McBride resigns as director of fire service Ecker cites 'difference in philosophy'


Howard County fire service Director Darl R. "Mickey" McBride resigned his $70,000-a-year job abruptly Monday, becoming the second high-ranking official in the Ecker administration in two months to do so.

"We had a difference in philosophies," County Executive Charles I. Ecker said yesterday. "Mickey thought it best to resign."

Mr. McBride said: "I was a little too aggressive as we go through changes into the '90s. I had a lot of innovative ideas and fast-moving agendas. I think I moved a little too fast for some people."

When the executive made Mr. McBride one of his first hires in 1991, he charged Mr. McBride with the task of integrating the county's volunteer and career firefighters into a cohesive fire service. The two groups had been embroiled in bitter disputes for several years.

"I really think he will get the two groups working together," Mr. Ecker said upon hiring Mr. McBride.

At the time, Mr. McBride was a career firefighter in the District of Columbia department. He served simultaneously as chief of the Takoma

Park volunteer station in Montgomery County, a position he had held for 25 years.

Mr. McBride's resignation was "not a volunteer and career thing," Mr. Ecker said yesterday. "The volunteers didn't win and the career people didn't win. We all lose."

Mr. McBride's departure was reminiscent of the quick exit of former Economic Development Director William H. Howard Jr., who resigned his $61,000-a-year job in mid-August. Both men left their offices for the last time on the day they resigned but received three additional weeks' pay.

Volunteer and career firefighters seemed stunned by the news of Mr. McBride's leaving.

"It came as a big surprise," said Deputy Chief James E. Heller. "It kind of ruined our day. . . . We were quite happy with the director. He came here with some good ideas and accomplished a number of good things in his time here."

Chris Shimer, president of the Howard County Professional Firefighters Association, was also surprised.

"I had not anticipated that he would be leaving any time soon," he said. "I had a good relationship with him and perceived him as someone who wanted the fire service to progress.

"He was pretty open and shared a lot of his thoughts with me. He solicited opinions from our group asked for our input about policies and programs."

Douglas A. Levy, former president of the Savage Volunteer Company, said Mr. McBride did a good job with a complicated system.

"What's really important is that he has gotten all the players to sit down and talk to each other," he said. "It's not perfect, but there has been dialogue. He has done a commendable job working with a very difficult set of circumstances. I am hopeful that the system Chief McBride has gotten under way to improve the combination fire service will continue."

Mr. McBride said he tried to do what he thought was best for the county.

"I have instilled confidence in people, motivated people and empowered people," he said. "That empowerment has not always set well with some people."

The county executive was troubled by some of his management styles, and "we discussed that a couple of times," Mr. McBride said.

"The executive and I didn't always agree," he said, "but he supported my decisions. They may not have been appropriate sometimes, but not one time did he ever overturn them. I hold him and the administration in high regard."

Mr. McBride, who turned 56 on the day of his resignation, said he and Mr. Ecker "both agreed it was probably a good time for me to leave."

Health was also a factor, Mr. McBride said. His family has a history of heart trouble, and a week ago, a doctor diagnosed him as suffering from stress-related problems, he said.

Staff reductions had increased the load of many firefighters to the point that some were nearly exhausted, he said.

"The Fire Department is going through growing pains," he said. "Coming from the outside and trying to understand county politics is somewhat difficult. I hope my successor will have a better understanding of the inner working of county politics."

Mr. McBride said he feels good about the fire service and the progress it has made on his watch. "They are a great bunch of folks," he said. "I think the next person will have a less difficult job."

Mr. Ecker said he hopes by the end of the week to appoint an acting director "who will in all probability come from within the career firefighter staff."

Until then, Deputy County Administrator Cecil Bray will direct the service.

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