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Emergency officials at odds over transfer of authority

December 09, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association has asked member companies to oppose the transfer of authority for fire and rescue decisions to a county-designated official.

The Washington County Commissioners approved a resolution Nov. 19 giving Director of Emergency Services Joe Kroboth authority to make decisions regarding emergency services.

Fire and Rescue Association President Jason Baer, in a Nov. 25 letter to the county's 27 fire and rescue companies, said the county's action violated the association's trust and was an insult to emergency services volunteers. He urged the companies to oppose the decision, saying the county didn't seek feedback from the organization before it voted.

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Baer said Thursday he has contacted lawyers for advice on whether the county's action was legal. He wanted to hear from the lawyers before commenting further.

County Attorney Richard Douglas said the Fire and Rescue Association had authority on emergency issues in the past because the county didn't have an emergency services director. Kroboth's position was created in 2001.

Douglas said the county's decision allows Kroboth to seek advice from the association and it will not be excluded.

He said the decision benefits the county because it allows one person to make emergency-related decisions quickly.

"In emergency services circumstances, you need someone to act right away," Douglas said. "Basically, now we have an experienced, well-educated person."

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook wrote in a Nov. 27 response to Baer that the Code of the Public Local Laws for Washington County gives the county the power to delegate authority over fire and rescue issues. He wrote that it was in the best interests of the county to assign to Kroboth day-to-day coordination of the association's efforts and development of policies and procedures.

"Our action was not, as you describe, a breach of trust, but merely an assignment of the authority granted to us under the law to our Director of Emergency Services," Snook wrote. "The commissioners expect that the association will continue to advise them on matters relating to fire and rescue activities."

Douglas said the association may be unhappy with the commissioners' vote because the board pushed the decision through quickly with little notice or "any kind of discussion" and that it showed up on the commissioners' meeting agenda late.

"The commissioners were hoping to get this done without the time to maybe talk to everybody," Douglas said.

Kroboth said the fire and rescue companies may also be interpreting the resolution as an effort by the county to take total control of emergency services.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Kroboth said. "It's just too big of an organization to be really ran by one person."

Kroboth said the association's feedback on fire and rescue issues is valuable and he would like the county and the association to work as a team.

He said if the association is unhappy with wording in the resolution, he will meet with the group to reach agreeable terms and present that information to the commissioners.

"The document certainly was in no way, shape or form intended to be a tool to separate the county and the fire and rescue association," Kroboth said. "We really are not trying to take over the system. We're trying to work with the system and trying to make it better."

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