An Anne Arundel County deputy fire chief was appointed yesterday to serve as acting fire administrator, a job that turned his predecessor into a lightning rod for criticism.
Stephen D. Halford, 40, of Severna Park, was named to the $72,000-a-year position by County Executive Robert R. Neall yesterday after a monthlong search.
Mr. Halford, a firefighter for 23 years, will oversee a department with 593 career uniformed personnel, 24 civilians, 743 volunteer firefighters and a $40 million budget. He will assume the post Saturday and will serve at Mr. Neall's discretion for up to six months.
Mr. Halford said yesterday he sees his priorities as reducing the risks of fatalities at fires, drawing up next year's budget, working with communities to improve fire service and maintaining good relations with the volunteers.
He replaces Paul C. Haigley Jr., who resigned after three years amid criticism from volunteer firefighters who complained that he demoted them and shut them out of the decision-making process.
Mr. Haigley has taken a job as administrator of the St. Lucy County-Fort Pierce Fire District in Florida.
Volunteers -- alerted to Mr. Halford's appointment by a bulletin broadcast at noon yesterday over the department's radio dispatch system -- greeted the news with guarded optimism.
Thomas Nevin Jr., who was chief of the Glen Burnie Volunteer Fire Company 23 years ago when Mr. Halford trained as a volunteer there, called the selection an "excellent" choice.
Mr. Halford has "always been real level-headed, he's a volunteer-oriented person, and he knows the system needs volunteers to function," said Mr. Nevin, now president of the county volunteer firefighters' association.
Relations between Anne Arundel's paid and volunteer firefighters frequently have been strained, and Mr. Haigley quickly became the focus of the volunteers' anger after he took over the department.
In 1991, the volunteers were outraged when Mr. Haigley took control of state grant money they previously controlled.
Last March, Mr. Haigley demoted the volunteer chiefs to fire captains, placing them beneath the rank of career fire captains and ordering them to wear the appropriate insignia and red color-coded gear at fire scenes.
The move prompted the volunteers' association, which represents the county's 23 volunteer companies, to demand Mr. Haigley's resignation in April.
Mr. Halford said yesterday he hopes to end the friction between the county administration and the volunteer firefighters by setting up regular meetings between career and volunteer companies.
"I hope that I have an excellent rapport with the volunteers and I'm extremely interested in opening up the lines of communication, with the volunteers and with the career firefighters as well," he said.
Mr. Halford's promotion is "well-deserved and it's a good appointment," said Milton Mekins Sr., a 23-year volunteer firefighter who is vice president and assistant chief of the Lake Shore Volunteer Fire Company.
Mr. Mekins, who trained with Mr. Halford in Glen Burnie in 1970, said that the new chief is someone who spent a considerable time fighting fires, while Mr. Haigley was largely seen as an administrator.
"He's [Mr. Halford] been in the field, and he knows what [fire] suppression is," he said.
"He should be able to deal with both sides, the volunteers and the paid firefighters," added Brian Rose, a member of the Odenton Volunteer Fire Company.
Mr. Halford also pledged to work toward implementing the recommendations made by the Fire Department Citizen Review Committee appointed in September by Mr. Neall and headed by Raymond F. Turner, a professor of economics and business administration at Anne Arundel Community College.
The group was set up to examine the roles of volunteer and career firefighters.
Its report is due to be completed in March.
As deputy chief of administration, Mr. Halford was one of four deputy chiefs in the department.
He served for three years with the Glen Burnie volunteers. He has been a fire engine operator, an ambulance attendant, worked in communications and at several fire stations, including Brooklyn Park and Jones.
Before becoming deputy chief of administration, he was deputy chief of operation, and before that, commanded the Anne Arundel County Fire Training Academy in Millersville.
He has a bachelor's degree in fire science management from the University of Maryland and an associate degree from Catonsville Community College.