Councilman calls for hearings on proposed fire closures

Warren Branch, chair of the City Council public safety committee, will introduce a resolution next Monday to hold public hearings on the proposed closure of three Baltimore fire companies.

Branch said he would ask Fire Chief James S. Clack to appear before the panel to discuss the proposed closing of Truck 10 in Harlem Park, Squad 11 at Hopkins Bayview/Greektown and Truck 15 in East Baltimore/Berea starting July 1. (Branch represents District 13, which will lose Truck 15 at the Montford Ave. Firehouse.)

“It is not clear what criteria were used to determine which companies to close or how coverage areas will be changed to fill ‘holes’ and improve fire response times,” he told The Brew in an interview today.

Baltimore currently lags slightly behind national standards for response time, and Branch said he wants to examine the possible impact of moving dozens of firefighters from areas they are familiar with into fresh territories.

“A lot of this [the proposed redeployment] has not been publicly discussed,” Branch added.

Fighting the Closures

The firefighter unions, meanwhile, have mounted a vigorous campaign to stave off the proposed permanent closure of the three companies. “You are taking the safety net away from [residents] being rescued,” Michael B. Campbell, president of Fire Officers Association Local 964, said in a separate interview today.

To help plug a $48 million hole in the 2013 fiscal budget, the Rawlings-Blake administration has proposed closing three of the city’s 53 fire companies. Since 2009, the city has relied on rotating closures to save money.

Campbell said Local 964 and Baltimore Firefighters Local 734 met with Stephanie Rawlings-Blake last week to discuss their concerns.

“We were pleading with the mayor not to close these companies – two of which are in very impoverished areas. She was receptive. She said she was willing to talk more.

“We understand the budget is tight,” Campbell continued. “We would prefer that the rotating closures end, but we see them as preferable to having any fire company permanently closed.”

Campbell said the union has offered a “compromise plan” to keep the rotating closures in effect for another year and “then see if the economy is improving.”

He added, “Here’s our biggest fear – once a [fire] company is closed in Baltimore, it never comes back, even when the economy gets better.”

Over the past 30 years, the number of fire companies has dropped from 85 to 53, according to city records.

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  • Unellu

    The fire companies deal with all sorts of emergencies including carbon monoxide poisoning.  They complement emergency medical services–they deal with rescuing folks from burning buildings but they also extricate folks from smashed autos and burning vehicles.  They were the first responders on 9/11. 

    How can some jurisdictions in the city be without fire trucks or fire companies?  It seems both hazardous and callous.  Would the politicians live in such neighborhoods?  Aren’t such emergency services for all parts of the city a civic responsibility of the political class?  Would politicians deprive the rich voting bloc a firehouse and a fire truck? 

    More fires and emergencies occur in the poorer sections of the city because many houses are run down and old in those neighborhoods and folks don’t have the money to fix aging electrical wiring.  Many people in the poorer neighborhoods also do not have smoke alarms in their homes.  The firemen do public education and campaign for smoke alarms for the poor.  This is an important service. 

    I am so appalled by the social injustice in this city.  It is a city of rich Blacks versus poor Blacks–it is a city where the ruling well off Blacks are dissing their subjects–the impoverished Blacks.  We not only have an interracial divide in Baltimore City–we have an intraracial divide. 

    This country’s social injustices are not only racially driven they are also class driven and some Blacks drive the social injustice engine with as much verve as some Whites drive the racial injustice engine.  Sheila Dixon stole from the poor–she felt entitled–she owned the poor Black vote–they were her children–she took care of them when fancy suited her and she also abused them. 

    SRB is more sophisticated in her approach.  She is stiff upper lip and upper crust–an African American princess, born into politics and insensitive to the basic needs of those less fortunate than herself.  She is balancing the city’s budget on the backs of the disenfranchised and the dispossessed.

    Cornel West and Tavis Smiley are on an anti poverty tour across this country.  SRB should join them or invite them to Baltimore.  If you ask her she’d probably say she has to balance many competing interests;  she cannot be moved by sentimentality and she is always guided by practicality.  She would probably say, if Baltimore is to thrive she must not be seen as hostile to the rich or hostile to developers.   

     Not forgetting the rich are complaining about the city’s regressive taxes, I personally think she feels a greater kinship with the monied class–her background is one of privilege.  Her education was paid for.  It is also less risky for her to earn the wrath of the poor.  In short the poor are screwed.  They are on their own.  That is why they live by their wits across America.  They have to devise their own inadequate defenses. 

    Education was a way to rescue yourself from poverty–but look at what it costs to attain a decent higher education today.  Even public universities are out of reach.  SRB is no anti poverty crusader.  She doesn’t have the messianic zeal of a West or a Smiley.  She will close the fire houses and disband the fire trucks.  She will rotate them knowing that fires don’t come in rotations.  She will give a concession here and take an advantage there.  She will play politics with the “expendable” poor.            


  • Cory McCarty

    Councilman Branch seems, as usual, to be charging off in the wrong direction.  The issue shouldn’t be about which fire companies to close.  The issue is that when you are already failing to meet national standards for response times, closing *any* fire companies is reckless and irresponsible.  Maybe part of the problem is that this is constantly framed in the context of fire suppression.  Since most of us will never have a fire that requires fire department intervention, we don’t really personalize the need for fire suppression.  It might help if we start thinking of these companies as fire/medical companies.  When the city is running low on medic units (which happens appallingly frequently), it’s the engines and trucks that pick up the slack.  And particularly in serious medical emergencies like cardiac arrests, every second counts.  (This is true for fires too, but again, most of us don’t personalize that need.)

    And closing companies, whether permanently or on a rotating basis, *does* damage response times.  This is patently obvious to anybody inside or outside of the fire department.  If somebody (including Chief Clack) tells you otherwise, they are lying.  It is that simple.

    I think Unellu’s assessment of the mayor is pretty accurate.  I don’t think she really cares about most of the people (black or white) who live and pay taxes (or don’t) in Baltimore City.  We are just serfs to her.  We exist to provide her with a position of power and influence, and the resources to wield that power.  And yet, for some reason, the majority of the voters in Baltimore still vote for her (and for Branch in my district).  It’s depressing.

  • guest who

    Thank you Unellu and Cory. Well said.  Unellu, your analysis on the race and class politics in Baltimore city is right on!…especially your characterization of the difference between Rawlings and Dixon.  What else to add?  Both have been and in the case of Rawlings, still pawns of O’Malley.  Am sure that Rawlings has been promised inroads to higher positions as O’Malley prepares himself for higher political offices.  O’Malley has taken more public steps in showing greater public:private support (see crony capitalism in Baltimore Sun March 27) in pushing for legislation that would keep decisions private in public:private ventures.  All these signs show he is building up an economic base of support for higher office and those who believe in his neo-liberal politics are jumping on board.

    All this reeks of building more power among the already powerful, the recipe for increasing the gap between the rich and the poor. It’s easy to see how we do it here in our own way in Baltimore, on the backs of the poor.  For example, the lack of jobs for the jobless in East Baltimore after more than 200 million in public funds/tax subsides/tax credits/grants have been given to the Hopkins Biotech park and new housing for their class of people. The role of foundations in Baltimore as they cuddle up to politicians and the powerful (take a look at the boards of the foundations…Casey, BCF, Goldsecker, Weinberg, and some of the powerful corporations in Baltimore…they all know each other) as they continue to concentrate wealth and power in the already wealthy and powerful…taking more and more away from the poor.  And where does this leave our fire stations?

    Well, none of the people mentioned above really care.  Councilman Welch, District 9, introduced  a bill that would allow private sponsorship of these fire trucks (  Slowly we are letting the private/business/ corporations run our public facilities.  The recreational centers were put out for bid by private entities (the so-called non-profits these days are walking fine lines between private ethics and receiving tax-free non-for-profit benefits…another day).  All this because we don’t have any money to take care of our governmental responsibilities.  But we can sell bonds to people to collect millions to finance huge development projects (Hopkins, State building) that do not guarantee benefit to those in most need (disinvested neighborhoods of poverty like East Baltimore) but instead drive them out of the city and say this is the only way to bring money into the city….hmm….bring the rich in and drive the poor out to some other area that the rich have decided is not trendy anymore…remind anyone of the times past?

  • Barnadine the Pirate

    You can’t fund your operating budget with bonds. Or at least it’s a really bad, ultimately suicidal idea. Nobody here has proposed any other cuts in operating costs that would make up the cost of closing the fire stations.

    My understanding is that emergency response times in Baltimore are currently averaging about four minutes — I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong. (Source: I grew up in a (poor) rural area where fire response times were closer to 30 minutes. Somewhere between 4 minutes and 30 minutes is a figure we can live with.

    In a perfect world there would be a fire station on every block. This is not a perfect world, and the city has to live within its means. What is the cost of keeping these three stations open? What alternate OPERATING costs should the city eliminate to keep these fire stations open? And to keep the rec centers open? Fewer cops? Less road maintenance? Maybe school classroom sizes can go up from 30 to 50. Maybe we can just let the dilapidated hell-hole that is the city courthouse just collapse entirely and conduct trials in tents here and there around the city.

    • Anthonycate

      Bernadine, you are comparing apples to oranges by comparing urban fire response times to rural response times. Have you ever heard of the Great Baltimore Fire? In Rural areas the houses are not connected to each other as they are in urban areas. You seem to be very educated, but lack a decent amount of common sense. Not every answer can be found in a book. Research on youtube how quickly fire grows, there are several videos that you may be surprised by. I am a Baltimore City Fire Fighter, and I know that the extra minute or so for a longer response is the difference between 1 dwelling being off or 3 dwellings. It also means the difference between the floor being safe for fire fighters or it giving way when we try to rescue the trapped children inside. If you’re happy with 30 minute response times, then I suggest you move back out into the sticks.

      • Barnadine the Pirate

        To paraphrase the quote, it’s hard to persuade someone of something when his job depends on not being persuaded. The Great Baltimore Fire was in 1904. Tell me, fireman, are fire and building codes better now, or in 1904? Do more buildings have sprinklers now, or in 1904? How many structural fires did the BFD respond to in 2011? How does that compare to 2001? 1991? 1904?

        And nowhere in my comment did I say that 30 minute response times are acceptable in Baltimore. But why limit ourselves to a 4-minute response time? Why not 3? Why not 30 seconds? Why not spend the entire city budget JUST ON FIRE STATIONS?

        Because that wouldn’t make any sense.  And neither does maintaining a fire infrastructure for a city of 900,000 when there are only 630,000 people here now. While eternal employment for as many firemen as possible is an important goal of any city budget, it can’t be the overriding concern. And I repeat, nobody has come up with any ideas about how to cover the shortfall. If you want to keep the fire stations open, what do you want to close? A police station? A few schools? I’d suggest that we cut back on road maintenance, but I’m not sure how you cut back from zero.

        • Professor Kool

          Why not close a few schools and consolidate? You are right about less citizens, which translates to less students. How many students are graduating? Three alarm fire last night, call a teacher. Seems to me you are getting more bang for your buck from the fire department.

        • CJ

          As you
          stated a city of 900,000 when there are only 630,000 people here now so why is
          city hall and department head staffing at a all time high. Its like the old
          saying” To Maney Chiefs not enough Indians”. The have cut the lower work force but
          never cut at the top.

        • Haligans

          Pirate, The City Fire Dept. has been cut drastically with the drop in population.  At one time, we had 59 fire engines and 30 ladder trucks. In addition, we had dozens of other units that provided speciality services, from lots and lots of extra hose, to special chemicals used to fight no conventional fires such as alcohol, gasoline, etc. We now have 35 fire engines I believe, and 18 ladder trucks.  1 fireboat, when we had 4. Yet the number of calls have increased 4.5 to 5 times that of older days.  All with 1/3 of the population.  The fire dept has been cut to the bare bones.  As the housing stock (older row homes) age, and as more become vacant, the number of fires will increase.  So many factors play into this from economical conditions to weather patterns.  Likewise, the police budget continues to grow and grow with the so called population decline.  Time to start consolidating schools that are underused, selling surplus City lots to developers, and maybe even park land.  I pray that you never need the fire dept., but if you do, a rapid response of an effective firefighting force will be required and each time stations are closed, that gets harder and harder.  We need to prioritize available $$$ and a failing Gran Prix race or an antiquated theatre that few people attend should be low on that list.  As should a free bus service that we can’t afford. 

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