In a move that fire officials defend and volunteer firefighters call "demoralizing," volunteer chiefs will be demoted to the position of captain beginning tomorrow.
"Relationships between some volunteers and the paid firefighters have been excellent," said Ray Smallwood, volunteer chief of the Maryland City company. "This just starts a war that doesn't need to be happening."
The change in the chain of command stems from a Neall administration transition committee report that recommended a new command structure to resolve conflicts between paid and volunteer firefighters and to establish seniority at fire scenes.
The change was approved by Fire Administrator Paul Haigley.
But some volunteers see nothing wrong with the current system, which gives volunteer chiefs authority over career captains and allows them to report directly to paid battalion chiefs.
The present chain of command has been in existence about 15 years.
In the report, the committee recommended a chain of command, in descending order, of battalion chief, career station commander, volunteer station commander, career captain, volunteer captain, career lieutenant, volunteer lieutenant, career firefighter and volunteer firefighter.
Mr. Smallwood said the title of "volunteer chief" is one that requires a lot of work and "self-sacrifice."
"It's something we all aspire to," he said. "I think they want to humiliate us into this position. I feel sorry for Chief Haigley for having to do this."
Capt. Gary Sheckells, Fire Department spokesman, said Chief Haigley believes the paid captains are better qualified to supervise a fire scene. He argued that the change eliminates a level of bureaucracy and redesignates positions in accordance with their responsibilities.
"The education [volunteers] have, our people get in the recruit school and the career officers school," he said. "Volunteer chiefs will still be a station commander. The only difference is that they will not be called chief; they will be called captain."
The command issue is one in a series of disagreements the volunteers have had with Chief Haigley in recent months. Volunteers have been at odds with the fire administrator over the placement of ladder trucks in certain stations, insurance for the volunteer fire fighters and the use of state grants. Last summer, volunteers gave Chief Haigley a vote of no confidence.
Louis D'Camera, president of the Volunteer Fire Association, charged that the structure change is a "payback" from Chief Haigley and County Executive Robert Neall.