Carroll County's new emergency management coordinator is a man used to volatile situations, whether it is fighting a 14-alarm blaze or fielding criticism as Baltimore's fire marshal during the city's tunnel fire two years ago.
Those situations and 32 years' experience as a firefighter, William E. Martin said, will help him handle the hot spots of his new job. He is being asked to revamp the county's comprehensive emergency response plan - with a strained relationship between Carroll's volunteer firefighters and the Office of Public Safety as a backdrop.
Martin, 55, who started Monday, said his priorities are evaluating the emergency response plan and forging new relationships as a liaison between his office and fire and emergency service organizations.
"One thing you realize when you deal with emergency management is that no one person can do it all," Martin said. "You have to work as a team to bring about a successful end."
But the news of Martin's appointment, which was at least partly designed to smooth relations between county officials and firefighters, rubbed one leader in the volunteer firefighter community the wrong way.
"I hate to say it, but here we go again. We're starting out on the wrong foot," said Jeffrey R. Alexander, president of the Carroll County Fire Chiefs' Association. He had not been informed of the county's decision to hire Martin, or that he had started his job.
"It's a shame that instead of hearing about this before the fact, once again we're finding out after the fact," he said.
County commissioners decided in March to create a position to ensure that Carroll is prepared for natural disasters, fires and terror situations. The action occurred after firefighters issued a vote of "no confidence" in November in the job performance of Howard S. Redman, the county's director of public safety.
The Carroll County Fire Chiefs' Association and the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association had complained about the slow progress of two projects - a communications tower in Lineboro and comprehensive mapping - and the lack of communication between their groups and Redman.
Although Alexander was reassured by Martin's fire service background, he questioned the decision to add a county staff member when fire budgets were cut this year.
"I'm trying to understand the merit of creating another position with a $50,000 salary when you've had people all along who are supposed to be doing the work," he said.
Redman said that his office has been stretched thin and that his staff wasn't able to progress with the mapping and tower projects as it had hoped. He said Martin will report to his second in command, Scott Campbell, another point that upset Alexander, who said Martin should be accountable only to the commissioners.
The county posted the position in April. Last month, a committee with representatives from county government, the county Volunteer Firemen's Association, the Anne Arundel and Frederick fire departments and state and federal emergency management agencies, interviewed nine applicants. It narrowed the pool to four and forwarded those names to county officials, who made the final decision.
Pamela Lindsay, a personnel analyst with the county who sat on the panel that interviewed candidates for the post, said Martin would be working very closely with the commissioners.
"He was one of the perfect fits. I was thrilled when his name came back down," Lindsay said.
She said Martin signed a six-month contract for about $23,000, and the county could renew the contract if it is satisfied with his performance. She said his job will be to build a comprehensive emergency operations plan using the current plan as a base.
Originally from Charleston, S.C., Martin served four years in the Army before his discharge as a staff sergeant at Fort Meade in 1969. He stayed in the area and became a firefighter in Baltimore, where he worked as a pump operator, lieutenant, shift commander and, finally, battalion chief. In 1996, he took on the responsibilities of Baltimore's fire marshal, reporting to the city's fire chief.
He said he remembers a few distinct events in his career, such as being part of a rescue effort that saved more than 80 elderly patients at Church Hospital in 1989 and a 14-alarm building fire in 1986.
Two years ago, Martin faced some of the most heated criticism in his career: that the city's 440-page chemical accident plan, which he helped draft, did not provide an adequate response to a freight train derailment that spilled toxic chemicals in the train tunnel under Howard Street. The accident caused a fire that burned for days, a water main break and other hazardous-material spills.
At the time, he acknowledged large gaps in that plan, but said they were caused by a funding shortage.
"What I'm telling you is that plan worked for the majority of things that occurred in Baltimore City," Martin said yesterday. "No matter what plan you have in place, a certain element is going to say you haven't done enough."
Martin retired as the city's fire marshal last summer. Although he said he enjoyed retirement, the longtime Finksburg resident was on the lookout for interesting positions when the listing for emergency management coordinator caught his eye.