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Votes

Changes to Fire Service

Amendments to the Bill to change Montgomery County’s Fire service may start to appear in committee this week.

The bill, 36-03, was introduced in October of 2003 and will reshape the command structure of Montgomery County’s Fire and Rescue Service. “I introduced 36-03 really as a starting point,” said Councilmember Mike Knapp (D-2).

The bill is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Mike Subin (D-At Large) and George Leventhal (D-At Large). Subin also sits on the three-member public safety committee.

Under current law, each of the County’s volunteer Fire Chiefs operates autonomously, and there is one chief for the career firefighters. Additionally, the Fire Rescue Commission acts as a policy making body for the entire Fire and Rescue Service.

Knapp’s Bill will vest the policy making decisions in the Fire Administrator, the operational authority over all stations in the career chief, and the administrative authority in the hands of a single volunteer chief.

Knapp and the bill’s supporters say the change is necessary to streamline the decision making process and have one accountable person making decisions.

Opponents of the bill, which include the volunteer chiefs in the county, say that the new structure will cut the people out of the decision making process.

Most of Potomac is served by Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department. The department has a volunteer chief and assistant chief, but many of the firefighters who work at the station are career.

Over the past several months, the Council’s Public Safety Committee has been discussing the bill and gathering information from various stakeholders. On March 18, the last piece was presented to them when the Fire Administrator, Gordon Aoyagi, presented the council with his comments abut specific changes recommended to the bill by the volunteer chiefs. “I think we’ve got all the pieces to start drawing this together,” Knapp said.

Knapp, the committee’s lead member for the Fire and Rescue Service, believes that the committee will start the work of adjusting the bill next week. “Next week, we’ll really walk through proposals and concerns,” he said.