Daniel G. Merson, the county’s deputy fire chief, will serve as interim chief for the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, County Executive Allan Kittleman announced on Tuesday.
Merson, 56, of Elkridge, has been a firefighter for three decades. He will assume his new role on Sept. 1.
Merson replaces Chief John Butler, who is leaving to take command of the larger Fairfax County, Va., fire department. Butler’s departure was announced in July.
“I know that while Chief Merson will have big shoes to fill, he is an eminently qualified leader who’s made many significant contributions during his long career of service to the residents of our community,” Kittleman said in a statement.
A hiring decision for the permanent fire chief will be made after the county executive’s race during elections in November, according to county spokesman Mark Miller.
Merson, a lifelong county resident has served with Howard’s fire and rescue services for 34 years, beginning his career as a volunteer with the Elkridge Volunteer Fire Department. A graduate of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., he currently serves as deputy fire chief for support services.
“This is a great department going through a challenging time,” Merson said in a statement issued by the county. “I am confident we will continue to bring vision and stability as we prepare for the future.”
County fire and rescue services suffered a major loss on July 23, when Lt. Nathan Flynn died after falling through the floor of a burning home in Clarksville. Flynn, a 13-year veteran of the Howard department, also was a volunteer firefighter in Harford County.
Merson has held a chief officer position for at least 21 years, managing the Emergency Medical Services, serving as a field battalion chief, former bureau chief of Emergency Services and as the county’s fire marshall. Merson has been an advanced life support provider and paramedic for his entire career.
Butler, the county’s first African-American chief, worked his way up the ranks of Howard’s fire department, beginning in 1993 as a paramedic. He was the first paramedic to become chief.
“Howard County and this department are in good hands,” Butler said in a statement issued by the county. “Chief Merson has extensive knowledge of county government, the department, national fire and EMS standards and strategic planning with an emphasis on human dignity.”
Butler takes command in Fairfax on Sept. 1, replacing Chief Richard Bowers, who retired in April. His annual salary will be $201,878. In Howard, Butler’s salary was $199,047.
Butler said in a previous statement that the new position offers him “a new professional opportunity,” that he couldn’t turn down.
The Fairfax department, almost five times the size of Howard County’s, has been facing a discrimination complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission following complaints of sexual harassment by high-ranking female department members and the suicide of a female firefighter.
Howard County’s 12-station department has 453 uniformed personnel. In May, the fire department asked for county funding to add 37 firefighters in the budget year budget that began July 1.