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Vigilant Hose wants a county Fire Chief

Richard D. L. Fulton

(5/6) The president of the Vigilant Hose Company appeared before the Emmitsburg Board of Commissioners at their May 7 meeting to explain the company’s support for a county fire chief.

Frederick County presently has a director of the county Division of Fire and Rescue Services (DFRS) who generally oversees the operations of emergency services in the county, but does not have a county-wide chief.

Thomas W. Owens currently serves as the director of the DFRS, having accepted that position upon retiring as chief of the City of Fairfax Fire Department in 2010. Oddly enough, Owens also previously served as the first director of the Frederick County Department Fire & Rescue, in Frederick County, Virginia.

Vigilant Hose President Frank Davis told the town commissioners that his company would like to see Owens made the first county fire chief in Frederick County, Maryland.

An ordinance to create the position of county fire chief was previously before the county Board of Commissioners, but was not adopted after that board surveyed the county’s 26 independent fire and rescue companies for their reaction.

In addition to establishing a county fire chief, the ordinance would also broaden the power of the position over the largely administrative position of the current directorship.

“A vote was taken with 16 (fire) departments against and ten in favor,” Davis said. “Both the Vigilant Hose Company and the Emmitsburg Ambulance Company voted in favor of the ordinance change.”

The Vigilant Hose president pointed out a number of areas of concern arising from a lack of an empowered county chief.

Under the current directorship system, Davis stated, “There is no single source for direction for operational policies and procedures. There is no (county generated) master plan .”

The lack of a county-wide master plan has resulted in various emergency services companies purchasing equipment separately that could have been a joint purchase, paid staff not being located strategically, and companies building headquarters in locations that may or may not serve the communities appropriately, he said.

Davis also told the board, “Little or nothing is being done to preserve the volunteer departments,” of which there are eight in the county.

The fire company president also noted that, “there is no (one) authority holding departments responsible.” Mandatory requirements, some of which are federal, “are not being met by some departments.”

Under the present county system, “It takes months for decisions to be made,” and if those decisions relate to policies, “they are (even then) rarely enforced.”

“Things are not that rosy as a firefighting association in the county,” David said. “Right now, we (Vigilant) are the exception to the rule,” as far as providing reliable emergency response times.

“If there was ever a time to implement this change,” he said, “it is now.”

County Commissioner Blaine Young, who was not at the town meeting, told the News-Journal, “We are working together with the volunteers and career personal to create a new path to compliment all involved for the future of the Fire and Rescue Service of Frederick County. It is a combined service that needs a leader.”

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