Below is a press release issued yesterday from the office of Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker:
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III Announces “Fire Protection Oversight Improvement Bills”
County Executive proposes reforming Fire Commission
Upper Marlboro, MD – Today, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III submitted two pieces of legislation to the Prince George’s County Council that will reform the Prince George’s County Fire Commission. These reforms will include requiring that members of the Fire Commission live in the County, as well as ensuring that there is citizen representation.
“Researched and proposed by our transition committee, this legislation aligns with my administration’s agenda of creating responsibility and accountability in all areas of Prince George’s County government,” said Baker. “In addition, these legislative amendments will ensure that public safety expenditures will be dedicated more efficiently to the protection of our citizens as well as all of our first responders.”
This legislative concept originated as a public safety goal for the Fire/EMS Department proposed by the Rushern Baker Transition Committee which specifically recommended that Prince George’s County should consider changing the structure, composition and role of the Fire Commission to include external and internal stakeholders as commission members who should be appointed in a manner that is consistent with other panels/boards that control Prince George’s County funding. To read the Fire/EMS recommendations in the full transition committee report.
One piece of legislation submitted today reflects an existing Executive Order signed by the County Executive that changes the manner of selecting members of the Fire Commission as outlined in the schedule of legislation attached to the Charter.
In addition, a companion piece of legislation makes changes to the County Code regarding the functions and responsibilities of the Fire Commission and further defines its membership.
The current composition and function of the Fire Commission were established in 1970 and represent a vestige of the early formation of the fire service and County Charter. They do not reflect how current modern fire service organizations are organized, nor how County funding distributions are or should be made. The members of the Fire Commission are elected by volunteers in the individual fire stations, and there is no residency requirement for the Commission.
Currently, the County Executive, Fire Chief and Prince George’s County Council do not have a role in the approval or removal of members of the Fire Commission, who have “de facto” authority over $12 million in public County funds.
Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor remarked, "Volunteers have been and will be a valuable part of the Fire/EMS Department. In the past nine months, I have doubled the number of volunteers actively involved in our operational Command and Safety areas. This administrative reorganization brings the Fire/EMS Department structure and administrative functions more in line with modern Fire/EMS Services. I fully support the County Executive’s efforts to improve the efficiency and transparency of our administrative functions."
This legislation would mirror the nomination and confirmation process for boards and commissions as outlined in the Charter. A nomination process would increase the likelihood that the Fire Commission will include more diverse representation, reflective of the communities that the Fire/EMS Department currently serves. Furthermore, Commission members including career and volunteer fire fighters as well as the general public would be nominated by the County Executive and confirmed by the County Council. The new Commission would consist of:
• Three members representing the volunteers,
• Three representing the career service,
• And three representing the Prince George’s County citizenry at large.
Bob Ross, President of the Prince George's County Branch of the NAACP, stated, "Anytime the community has the opportunity to be a more inclusive part of the government, we all win. I wholeheartedly support this change in the Fire Commission. The Fire/EMS Department is an important part of the Prince George's County Government. Our residents deserve and should expect more opportunities like this, to improve transparency and inclusiveness."
Furthermore, this legislation would re-align the mission of the Fire Commission to serve in an advisory capacity for the Fire Chief, unifying the fiscal and administrative processes under the authority and accountability of the Fire Chief. It would also clarify the authority of the Fire Commission to review requests and make recommendations about the expenditure of County funds and would clarify the approval and expenditure authority under the Fire Chief. The Fire Commission would continue to serve a functional review and advisory role with regard to the budget, providing a check and balance to assure fiscal decisions serve the public interest. Additionally, the Fire Commission would serve in an advisory capacity regarding the budget of the volunteer fire fighters, policies and procedures as well as recruitment and retention programs.
Administratively, this legislation would reorganize the Fire/EMS Department with four Deputy Chiefs, to reflect the addition of a Deputy Chief in charge of the Human Resources (HR) Command. The HR Deputy would have direct representation and accountability for the Volunteer administration. This Deputy Chief would be selected from the Volunteer ranks, or would be required to document extensive volunteer Fire/EMS service, including previous service as a Volunteer Chief in the County system.
The proposed legislation will restructure the Fire Commission by improving its mission and objectives, while continuing to enhance citizen engagement as well as advocate for the needs of the fire service, both volunteer and career.