William F. Goddard says his sister, a Howard County resident for 40 years, "has been trying to get me here forever."
Now, he's coming.
Last week, Goddard, a Prince George's County native, was named fire chief-designate by County Executive Ken Ulman. The 57-year-old former Prince George's career firefighter is planning to move to Howard with his wife, Marie, from their Calvert County home when the appointment becomes official.
Goddard has been picked to replace Chief Joseph Herr, 55, who spent 26 years in the District of Columbia Fire Department before coming to Howard County. Herr, who announced his resignation Feb. 4, is set to retire March 1 after more than eight years on the Howard job, which has an annual salary of about $145,000.
Goddard will be acting chief until the county's seven-member fire board considers the appointment.
Ulman announced Goddard's appointment Monday at a gathering of county officials at the police and fire training facility in Marriottsville. The event seemed like a reunion of old acquaintances.
Herr and Goddard said they had known each other since both were volunteers at different Prince George's County volunteer fire companies more than 30 years ago. Goddard and Ulman met while both worked in the Maryland secretary of state's office during the administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening more than a decade ago, and they remained in touch.
Goddard said he has been advising Ulman on fire safety issues, and the county executive called him several weeks ago to offer the job.
"Once it was clear he was interested in coming here, I felt strongly he was the right person," Ulman said.
The county executive also praised Herr, who fought back emotions as he said farewell to his fellow officials.
"You'd be hard-pressed to find a more honest, decent person than Joe Herr," Ulman said.
Herr had similar praise for his replacement.
"I've never been so honored as to lead this department for eight years," the outgoing chief said. "I can't think of anybody better to turn the reins over to than Bill Goddard."
Herr said he plans to vacation in Florida but didn't mention his plans beyond that.
Maryland Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari recalled working with Goddard when he was Porcari's chief of staff under Glendening at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Goddard's expertise on public safety was "critical," Porcari said.
"Bill is remarkably dedicated," Porcari said. "He has a lot left to give."
Glendening, a former Prince George's County executive and council member, said he has known Goddard for three decades.
"He's the type of person who makes sure of details. Nothing slips through the cracks," Glendening said. "You knew if there was anything he was in charge of, it would be done right."
Goddard also eased long-standing and volatile tensions between volunteers and paid, union firefighters, the former governor said.
Goddard said he has loved being a firefighter since joining a company as a 14-year-old volunteer. After four years in the Navy, he landed his first professional firefighting job, which paid $3,200 a year, he recalled.
"I could not believe someone would pay me for what I loved best," he said.
Over the years, Goddard held a variety of Fire Department jobs, including working as a member of the bomb squad, which included a 26-week police academy training course. He retired in 1995 as chief deputy of the Prince George's department after 24 years of service, he said.
Along the way, Goddard has had extensive training in arson, domestic terrorism, hazardous materials and conflict resolution, though he has no college degree.
After his fire career, he served as executive assistant to the state fire marshal, deputy secretary of state under Glendening and chief of staff for Porcari. For the past few years, he has been vice president of development for the Michael Cos. Inc. in Lanham, he said.
At the announcement on Monday, Goddard said his saddest day was taking off his fire uniform after retiring. And although he's enthusiastic about coming to Howard, Goddard expects he'll be viewed skeptically by some.
"I will be considered by some as an outsider who will bring change for the sake of change," he said. "I will not make change simply for the sake of change. I will listen before I speak, I'll be decisive but I'll communicate frequently and manage our department with passion."