Howard Co. appoints 1st female fire chief

WASHINGTON — Calvin Ball, the first African-American to serve as Howard County executive, has played a role in another first — selecting the first woman to serve as the county’s fire chief.

Christine Uhlhorn, who previously held the job of assistant chief, is not new to Howard County Fire & Rescue: She is a 29-year veteran of the department and a third-generation firefighter.

During a news conference Tuesday, Ball called Uhlhorn a national fire service leader and one of the department’s best ambassadors. “I’m selecting an assistant chief with our department who has an exemplary record,” he said.

Uhlhorn, whose father and grandfather worked in the fire service, said she knew she wanted to be a firefighter “for my entire life.” She wants to build upon the quality of the county’s fire service “and to continue to educate, protect and serve,” she said.

In announcing that he’d chosen Uhlhorn to lead the department, Ball said Uhlhorn broke barriers and set high standards.

“And I should know,” he said, “because she helped train me when I was in the academy.” (Ball was a Howard County firefighter and emergency medical technician before he got into politics.)

Ball said Uhlhorn would foster excellence while increasing diversity within the fire service, “where everyone gets an opportunity to serve our community,” he said.

In the coming years, there will be a lot of retirements and change within the department, Ball said, “and I know that Chief Uhlhorn will take succession planning very seriously.”

The county executive pledged to take the department’s needs seriously, including staffing and equipment. “I owe this to Chief Uhlhorn, and having known her for 20 years, I know she will not be shy about advocating for these things,” he said.

Uhlhorn thanked her own family and what she called her family in the fire service for supporting her every step of the way in her decadeslong career. Uhlhorn took a moment to tell the crowd at the announcement of her appointment that she was nervous.

“I’m still so star-struck”, she explained, because the county’s first woman to serve as county executive, Elizabeth Bobo, was in the audience. “This is such an honor that you came today,” she said, addressing Bobo.” It means so much, and I have goosebumps.”

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