((UPDATE, Friday, May 4: Fire department spokesman Kevin Cartwright said Chief Clack was “on a pre-arranged visit out of town that didn’t afford him the liberty of being present” at the City Council hearing yesterday. He added that “this information had been communicated to the Council prior to the actual hearing” and that assistant fire chiefs Henry and Segal “were present to respond to inquiries by the Council.”))
A City Council hearing on the proposed closing of three Baltimore fire companies was abruptly recessed this afternoon when it became apparent that Baltimore Fire Chief James S. Clack was not going to appear before the panel.
No reason was given for Clack’s no-show.
Three top aides who attended the hearing told The Brew they had no idea where the chief was. Questioned about his whereabouts, departmental spokesman Kevin Cartwright was also in the dark, saying, “I haven’t spoken with him.”
Clack had been asked to testify before the council’s public safety committee chaired by Warren Branch, whose East Baltimore District is slated to lose Truck Company 15 in the coming budget.
Assistant Fire Chief Dickson J. Henry as well as Assistant Chief Jeffrey R. Segal did not appear prepared to give testimony to the panel.
After several false starts at questioning them, Bernard C. “Jack” Young, president of the City Council, said the hearing should be recessed because only Chief Clack could adequately respond to the department’s proposed closing of three of the city’s 53 fire companies.
“It’s his plan,” Young said.
Councilman Branch agreed, and the public safety committee – which consists of Councilmen William H. Cole IV, Sharon Green Middleton, Nick Mosby and vice chair Brandon M. Scott – voted to recess the hearing until further notice.
More than 50 city firefighters were in the audience.
They clapped loudly when Young called the department’s plan to close Truck 10 in Harlem Park, Truck 15 in Broadway East/Berea and Squad 11 in Bayview/Greektown “unacceptable” and an attempt to “pit neighborhoods” against each other.
Truck 6 to Remain at Locust Point
The agency announced today it would keep Truck 6 at the Locust Point Fire Station rather than transfer the ladder to the John F. Steadman Fire Station at the downtown Bromo-Seltzer Tower.
Assistant Chief Segal said the decision was based on a re-evaluation by headquarters and “some other factors at play.” Councilman Cole, who represents Locust Point, has strenuously lobbied against the planned move.
Fire officials said the proposed closings, as well as other proposed redeployments of equipment, would not affect fire response times, but would save the city an unspecified amount of money.
Firefighters interviewed by The Brew disagree, saying the department’s plans are based on a “static” computer model. Some areas of the city, they say, would have sparser coverage if several fire units were on runs and not in their stations at the same time.
Baltimore currently lags slightly behind national standards for response times. Since 2009, the agency has relied on rotating station closures to reduce operating costs.
The Rawlings-Blake administration has proposed closing three fire companies, but said it would not lay off firefighters and would keep current stations open by reshuffling equipment.