After enduring weeks of a public campaign against them by the volunteer firefighters, Executive Rushern Baker and the Prince George’s County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics Association are hitting back.
The volunteers had been rounding up community support to block legislation backed by the executive that would strip them of the power to elect all nine members of the Fire Commission, take away the budget authority the commission currently has, and make the body an advisor to the fire chief while giving him much of their other powers. After winning the endorsement of the City of Greenbelt to oppose the legislation, Rushern Baker and his allies in the firefighters union are hitting back and hard.
Below is the letter sent out on behalf of the career firefighters by President Andy Pantelis rebuffing many of the charges by the volunteers.
On September 19th, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker introduced two pieces of legislation to the County Council. CB-45-2011 and CB-60-2011 are “Fire Protection Oversight Bills” that propose changes to the composition and the responsibilities of the Prince George’s County Fire Commission.
The current Fire Commission is an antiquated model that dates back to the enactment of the County Charter in 1970. While Prince George’s County and our Fire/EMS Department has changed significantly in the past forty years, the Commission has failed to evolve accordingly and the current model has become less effective in supporting the needs of our community.
While career and volunteer members are now approximately the same in our strength of numbers, we have failed to ensure that all Department members have an equal voice at the table. The current Fire Commission members are exclusively from the volunteer ranks and are selected by the individual volunteer fire companies. This process occurs with no meaningful participation or oversight from our elected officials or independent citizens.
This new legislation proposes to change the make-up and the duties of our Fire Commission. It recommends a new Commission that is more diverse, is appointed in a manner that is consistent with other Boards or Commissions as described by Charter, and has responsibilities that are more in line with the modern fire service.
Specifically, if enacted, the new Commission would be comprised of three volunteer members, three career members, and three independent citizens who have no actual or family affiliation with either Departmental entity. Members would be nominated by the County Executive and confirmed by the County Council. Furthermore, the legislation proposes to consolidate the Fire/EMS Department’s multiple budgets into one singular budget that is overseen by the County Fire Chief. Such a move would significantly improve Department operations by ensuring accountability and transparency in our expenditures and that taxpayer dollars are being spent efficiently and in the best interest of our citizens.
Our failure to include career members on the current Commission has often resulted in a structural imbalance in the strategic and operational decision-making processes that guide service delivery. More importantly, failure to include independent citizens on the Fire Commission has resulted in policies and practices that often do not have our citizens’ best interests in mind.
With the proposed changes, career and volunteer members will be required to clearly convince three neutral residents how each issue or concept improves the lives for those who ultimately will be called upon to foot the bill: Our citizens. It will force the new commissioners to work for common goals and objectives, and to temper all decisions under a prime directive, which asks; “is this the right decision for the County and the best possible expenditure of tax dollars?”
A number of members of the volunteer service are opposing the changes that have been proposed. Some have even resorted to fear mongering by alleging that these changes will detrimentally impact service delivery and place our citizens lives in danger. Such statements are not only disingenuous; they are outright deceitful assertions which are perpetuated by a few self-serving individuals, rather than the group as a whole.
Some further claim that they did not have a seat at the table when drafting these changes, yet the proposed make-up of the new commission is the product of a group of dedicated volunteer and career members who worked collaboratively as members of the County Executive’s transition team. Any claim otherwise, is simply a tactic designed to stall or derail the changes that have been proposed.
I commend the County Executive and the members of the Council who are supporting this legislation. Change is never easy, particularly when you introduce the elements of culture and tradition into the equation. We have before us a unique and innovative opportunity to erase the lines that have been long drawn in the sand between the volunteer and career fire service. Through the proposed model for the commission, we create a single body where it is strongly against the interest of any one group of stakeholders to simply walk away from the table. Rather than continuing the status quo where we have two sides constantly expressing divergent opinion and attempting to muscle each other for field advantage, we will create an environment that fosters compromise and consensus.
I strongly urge you to contact the members of the County Council and request their favorable consideration of the proposed changes to the Prince George’s County Fire Commission.
Prince George’s County Professional Fire Fighters & Paramedics Association