Harlem officials have agreed to combine the city's police and fire departments under one badge and named an old friend to lead the transition.
Harlem Mayor Pro-Tem Robin Root swears in Jerry Baldwin Friday as director of the city's newly formed Department of Public Safety.
Photo By Valerie Rowell
The city council approved joining the independent emergency response departments into a department of public safety after a committee assigned to explore the idea presented its findings Thursday.
"We looked at the advantages and disadvantages," said Scott Johnson, a committee member and volunteer firefighter for the Harlem Fire Department. "Obviously, there are more advantages. The disadvantages, we went through them carefully one-by-one to see if we could work them out because it was so one-sided."
The department would train all eight police employees in firefighting and the city's 22 volunteer firefighters as police officers.
Harlem Mayor Scott Dean said officials have considered the switch off-and-on for a decade. He said the change to a single department would consolidate resources, gain continuity among emergency responders and increase preparedness to meet Columbia County's mandated 3 1/2 -minute response time.
City Manager Jean Dove appointed Jerry Baldwin as the Director of Public Safety on Friday. Baldwin has been the city's police chief since 2001 and has more than 20 years firefighting experience, earning 12 of those years as a volunteer for the city's fire department.
"We have an excellent employee now that has both police and fire experience and can take over the position," Dove said just before appointing Baldwin.
Baldwin said his motivation for taking the post is simple.
"The goal is to elevate the level of service to our citizens, as high as we can get it," Baldwin said. "We need to be more pro-active than reactive ... We are going to raise the bar some, if you will, in training and service. We are going to raise the level of service with 24-hour coverage."
Baldwin has not requested a pay raise for his new position, Dove said, adding that one will be considered during the department's first round of budgeting.
The committee determined that the largest stumbling block in the transition is going to be change itself - breaking tradition, which could be especially hard for longtime volunteers of employees.
"Working out some of these kinks is going to be a priority," said the Rev. Roger Vest, a citizen representative on the committee.
The total transition will take a long time, officials said, but the first step is uniting the departments in one uniform and under one badge. Several police officers will begin their incident command and basic firefighting training later this month, Baldwin said.
"I am excited about it," he said. "I like responsibility, and I like a challenge. This is a challenge for me, and we are going to work through it."
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