Howard County to Make History With First Female Fire Chief

Christine Uhlhorn of Howard County will become the first woman to lead a professional fire agency in Maryland.

Howard County is poised to make history Tuesday when new County Executive Calvin Ball (D) names the county’s first woman fire chief.

At a scheduled news conference Tuesday morning, Ball will announce that he is nominating Howard County Fire and Rescue Services Assistant Fire Chief Christine M. Uhlhorn as the department’s new chief.

She will become the first woman to head a career fire service agency in any Maryland city or county, according to a county spokesman. Denise Pouget served as Frederick County fire chief — a combined professional and volunteer agency — between 2013 and 2015.

In Baltimore County, the new county executive, John A. “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr. (D) named Assistant Chief Jennifer L. Aubert-Utz to be acting fire chief beginning on Jan. 1.

The Howard County department has been without a permanent leader since the former chief, John S. Butler, who had been on the job for four years, became fire chief in Fairfax County, Va., earlier this year. Since Sept. 1, the agency has been led on an interim basis by Daniel Merson, the deputy chief.

Uhlhorn is a 29-year veteran of the department and a third-generation firefighter. She rose through the ranks and was promoted to assistant chief in 2016.

During her career, she served in various leadership roles and held positions as the Fire Officer Association president and Safe Kids Coordinator. Uhlhorn was the founder and president of the St. Florian’s Brigade, the first local affiliate of the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services, an organization whose mission is to attract young women into careers in the fire service.

The St. Florian’s Brigade was an outgrowth of a women’s committee within the agency that worked with fire department leaders to implement policy changes in uniform and protective gear sizing for women, maternity and paternity leave, lactation accommodation, station bathroom design, and personnel issues.

“I was looking for an exceptional leader with demonstrated experience and vision, suited to solve not just the big problems of today, but the potentially bigger problems of tomorrow,” Ball said in a statement. “With nearly 30 years serving Howard County Fire and Rescue, she has dedicated her life to protecting the residents of Howard County. She will seize every opportunity to make Howard County the best place for everyone. Chief Christine Uhlhorn is an innovative thinker who always puts safety first.”

Uhlhorn said she was “humbled” to be Ball’s pick and said the two will work to promote inclusion within the fire department.

“Educating, protecting, and serving Howard County is all I’ve known for the past 29 years,” she said.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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