Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist yesterday sent a letter to the County Council criticizing its recent rejection of a measure making local firefighters county employes.
In the two-page letter, Gilchrist accused the council of trying "to prop up and place an unreasonable burden on an antiquated structure which for the past 100 years has resisted progress rather than (trying to) insure public safety and reduction of expenses."
The council has recently been considering two bills that would reorganize county fire services. One submitted by Gilchrist and favored by the county's paid firemen would put fire services under county control and make all the paid firemen employes.
A second bill, submitted by council member Elizabeth L. Scull, would refine the current systems, centralizing some authority but leaving fire services under control of the 18 individual fire companies, as it has always been. The Scull bill would also leave most control of the companies in the volunteers hands.
During a work session Monday night, the council took a straw vote and approved, 4 to 3, a compromise measure. The new measure would give the county's 734 paid firefighters benefits similar to county employes but rejected Gilchrist's proposal to designate them county employes.
Final council action on the question is expected late this month.
Gilchrist who called the fire legislation "a top priority" of his seven-month-old administration yesterday, has maintained that the fire service should be accountable to the county government that pays its bills.
Under the current fire system the county's fire companies are separate and autonomous units. They county has no authority to investigate fires or transfer manpower or equipment between companies.
If the firefighters were made county employes the county would have that power and, Gilchrist says, would save the county $350,000 annually while making fire services more efficient.
Volunteers have fought the Gilchrist legislation claiming the fire services are already efficient and that Gilchrist's legislation would drive volunteers out of the system. The county would then have to bear the increased cost of all-paid force, they claim.
The council has been considering each bill separately at several work session. Although Monday night's straw vote is not final, it is extremely rare for the council to reverse itself after a work session.
Yesterday, after sending the letter to council members, Gilchrist met with the seven-member council to express his concern about the legislation.