Reporting Derek Valcourt
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Some major changes take effect for the Baltimore City Fire Department. Monday, the city officially ended its controversial rotating fire company closures and instead began the process of permanently closing three fire companies.
Derek Valcourt explains the transition and how it will affect the fire department and city residents.
Fire officials say this plan will make the department stronger and more stable but critics counter the changes come at a dangerous price.
Black tape covers the number on City Fire Truck 10. It’s a sign of loss, a sort of death in the family. Truck 10 is one of three fire companies permanently closed under a major restructuring plan that would eliminate the rotating closures forced on the fire department years ago by budget cuts.
“What this simply means is that every single 24 hours a day, we know exactly where all of our fire suppression companies are,” said Baltimore Fire Department Chief Kevin Cartwright.
Effective Monday, the fire companies of about two dozen firefighters that operate Truck 15 in East Baltimore and the company operating Squad 11 near Johns Hopkins Bayview are no more. Those firefighters have all been reassigned to other fire stations and to ensure each community can be covered in an emergency, several other fire companies will be relocated to other fire stations.
“So I just want to reassure the community that when you call 911, you are going to get the same high level of emergency medical services, as well as fire protection,” Cartwright said.
While those two companies have closed Monday, Truck 10 gets a temporary reprieve. They’ll be responding to calls until Oct. 1.
“We are going to fight like hell to keep that open forever,” said Firefighters’ Union President Rick Hoffman.
From the start, the firefighters’ union denounced the plan to permanently close three fire companies, saying it will put citizens and firefighters’ lives at risk. They say during last week’s massive storm, those three companies were responsible for 57 calls in just 24 hours.
“That tells me it’s out of hand and again, I know it was an emergency situation after a storm, but when’s the next one coming?” Hoffman said.
Hoffman says they haven’t given up hope that those closed companies can one day reopen, but without additional funding, fire department officials say that won’t happen.
It’s important to point out no fire stations are closing and no firefighters will lose their jobs as a result of this restructuring.