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May 15, 2014

Pride, Prejudice and Public Safety

Harry M. Covert

A story goes that a house burned down because the homeowner didn’t make a tax-free donation to a local volunteer fire department.


This did not occur in Frederick County. Perhaps it could have. If so, such failure would be a monumental criminal case. And somebody, or a bunch of somebodies, would likely end up in the penal system.


Without question there is a great amount of pride in Frederick County’s volunteer and paid fire companies and emergency rescue units. The unpaid unisex responders have a long history of community service. Such usually begins at youth ages and carries onto times when they become business leaders. All love their badges and uniforms.


When alarms blast around and about, responders selflessly jump into their cars and head to wherever firefighting or rescues is needed. Indeed, honorable service.


Times do change. Communities and towns grow and deviation from what is considered normal must be made. Such progress brings about heavy-duty angst and resistance is far from unusual.


Frederick County’s Board of County Commissioners took a bold – but needed – move in public safety nine months ago. Commissioners probably knew opposition would rear an ugly head. It did, but commissioners created a Division of Fire and Rescue Services for this ever-growing county. This was good.


To their credit, a distinguished chief was found. They brought in Denise Pouget, a key deputy chief to Alexandria’s Adam Thiel. Chief Thiel was a shining executive. He has become deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security for Virginia, chosen by the new governor in January. In seven years he rebuilt the Alexandria Fire Department, revitalizing equipment, fire stations, professional firefighters and emergency services.


It was a smart move when the commissioners selected Director Pouget. From the beginning, old-timers, holding court around the fire houses, immediately objected to designating her “Chief Pouget.”


Officials were well aware the “director” would have to be tough. She is. She is a quality manager and no doubt has ruffled a few feathers. There is no way major changes can be made without somebody finding fault and putting up obstacles.


So, the commissioners played kissy-kissy and agreed Chief Pouget would be Director Pouget in full uniform. She is no rookie. Reports have come that the firefighters union may have a no-confidence vote. Sounds like cry-babies here. Director Pouget knows how to operate a fire department or departments and manage top-ranked emergency rescue services.


Public safety is one of the most urgent of governmental services. There is always going to be belly-achers and grumblers. These are off-shoots of any proposed and accomplished changes.


A no-confidence vote? Such a consideration is juvenile, but this is the kind of action usually threatened by unions and associations who don’t get their way.


Bringing public safety to the latest professional levels is no easy task. It’s important to improve and modernize services. Those involved will feel their past efforts are not recognized as first class. This is not accurate. “The way we used to do it” should not stand in the way of honest and proper progress.


The past is indeed prologue for any new day and time.


Director Pouget’s title is important. When all is said and done, she is the chief administrator, manager, leader, and she will be successful overseeing the county’s volunteer and paid staff.


The fire chief’s position is not an electable one. It should not be a part of any partisan scheming.


Remember the sad Saturday when the District of Columbia’s fire and rescue division failed to respond to a heart attack victim? The cry for help was across the street from a fire station. The man died.


That will never occur as long as Director Pouget is in command.


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