bachelor’s and four years of experience ... I don’t want to disqualify somebody because they don’t have that.”

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, didn’t directly oppose Frazier’s suggestion, but ultimately voted along with the rest of the board to leave the asterisk in the job description.

The “practical experience is probably more important than the bachelor’s degree, but the communication level, the expectations at this level, are very high,” Weaver said.

Bouchat sided with Rothstein and Wantz, saying he would “hate” to see someone with decades of experience passed over in favor of a young person with a college degree and little experience.

Frazier compared the fire and emergency services director to his prior career, saying his 40 years of experience in teaching wouldn’t get him a job as a principal or a superintendent unless he had the degree to match.

“I don’t see any difference,” Frazier said.

“I see a big difference,” Wantz countered.

Appearing frustrated, Wantz seemed to lose hope that the description would be approved that day.

“There’s a lot more work to be done, the way it sounds to me,” he said.

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Rothstein asked whether the directors of other Carroll County government departments are required to have bachelor’s degrees. County Administrator Roberta Windham said there have been and are currently directors working for Carroll without bachelor’s degrees. That fact quieted the debate and appeared to lead Frazier to abandon his argument.

The commissioners agreed it would be ideal, but not necessary, for a candidate to have both experience in the field and a bachelor’s degree.

Board prefers director to be Carroll resident

The commissioners agreed they would prefer a Carroll County resident as the director, but ultimately decided not to make residency a requirement.

“My biggest concern is that we will be limiting a very large talent pool just because we’re looking at the boundaries of Carroll County,” Rothstein said.

Wantz expressed hope that the chosen candidate would move to Carroll eventually. Weaver and Bouchat said it would be beneficial to have the director be a Carroll resident, citing the need for rapid response.

Frazier expressed concerns over potential conflicts of interest. If the person hired is a member or officer of a Carroll County volunteer fire department, then their application should come before the Carroll County Ethics Commission, he said.

Rothstein broached the subject of whether the director should be required to maintain a certain level of physical fitness. Wantz said the director should undergo an annual physical exam by a doctor, just like every other Carroll County firefighter, though it is not a requirement in the job description.

“It’s not whether or not you can bench press 300 pounds, it’s getting an annual physical,” Wantz said.

Bouchat asked Wantz, as a former firefighter, if there’s a chance the director could be at a fire, helping volunteers.

“Absolutely,” Wantz said.

Rothstein and Weaver said they viewed the position as one of management.

“They’re not a uniformed person,” Rothstein noted.

Wantz pointed out that having Fire Officer Level III or IV, which is in the job description, means the person would be capable of tackling a fire just like any other firefighter.

The commissioners approved the job description, which will be published on the county website after the commissioners agree on a salary range at a future meeting, according to Kim Frock, director of human resources.

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