Three officers of the Takoma Park fire station have complained that a Montgomery County official told them they could probably get the new fire station they want in exchange for supporting a measure that would increase central control of firefighting in the county.
The complaint, made in a letter to county council member Elizabeth Scull by the president, chief and assistant chief of the Takoma Park station, was denied by the official in question.
It also prompted Scull to suggest postponing council action on fire department reorganization proposals "in view of the atmosphere of distrust and hostility created by the charges and countercharges of the supporters of different bills." The council rejected the suggestion at its meeting Thursday.
Efforts to bring more centralization to firefighting in the county have periodically been made in recent years, encountering vigorous opposition from volunteer firefighters, whose authority would be diminished.
The proposal that initiated the latest round of controversy was made by Country Executive Charles W. Gilchrist.In its initial form, his proposal would have brought all firemen, including volunteers, under control of the county government.
It was that proposal that Takoma Park fire station president Gibson E. Mckenzie and two other station officers complained they were asked to support in order to get a new fire house.
They were told, the officers complained in their letter, that if their department supported a rival bill"or spoke against the Gilchrist bill, that it would probably be difficult for us to get either a renovated or a new fire station, which we need."
The allegation was called "absolutely untrue" by Les Adams, an assistant chief with the county's Department of Fire and Rescue Services, who had met with the officers April 18. Adams said that in January Gilchrist had recommended a new station for Takoma Park, adding, "how can I arrange an exchange for something that had already been done?"
McKenzie said the proposed new station would be much smaller than the present firehouse and smaller than the structure desired.
At Thursday's council meeting Robert W. Wilson, Gilchrist's chief administrative officer, introduced a reorganization proposal that would create a seven-member fire commission.
The county's 18 fire companies would retain the power to hire and dismiss firefighters, but personnel would have to comply with county regulations. The commission would have three public members chosen by the county executive and four nominated by the county fire board, the representative body of all the fire departments.
The plan, called a compromise by Gilchrist, promptly drew criticism from volunteer firefighters. Dr. Robert Wilson, said the commission would create "a rather ridiculous situation" because the public members would be "ignorant of the specialties of the fire service."
Council member Scull has introduced a bill that would essentially leave fire services under control of the individual fire companies.
The council plans an all-day work session on the subject of fire services reorganization July 9.