In a historic move, County Executive Marc Elrich has nominated Charles Bailey, the current Division of Operations Chief, to potentially become Montgomery County’s first African American Fire Chief. With over three decades of dedicated service, Bailey is not only a seasoned professional but also holds a unique family history deeply rooted in the region.
Bailey, a 34-year veteran with Montgomery County Fire and EMS, shared with FOX 5 that his ancestors were once enslaved in the county, and streets now bear the names of his relatives. Currently serving as the Division of Operations Chief, Bailey oversees crucial aspects of the department, particularly during the challenging times presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reflecting on the difficulties faced during the pandemic, Bailey emphasized the need for adaptability, stating, “We were learning as we went. That makes it really hard to move a large organization like this in a direction, to get everyone moving in a direction, and then to find out tomorrow we were moving on the wrong thing and that we need to move in another direction.”
If confirmed as chief, Bailey outlined his plans to leverage census data to optimize resource allocation, especially in diverse communities. He highlighted the importance of addressing disparities in bystander CPR rates among different racial groups, aiming to improve outcomes at a relatively low cost.
Bailey’s confirmation vote is set for mid-January. However, recent weeks have seen accusations of bullying directed at the nominee. Emails received by FOX 5 claim that an internal survey conducted by the fire department’s union indicated disapproval of Bailey’s nomination. Despite inquiries, the union has not responded, and the number of survey participants remains unknown.
County sources aware of the survey suggest that some criticism against Bailey may be race-related. Nonetheless, no formal complaints or internal investigations have been reported. In response to the allegations, Bailey defended his record, stating, “I think my record over the past 34 years really does speak for itself.”
In addressing concerns about enforcing high standards, Bailey acknowledged the discomfort that comes with maintaining organizational standards. He expressed his intention to improve communication on policies and standards within the department, a change he believes is essential for enhancing member feedback.
Despite the criticisms, a letter to the Montgomery County Council from 12 assistant and division chiefs voiced their support for Bailey, emphasizing the need for a leader with a vision for the future and adaptability. As the historic nomination awaits confirmation, Bailey looks forward to working collaboratively with career and volunteer members who share a commitment to the community.