Council rejects amendment that would change Fire Department


The County Council last night rejected a resolution that would have placed a charter amendment on the November ballot that would have mandated changes in the Fire Department, including greater control over volunteer fire companies.

Council members who voted against the proposed amendment -- which would have adopted many of the recommendations of a 10-member advisory group appointed by County Executive Robert R. Neall -- said they did so to avoid putting a divisive issue on the ballot that would pit paid firefighters against their volunteer counterparts.

The proposed amendment "is a step backward in the goal of harmony and equality in the Fire Department," said Councilwoman Virginia Clagett, a West River Democrat in casting her "no" vote. She was joined by Council members David G. Boschert, Maureen Lamb and C. Edward Middlebrooks.

Several members of the Fire Department Study Committee, which proposed the changes in 40 recommendations it made earlier this year, testified at a public hearing before the vote. They focused on the need to keep intact their recommendations, especially those that would restore the position of volunteer company chief, which had been abolished by former Fire Administrator Paul C. Haigley Jr.

But they strongly recommended that the rank only be restored on a company-by-company basis after each volunteer company signed an agreement that it would abide by the Fire

Department's chain of command and its operating policies.

These would include the right of fire officials to inspect volunteer stations, the right to assign paid firefighters to volunteer stations, and the right to transfer volunteers' fire equipment to another station if it is needed.

"If you do not pass the committee members' recommendations intact, you will be undermining the Fire Department operation and should start thinking in terms of how you are going to create funding for a total paid Fire Department in the future," said committee member Dale Snyder.

Several volunteer firefighters testified against the bill, saying the council should wait until a new county executive is elected in November and a new fire administrator is appointed.

Tom Nevin Jr., president of the Anne Arundel County Volunteer Firefighters Association, said problems between paid and volunteer firefighters have been highly exaggerated. The problem, he said, is with Mr. Neall, who he said has retaliated against volunteers with moves such as abolishing the volunteer chiefs because volunteers supported his opponent in the election four years ago.

In other business, the council unanimously passed a bill that will regulate Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s fly ash fill operation on land adjacent to its Brandon Shores power plant on Marley Neck.

Residents had been pressing for strict controls over how high BGE can pile the ash -- a waste product from its coal-fired generators at the Brandon Shores and Wagner Point power plants -- and for limits on noise, hours of operation and the width of a buffer zone around the perimeter of the fill operation to separate from residences and/or commercial establishments.

The utility has been using the fly ash as structural fill material on two parcels of land across from the power plants since 1982. The fill sites have been converted for use as a business park.

After months of wrangling with a citizens' group that opposed the fill operation and with the bill's sponsor, Councilman Carl G. "Dutch" Holland, BGE was able to obtain nearly all the amendments to the bill it was seeking, which utility officials said were necessary to make the fly ash fill operation economically and practically feasible.

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