Bob McCoy, who last week was named Carroll County’s first fire and emergency medical services director, whose fire service began with Seat Pleasant Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George’s County in 1983, was asked about his career as a firefighter.
“It’s the best job in the world,” McCoy told us. “I never felt like I worked a day in my life. I enjoyed going to work.”
It remains to be seen if he will feel that way about his new gig.
Make no mistake, it’s a tremendously important position that he earned over many qualified applicants. He will shape policy and be instrumental in bringing Carroll County’s 14 fire companies together under the county’s newly established Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services. Carroll County’s fire and rescue system is not broken, but it is in need of change. The ranks have been thinned as volunteerism has dropped markedly, the result of numerous factors, not least of which is the rigorous, time-consuming training needed to be a firefighter.
McCoy will be charged with the overall direction, administration and evaluation of the newly established department and will plan, develop, implement and evaluate a countywide combination fire and EMS system, policies and procedures, according to his introductory news release from Carroll County government.
But it will not be easy and criticism is likely to come from different directions as the county undertakes a massive transition from what was traditionally an all-volunteer, completely separate group of fire companies to a combination career/volunteer service with companies expected to retain much of their autonomy while at the same time being part of a countywide operation.
One major advantage McCoy has going for him is that he’s done this before.
As fire chief in York, Pennsylvania, he established Pennsylvania’s first regional combination paid and volunteer fire department. It was about a two-year process. He noted that what worked well in York might not necessarily work in Carroll, but that experience is a major plus and was a big part of why he was hired.
“I think the most important factor was his recent experience of doing the very thing that we’re looking to accomplish here,” said Stephen Wantz, president of the Board of County Commissioners. 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.
McCoy, who moved to Carroll County in 2018, worked briefly with the Taneytown Volunteer Fire Company and has worked in Carroll County’s 911 center as a call taker and dispatcher, is largely a newcomer and that’s another positive. He comes in without preconceived notions or relationships.
“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,” he told us.
There will be a learning curve, but he’ll have no shortage of people eager to give him the benefit of their experience. He already knows the tradition of the various fire companies and how important they are to their communities. He envisions the paid fire company members supporting volunteers, not to take away a long-established identity.
“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.”
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It will be a challenge. McCoy seems up for it. He has little history in Carroll, but he will play a key role in shaping its future.