Fire Chief Christine Uhlhorn, the first female chief of Howard County’s Department Fire and Rescue Services, announced Monday she will retire at the end of the month to spend more time with her family.
Uhlhorn, 51, said her decision was driven by the death of her eldest daughter, who overdosed on heroin in July.
“I feel like I’ve done a lot for the department; in the 14 months, I’ve moved them forward,” Uhlhorn said in a phone interview. “I just want to spend more time with my family. I’ve put 31 years in this department; I’ve spent more than half my life here.
“This job is a lot of hours. Being a single mom, I’ve missed so much of it and some of the personal things have made me realize I have to change my priorities.”
Uhlhorn’s last day will be Feb. 29 after a 30-year fire career and 14 months in charge of the department. Deputy Chief Bill Anuszewski will serve as acting chief beginning March 1.
In November, Uhlhorn said she met with County Executive Calvin Ball and began conversations surrounding her departure. Uhlhorn said she originally planned to only stay in the position for two years, but after her daughter’s death, she wants to spend more time with her two other two children.
“I wanted to get what I came to do done and then go,” she said. “I kept pushing [my departure] out [further] after my daughter [died] because I didn’t want to let anyone down. I realized that my family and my children need to come first, and it’s just been weighing on me.”
Uhlhorn, appointed chief by Ball in December 2018, began her career in 1989 at the Long Reach fire station, working as a firefighter recruit and emergency medical technician. In 2016, she was promoted to assistant chief.
Her salary at the time of her departure announcement is $213,292, according to the county.
“Chief Uhlhorn was a steadfast supporter of minimal safe staffing at all of our stations here in the county, a signature initiative of our organization, one which will help to ensure safe working conditions for all of our members,” said Richard Ruehl, president of the Howard County Professional Fire Fighters Association.
“We are grateful for her willingness to work with our organization, and we wish her well in retirement.”
Uhlhorn was among a wave of female fire chiefs appointed across the state with Anne Arundel County selecting Trisha L. Wolford, Baltimore County’s Joanne Rund and Prince George’s County’s Tiffany Green.
Uhlhorn described the other female chiefs as “great friends,” who were very supportive after her daughter’s death.
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“We’re going to keep that bond, that friendship, and I will always be supportive of them and vice versa,” Uhlhorn said.
“Chief Uhlhorn was committed to our vision of creating a safe and engaged community, setting new standards for limiting carcinogen exposure for firefighters, and helping all our residents live healthier lives, while thriving,” Ball said in a news release.
“With 30 years serving Howard County Fire and Rescue, she has dedicated her life to protecting the residents of Howard County, and I’m incredibly grateful for the time she served, taking every opportunity to make our county the best place for all.”
County Council Chairwoman Deb Jung was notified Monday morning by a member of the administration about Uhlhorn’s retirement.
“[Uhlhorn] successfully broke an important barrier and was a pleasure to work with,” Jung said. “Her caring, kind personality shone through everything she did, and I am honored to have worked with the first female fire chief.”
During her time, Uhlhorn supervised the opening of the new Merriweather station and broke ground on the Waterloo station. She also worked with the county’s budget office to eliminate the structural deficit in the fire fund, restoring financial stability to the key funding source for the department.
The county has not made any announcements regarding the search process for the next chief.