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Carroll County’s first fire and EMS director aims to support volunteers, hopes for smooth transition

While Robert “Bob” McCoy has decades of experience working in fire and emergency services, he’s relatively new to Carroll County — something he thinks will be an advantage as he starts his new job.

“Nobody up here has worked with me or for me,” McCoy said Monday. “It just really provides me the opportunity to be honest with people.”

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Carroll County Government announced the hire of McCoy as the first fire and emergency medical services director Thursday. He has 37 years of fire service experience, namely in Prince George’s County and York County, Pennsylvania.

As director, McCoy is tasked with launching a combination paid and volunteer fire department to serve Carroll County as a whole.

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McCoy moved to Carroll County in 2018, drawn to the area by his family. He lives on the same street in Taneytown as his parents, who have lived in the county for 11 years, McCoy said. His children and grandchildren are also nearby.

The veteran firefighter joined Taneytown Volunteer Fire Company in September of 2019, but once he became interested in the fire and EMS director position, McCoy said he took a step back so he could be unbiased if he got the job.

“It is an advantage to be able to go out there and, you know, not necessarily feel that you owe anyone or that you have to look out for particular people or any situation like that,” McCoy said Monday. He said being relatively unknown was a strength for him when he was hired as fire chief in York, where he established Pennsylvania’s first regional combination paid and volunteer fire department.

“Basically, I’ve done this once before. I felt I was the right person for the job,” McCoy said, acknowledging what worked in York may not work in Carroll County.

Stephen Wantz, president of the Board of Commissioners, said it was that very experience that made McCoy stand out. A panel consisting of commissioners, county department heads, and representatives from Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association (CCVESA) narrowed down the applicants, but the Board of Commissioners had the final say in who to hire.

“I think the most important factor was his recent experience of doing the very thing that we’re looking to accomplish here,” said Wantz, who also has decades of fire service experience.

Wantz acknowledged McCoy as being someone who was relatively under the radar in the county. Wantz said he’d been hoping for someone who would not have a strong bias in favor of any one fire company.

McCoy also made a good impression on Wantz long before he ever applied for the fire director position. Wantz said McCoy sent him an email introducing himself when he moved to Taneytown, which is in Wantz’s district. McCoy told him about his experience and offered to help the community however he could, Wantz recalled. Wantz said he never called on him, but he remembered that email when McCoy applied for the job.

McCoy has worked in Carroll County’s 911 center as a call taker and dispatcher, which he said gave him a base knowledge of the county’s emergency operations. However, McCoy realizes there is much to learn and plans to spend part of the first six months in his role getting to know the leaders in the existing volunteer fire companies, including CCVESA.

He envisions the paid fire company members supporting volunteers. The countywide department is not meant to take away from the identities of existing volunteer companies, according to McCoy.

“I don’t want to appear to be a threat to any of the volunteer systems. My goal here is to keep the volunteer system thriving as long as possible,” McCoy said. “Then to have the necessary framework in place to assist where we can as a county fire department.”

Large fundraisers, which are often the lifeblood of volunteer fire companies, may not be as crucial if the county funding is there, McCoy suggested. His goal is to develop a staffing plan in his first year to submit to the Board of Commissioners so that the department can have a budget next year.

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“This plan’s going to be fluid,” he said. “What we think may work today may need to be adjusted down the road.”

As volunteers have decreased over the years across the industry, McCoy said more fire companies are adapting to a combination model.

McCoy wants to identify strengths and weaknesses of volunteer departments, such as when “trouble hours” are, and how to fill those gaps. That may look like assigning paid staff to certain shifts at a fire station, he said. McCoy anticipates offering an incentive or preference to existing volunteers or paid personnel who wish to be hired by the county. There are already some paid staff at volunteer fire companies, but they do not work for the county, McCoy said.

He expects the average citizen won’t notice the transition, as long as firefighters keep responding to emergencies in a timely manner.

In York, the road to a combination regional department took about two years, concluding with their first joint labor contract, according to McCoy.

He has a list of tasks that need to be addressed in Carroll County, beginning with simple logistics like getting himself a radio and vehicle. He hopes to hit the ground running Thursday, his first official day.

“There are going to be some changes throughout this process,” McCoy said. “We’ll make sure we do whatever we can to make sure it’s a smooth transition over time.”

His fire service began with Seat Pleasant Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George’s County in 1983. McCoy’s father and uncle were both firefighters.

“It’s the best job in the world,” McCoy said. “I never felt like I worked a day in my life. I enjoyed going to work.”

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