Anne Arundel County Executive James Lighthizer last week appointed James M. (Mac) Connell, his budget director and a volunteer firefighter for 29 years, to head the county fire department.

Connell, 49, has been praised by Lighthizer and fire department personnel for strong leadership during his 2 1/2 months as acting fire administrator. The county executive said he was so pleased by the organizational changes made by Connell that he decided to not interview any of the other 30 applicants for the job.

"He has, in the time he's been there, done an outstanding job," Lighthizer said.

But the former budget director's appointment was not supported by the International Association of Fire Fighters' representative to the five-member fire advisory board, which was required to review the appointment.

Gordon C. Hatt, president of the paid firefighter's union, abstained from voting on Connell's appointment at an advisory board meeting a week ago, the night before it was announced. Connell received approval, which is advisory only, from the board's volunteer members and the county executive's representative.

Hatt's abstention, about which he would not comment, nevertheless drew attention to the continuing struggle for influence between the department's paid and volunteer ranks. Robert Dvorak angrily resigned as fire administrator in August, accusing Lighthizer of undercutting his authority with volunteer firefighters.

Now, he has been replaced by a lifelong volunteer. And, although Hatt has declined to comment, informed observers say paid firefighters are concerned that the scales have tipped against them.

Connell said both paid and volunteer firefighters work well at fire scenes and said he is trying to encourage comraderie in the fire house. But he also contends that firefighter morale was being damaged by inadequate supervision and a lack of "basic management techniques."