The Annapolis Fire Department chief is leaving his post to become the city's emergency management director in July, ending his 46-year career in the department and silencing critics in the firefighters union who had called for his dismissal.

Chief Edward P. Sherlock Jr. will step down June 30, after nearly 17 years as the head of the department. His acting replacement will be Battalion Chief Michael P. Lonergan, now the department spokesman. Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D) said she had not yet made plans to hire a long-term replacement.

Sherlock, 62, will replace Gary Simpson, the current emergency management director, whose new job as the director of emergency preparedness will involve communications and intelligence work.

Sherlock said he would be responsible for planning the city's response to emergencies -- such as Hurricane Isabel, which swamped the city last September -- and coordinating the reaction should a disaster strike.

"I'm really excited about this opportunity to serve my community," Sherlock said. "I will still be involved in the fire service in some way."

Moyer said the move had nothing to do with recent criticism of Sherlock by the Annapolis Professional Firefighters Local 1926, whose members wrote the mayor a letter in November asking for Sherlock's dismissal.

At the time, Dallas Lister, the head of the union and the author of the letter, said that "the safety of the citizens of Annapolis is being put at risk" and suggested that Sherlock was an incompetent manager.

Sherlock also came under fire when the black firefighters association said the department had failed to hire minorities.

Moyer had defended the chief for the past several months, pointing to the Fire Department's national accreditation last year and Sherlock's membership on the Governor's Emergency Management Advisory Council.

"We have a fire department that is accredited," Moyer said. "He brought us to that."

Lister, however, was glad to see him go under any circumstances.

"He's out of here -- that's all that matters," said Lister, who spoke optimistically about working with Lonergan.

"He seems to be an active, organized person who likes to make decisions," Lister said. "He seems to be safety-oriented -- to make sure that the safety is taken care of instead of standing on a podium and preaching."

Moyer shrugged off the criticism. "Frankly, I think that is basically what the union does for most fire chiefs," she said. "It's kind of a standard way of working."

Sherlock, born and raised in Annapolis, volunteered for the new job after 46 years in firefighting. He joined the force as a volunteer in 1958, two weeks shy of his 16th birthday, and became a career firefighter in 1966. He was appointed chief in 1987.

"My father, my grandfather, my cousins, my uncle, they were all firefighters," Sherlock said. "It's in my blood."

Over the years, he saw the Fire Department transform itself from a small-town brigade with black-painted, gasoline-engine trucks to a professional unit with the latest gear and training, including a hazardous-materials team, two bomb-sniffing dogs and a fireboat.

"We're more safety-conscious today than we ever were," he said. "I felt blessed to serve in the Fire Department all these years, and now I feel like I've been blessed a second time."