New head of emergency department chosen

Russell Strickland, the acting manager of Harford County's emergency operations division, was announced Tuesday as Harford County Executive David Craig's pick to lead the county's new department of emergency services, the much-debated new county agency.

Strickland, who lives in Bel Air, has managed the emergency operations division since September 2012. After months of back and forth with the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association as to the terms, Craig established the emergency services department by executive order in December 2012 and it became law Sunday. Strickland must be confirmed by the Harford County Council.

Strickland plans to set up the department structure by the spring, which he said will include the public safety commission, Harford County's Volunteer Fire & EMS Association and the Local Emergency Planning Committee.

"It brings everybody to the table, if you're talking about new structure," Strickland said.

Craig said he will keep working with all 12 fire and EMS companies in the county to provide "our best work," saying the county needs to "build on their continued success."

"Today we begin another chapter in Harford County's history," Craig told a group of county leaders and emergency officials at the Council Chambers on Bond Street.

The department was created "after careful review and consideration from fire and EMS and other stakeholders."

Craig mentioned health care developments that will soon be coming to Harford, such as Upper Chesapeake Health's plan to open the county's first cancer center this year.

"Creating this department was one of the things we needed to do to make sure we are always moving in the correct direction and have a strong service," he said about the county's volunteer fire and EMS system.

Craig said it became clear that Strickland was the right candidate after looking at "a number of people."

"His credentials are impeccable," Craig said, noting he "brings a broad perspective to all the things."

"For the last six months, Russ has done an outstanding job," Craig said.

County Councilman Joe Woods said he was "actually quite pleased" to hear Strickland had been selected.

Woods said he was "relieved" when Strickland's name came up.

Strickland also said he has watched through his many previous jobs how others have grown and enhanced their emergency services.

"We've got a tremendous opportunity here, and what I feel like I bring to it more than anything is probably history," Strickland said.

"We've got a very, very strong system here," he said. "What we want to do is support you all, support the volunteers, so what you have to concentrate on is responding to calls."

Strickland said he was especially committed to working closely with the commission.

"I think we can get all that accomplished for you," he said. "I am excited about it."

After Strickland thanked Craig and other department leaders, Craig joked: "We'll see if you thank me in a year and a half."

Craig noted he hopes to get the new emergency services building complete by 2014 as well.

Strickland has been in the public safety field since the early 1970s. He has taught at the University of Maryland's Fire and Rescue Institute as well as Johns Hopkins University. He was deputy director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency for four years.

He has also been a firefighter around the state.

In January, Craig told the council, which had no real opposition to creating the department, that it is about collaboration, not control of fire and emergency services.

"The evolution of the department is really not about bigger government, it's about better government," he said.

"We definitely need a trained professional person sitting on the cabinet level when we have cabinet meetings and we don't have that right now," Craig told the council.

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