Mayor to reappoint fire chief who closed fire companies

BREW EXCLUSIVE: Rawlings-Blake submits paperwork for Clack's reappointment just hours after he closed down two fire companies.

chief clack

Fire Chief James Clack speaks at a recent hearing.

Photo by: Mark Reutter


Just hours after Fire Chief James S. Clack permanently disbanded two Baltimore City fire companies, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the Board of Estimates to approve a new six-year contract for him.

The agenda for Wednesday’s board meeting shows that the panel will be asked by the mayor to amend an employment agreement with Clack to let him continue as Baltimore’s fire chief through July 1, 2018.

Clack was appointed in 2008 by then-Mayor Sheila Dixon, but he did not have a formal contract with the city until August 2010 after Rawlings-Blake became mayor.

Because Rawlings-Blake controls the five-member spending board, Clack’s reappointment on Wednesday is virtually assured. Clack’s reappointment will come before the City Council for approval, but his nomination has not yet been submitted by the mayor’s office.

Salary Increases through 2018

Under the terms of the new agreement, Clack will receive a pay raise this January, hiking his current salary of $161,262 a year to $164,487.

His salary will then “incrementally increase every January 1 thereafter through January 1, 2018,” according to the board’s agenda.

Wages for Baltimore firefighters are frozen for fiscal year 2013 under an agreement ratified by the Fire Officers Association Local 964 and Fire Fighters Association 734.

As with other city employees, firefighters’ health-care premiums will increase this year under a “reform” health benefits package pushed by Rawlings-Blake and approved by the City Council.

Clack’s new contract stipulates that “if the Mayor is elected to a new term [in 2016] and chooses to reappoint Mr. Clack as Fire Chief, Mr. Clack will be entitled to a continuation of the benefits provided . . . unless a modification of this contract is executed.”

Backlash to Fire Closings

Clack’s determination to close three fire companies – some say at the mayor’s orders – has sparked a great deal of criticism. After two delays triggered by a general state of emergency declared by Rawlings-Blake, Truck Company 15 and Squad 11 were permanently disbanded at 7 a.m. this morning

A third company, Truck 10 serving Harlem Park, will be shut down on October 1.

Clack has argued that the closures will improve department response times because it will end the practice of rotating station house closures.

His decision to close the three companies has produced a heavy backlash among firefighters and their union leaders. A petition drive solicited 2,000 signatures by residents against the closing of Truck 15 in East Baltimore, which is by far the busiest truck company in the city.

There have been other controversies involving the fire chief’s priorities. He has been faulted for reinstating the post of assistant chief for administration (which had been vacant because of budget pressures), and for increasing the pay of his two deputies, each of whom got a $11,000 pay raise this year.

Other criticism comes from his tripling of the budget of FECO (Fire and Emergency Community Outreach), which some firefighters denounce as “window dressing” that should not have priority over core firefighting.

Skips Steiner Show

In the world of City Hall politics, he has gained a reputation as a no-show, failing to appear in May at a City Council hearing without explanation. The non-appearance sparked an angry response by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Councilman Warren Branch, chairman of the public safety committee.

Today, Chief Clack ducked out – for the third time – from an appearance on the “Marc Steiner Show” on public radio station WEAA-FM.

A Steiner producer said that fire department spokesman, Kevin Cartwright, told him that “due to the atmosphere of hostility because of the company closings, [Chief Clack] will not join [the show] at this time.”

In a separate e-mail to host Marc Steiner, Cartwright said, “We appreciate the opportunity and invitation to appear on your show; however due to the sensitive nature of other ongoing internal matters warranting our undivided attention, we need to defer until a more convenient time.”

Rawlings-Blake Commends his Leadership

None of these issues was raised in the written request by the mayor’s office for Clack’s six-year reappointment.

According to the mayor’s statement to the Board of Estimates, “Mr. Clack has been effectively carrying out this duties of Fire Chief of Baltimore City. Under his leadership, the Fire Department now has two Medic Assist Cars, has implemented the Operation Care Program and is moving the department to a new Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) System.”

“Additionally,” the mayor’s office said, “there was a record 44% reduction in fire-related deaths and a 50% savings in overtime costs in FY09.”

The mayor’s office also offered this example of Clack’s national reputation:

“In June 2010, the International Association of Fire Chiefs submitted Mr. Clack’s name as one of seven nominations to President Obama for the position of U.S. Fire Administrator. This nomination is yet another testament of Chief Clack’s experience and leadership in the field of emergency and fire response.”

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  • Mkff

    Insanity at it’s finest. Those 2 deserve each other, but the fire dept and citizens deserve Way better

  • Mobtownsage

    It only takes looking at Clack to realize why he’s the perfect candidate. He certainly isn’t going to stand up for his people, speak against his boss, or make even the slightest wave. He is as weak & feeble in appearance as he is in what passes for leadership. Why then, would any employer not want a “YES MAN” to stick around?

  • Roxanne Cotton

    The city has no money for any other city workers to get a cost of living increase, but she guarantees that this Fire Chief not only get a new six (6) year contract but he gets a hefty yearly increase (wow that is really cutting expenses)!  Then to top it all off his deputies got a $11,000 each (2) this year!  Police Dept has not seen any raises in a number of years, go figure and the point is?  Wow, enuff said today! 

  • Jg11

    The mac cars that the mayor references were a failure and have been disbanded,this fool closed truck 2 then places 2 mac cars in service staffed by medics on overtime , and so where was the savings. This city can not take another 6 years of his lunacy.

  • Kim Trueheart

    Fire Chief Clack, as evidence by his refusal to engage with the citizens of BMore, is NOT the leader we want or deserve heading our fire department.  My community requested a briefing on department response times and were told that Chief Clack declined to address the matter with us.  He needs to either engage or find some other place to dispatch his unpopular edicts where the citizens are willing to be bamboozled by dictatorial mandates … NOT BMore!!!

  • Bigfundaddy

    We always knew he was no leader, this just makes his true self clear,,, a disgraceful,cowardly, political sell-out, who obviously is not ashamed of what he has done.

  • Darlene

    How on earth could a mayor of a major city have so little political tact as to announce something like this on the very day the fire companies close? Is she just testing us to see how much it will take to get Baltimorons to show up at the ballot box?

  • BmoreRetPollady

     The city has no money for any other city workers to get a cost of living
    increase!  The Fire Chief gets new
    six (6) year contract and a hefty yearly increase (cutting expenses)!  His deputies got a
    $11,000 each (2) this year (Wow I WANNA BE A DEPUTY) !   BPD has not gotten a raises in a
    number of years!  Now you tell me “where is the logic”?



  • Dcmusicpro

    The patch on the sleeve of his uniform should say “DILLIGAF” Do I look like I give a F**k,because he doesn’t ..I don’t know how he is able to stand up straight beings he has no spine

  • Fire and Metal

    Mayor Failings Blake tells the residents of Baltimore that becuase of a budget shortfall she has to close 3 firehouses.  Her Chief comes with a flawed study based on BEST case fire truck availability scenerios that pretends to meet (debatable)  the MINIMUM safety standard to support SRB’s plan.  The Chief expands his administration – and gives his closest co workers raises.  Then he himself is offered a salary increase from Mayor Failings Blake.  Everybody is making out EXCEPT the people of Baltimore.  They are left to wait longer for help in an emergency. 

  • Lex Apostata

    So the issue here is that a mayoral appointee does what the mayor wants?

    Isn’t that the whole point of having appointees?

    The article notes that the Mayor “controls” the Board of Estimates. Why is that? Because the Board is composed of the Mayor, the City Council President, the Comptroller, the Director of Public Works, and the City Solicitor. Those last two are appointed by the Mayor, and therefore will be removed if they don’t do what she wants.

    The City Council could eliminate the mayor’s power to appoint fire chiefs. Short of that, there is no way ANY fire chief will be able to *publicly* defy the mayor on important issues, because that’s the whole point of political appointments.

    • Cory McCarty

      Lex, it sounds like you don’t really understand what leadership means in the context of a chain of command.  Yes, the chief ultimately has to follow orders or resign in protest (which any officer with an ounce of self-respect would have done at this point).  But leadership also requires that a department chief advise the mayor when the proposed action is a bad idea, as these closures clearly were.  And it requires that the chief stand up for his or her subordinates, which Clack has not done in any effective way.

      Baltimore department chiefs are in an extraordinarily difficult position with such an incompetent and stubborn mayor.  But that just reinforces the need for effective leaders in those positions.

      Clack is not a leader.  He is a stuffed uniform.  If you cut the marionette strings leading back to City Hall, he would fall into a heap on the ground.

      • Lex Apostata

        I’m guessing you don’t live in the city. In fact, I’m guessing that the majority of fire fighters complaining about the proposed closings are not city residents.

        If you are a city resident, you are complaining about the reduction of public safety infrastructure — that was designed for a city almost twice the population of the current city.

        If you are a city fire fighter, you are complaining about the reduction of jobs in a shrinking tax base to which you probably contribute little. What percentage of fire fighters are city residents? 25%? At most?

        I am neither defending nor opposing the company closures.  I think there is an excellent argument to be made that we spend excessively on fire infrastructure and that companies can be closed and/or moved. As to whether these specific cuts were the best ones — I defer to the experts.

        But what I find frustrating is the fact that few coherent alternatives are being proposed. I have seen no one put forward a plan to cut the same amount from the fire department’s budget without closing companies. Instead I see abuse heaped on the mayor and the fire department chief with the vague suggestion that the money be found “somewhere else.”  Where else? Close a park, a swimming pool, a school, a library, and you get the same shrieking and gnashing of teeth.

        Money doesn’t simply rain from the sky, although the Council’s proposed “alternative budget” took that as its premise. A city with 600,000 residents does not need a fire department designed for a million residents. Especially a poor city. SOMETHING has to be cut, and just about every meaningful cut will have its aggreived constituency.

        Lots of whining, little in the way of constructive suggestions.

        • Jg11

          The Fire Dept is already at bare minimum for the current population. Loosing 3 more is now past the danger zone for firefighters and citizens alike. 

          The dept has been cut in half of its original size, as yes population has decreased, calls for service have increased, so your argument is pointless.

        • Kenstasko

          I would agree with you but starting in the 1970s companies stared being closed, we are not at a fire dept reduction of about30 out of 90 companies that is 1/3 reduction , the city has not lost 1/3 of its population and has not reduced the number of building that can burn either, so please get your facts right

  • Unellu

    20 million dollars in bonuses planned for the upper echelon of Sparrows Point even as the place is in receivership–the fire chief of Baltimore who plays footsie with SRB gets to keep his job for ever and a day with increases in his salary and benefits to boot!  The rich get richer while the poor and the middle class are marked for burning by fire or dying by job insecurity and eternal anxiety.  Of course the man will suck up to mayor and find reasons to close all the fire companies she wants shut down and bolted.  I’ve heard of sweetheart deals but the one that Clack got from SRB  clacks corruption loudly.  Only an out and out peoples’ revolution will fix this city.  SRB shouldn’t have one day more in office than what she’s slated to have–the idea to change the election date for mayor of Baltimore to coincide with the US presidential election cycle is a terrible one.  One more year in office for this mayor will be a disaster.  Throw her out when her time comes to go and you will discontinue Clack’s stack of benefits and pay raises.     

  • Guest

    I’m a big fan of the Brew, but the reporting on the Fire Company Closings has not at all been objective, so it’s hard for me to determine where to come down on the issue.

    It hasn’t been until deep into articles, if at all, that it’s been made clear that closing a company is not the same as closing an entire fire house, and that furthermore, zero firefighters are being furloughed. Despite the dozens of comments from firefighters or sympathize with firefighters, it’s not clear to me why the company closures are bad other than that it “it risks lives” or that the “Mayor sucks.”

    How about reviewing some CitiStat or Open Baltimore data on fire calls for service from the past 5-10 years? Or comparing Baltimore’s fire company levels to that of other mid-atlantic cities? And their salaries? And that of other first responders?

    Nationwide fire calls are down and EMS calls are up. If those numbers are the same here, shouldn’t more resources be shifted to adding more EMTs? If EMTs or Police Officers spend their entire shift out responding to calls and FFs sometimes have the ability to take naps during their shift, and are able to rearrange their schedules to have a second full-time job (sometimes back in neighboring counties or states where they live) shouldn’t that information be provided to help make a decision on how to allocate resources? I don’t know what the answer is or what is a fair comparison is of the risks of duty and the specialized skills required, but the information would assist in having an informed debate.

    • Walsh1213

      Guest GET A CLUE we are the busiest in the nation for our population! The only cities that run more calls then us have a population of more than 3 million people. All Fire engines and trucks have EMT’s and some have Paramedics! If you had a clue what you were talking about you would know that you could put 50 more Ambo’s on the street and they would all still be at the hospital waiting for a bed for their patient. On a serious call the first to arrive is an engine or a truck equipped to handle a medical emergency. Do your self a favor and do some research before you babble bullshit out of your pie hole.  

  • Curtis

    Blaming the fire chief for station closings is shooting the messenger without understanding a thing about City management.  His job is to best manage limited resources with the budget handed down to him.  Great fire and brimstone news headline! 

    Given how ignorant the article starts off and how its purpose is to incite outrage against SRB amongst the ‘pure gut reaction’ segment of the voting citizenry like a 30-second 2012 presidential race TV add, it creates more questions than answers.

    Has his salary gone up since 2008 and by how much?  His salary will go up 2% the first year of the new contract with no mention of subsequent years by the Brew.  Is this supposed to blow my socks off? Top managers aren’t a dime a dozen, but a diamond in the rough.  I personally can’t attest whether he’s top notch, but I frankly couldn’t care less if skipped the Marc Steiner radio show.   

  • Spudjr77

    Guest, Baltimore City Fire Department is the busiest in the nation with calls per capita and lowest paid in the state of Maryland. Firefighters are also EMTs and the engines and trucks take EMS calls all day and night. If taking naps is what you think city firefighters do all day you are sadly mistaken, they go to community meetings, install smoke detectors, do building inspections, train, and more all while responding to emergencies in between all these activities. I don’t understand your view on public safety, are only police and EMTS necessary because the national average says so. I for one look at it as an insurance policy you may drive your whole life and never get into an accident but does that mean you can cancel it because you think you wont ever need it. Well your wrong emergencies can happen at anytime anywhere and if it happened to you Im sure you would want a timely response by a highly trained crew that was readily available. We can debate statistics all day but in the end here is what you need to know.

  • concerned county resident

    Ater doing some homework on my own not just talking to city firemen I found out some very disturbing and ludacris facts. Everyone riding a fire engine is at least an Emt.

    If there is a fire bigger then 3 alarms fire engines are transfered into the city from the counties. This is from the mouths of county firemen A.A. and Balto County as well as Mr Cartwright from the city. The counties fire houses are spread out as it is so now my life is in even more danger when the city has a fire. I already voiced this concern with my councilman. The firehouses aren’t closing but another engine or hook and ladder is moving in? These firehouses are OLD and in need of much repair. Wouldn’t it serve the city better to close them completely down, i.e. repairs, heating, electric, etc.?

    The report states that the Chief has reduced fire deaths by 44% and most credit is given to the Smoke Detector Program . This program has been in use for approximately 21 years. I found that the fireman used to go door to door throughout the neighborhoods once or twice a week in their firehouse areas. Now 4 – 6 engines do  a two block area together in one neighborhood. They have to install the detector with screws with a outdated screw gun instead of heavy double sided tape which worked for years.

    I’ve witnessed during my investigation four fires. I then did research on a what a firefighter goes through during that work. My findings are that these firefighters are required to wear that blue uniform all the time. It is a polyester non breathable uniform very hot. Plus underclothing. It was a balmy 102 one day and 94 one evening just for example.

    They then are required to put on all the gear, heart rates start rising rapidly after the bell sounds and they are driving rapidly to the call within 3 minutes. They have to perform very physical strenuous work outside before they even enter the interior which reaches in excess of 800 degrees rapidly.

    After they put the fire out they are required to remove all burned contents, put plastic on all openings then go back to the firehouse where most showers don’t even work. They aren’t done though because then they have to clean all the tools and prepare for the next emergency. They aren;t off at that time either.

    The one evening they left a fire and on the way back were sent to another fire immediately already exhusted from the previous. The first fire was a rowhouse fire in two bedrooms and they were there for over two hours the second 1:50 minutes for a kitchen fire. Now they must clean up prepare their food with untensils they have to buy sitting in a non air conditioned kitchen behind a fire truck that my thermometer showed was 101 degrees on the metal. The minute the meal was done they were out the door on a medical call.

    This goes on throughout the lives of these men day and night. I wouldn’t want to be awakened by a loud bell and have to rush outside and be standing in a strangers house within minutes. They work extra jobs because their pay rate is far less than their county co workers.

    According to reports and studies firefighting is the #1 most dangerous, demanding, stressful job and it also has one of the highest rates of death by heart attack. I found also that fighting a fire had the same effect on the body as working a 40 hour work week without rest. I was impressed most that the men and women who work at the busy firehouses, 99% of them transfer in there to be busy and serve.

    They have to buy their own comforts, i.e. food, tv’s, couches, chairs, tables, sometimes air conditioners. They are the only city agency that are required to clean up their own place of employment daily also.

    Most fire trucks and medic units are unsafe to operate even though they look new and shine
    y. The report says the Chief is leading them with the new CAD system, etc. I found that most reports and the like are still paper copies and redudant if done with computer. Copy to this one and that one and so on. 

    The Chief’s comments when he first took office was that firefighter safety was his main concern. Well I see that he and his staff don’t look out for the brave, dedicated men and women who make him look brilliant. They waste money everywhere. The community outreach? Ask the neighbors they know where to go for help. You call 911 or 31.

    The fire dept shows up fast and always not the police, trash truck, inspector, etc. Your pot holes aren’t filled within minutes. The firefighters worked overtime years ago during the back to back blizzards operating front end loaders and bobcats because the Dept of Public Works didn’t have enough people approved to operate the equipment sitting there unused.

    We need to better understand what these folks do thats why I looked into this matter before voicing my opinion.

    Concerned county resident

  • Bob

    Guest is someone from city hall trying to turn the direction of the story.  Two of the three companies closing are busier than the bottom third of medic units in responces.  Under your theory then the medic units should be closed also.  Truck 15 is the busiest in the state.  Our chief got a HUGE raise because fire deaths are down.  Well Chief Clack didn’t make that happen, it was the men in the field.  So under that reasoning everybody in the department should receive a raise.  The mayor and council got raises because they said they should make what surrounding jurisdictions make.  So I would expect to be compensated accordingly. City hall wants to make us busier because we work another job, then pay us better so we don’t have to.  They shouldn’t worry about what we do when we are off duty.  The mayor is unhappy that so many FF’s and police live outside the city.  Well maybe guest(undercover city hall employee) can give 5 good reasons to live in the city. The firefighters of the BCFD put their LIVES ON THE LINE FOR THE CITIZENS OF BALTIMORE. I guess thats not enough. So for a recap the firefighters of BCFD see more calls (EMS and FIRE) then anyone in the state or region, have the lowest fire deaths in years, handle ALL emergencies in the city and you say we should do more.  Maybe you can send me your phone number and I will call you everytime we get a call and you can ride on out and meet us and you can experience what it is we do. And that means 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The FD is their for emergencies, if their is one next time  I hope you can keep it to a  small emergency because the police and emt’s don’t handle them. Just remember crime went up the city PAID for more police, children failed and you PAID more for teachers. So tear us down and destroy the one department that makes the city a better place and you will be PAYING MORE for that also. Guest, remember it’s not where we live but where you live. I guess Curtis couldn’t understand that Clack is closing fire companies that YOUR Taxes paid for , for emergencies and is now going to the chief’s pay. So let’s brek it down. He got rewarded by the mayor for not listening to the VOTERS who wanted to keep the firehouses open. Well I would pay for an polished diamond instead of a rough diamond. If you had a rough diamond what would you do with it. Missing the Steiner show means he is not being responsable to answer to the citizens. Maybe if you cared more you would understand. THE MAYOR IS NOT LISTENING TO THE CITIZENS WHO ARE PAYING THE CHIEFS AND MAYOR”S SALARY.

  • ftm

    its all lies! show me where the mac cars are! they took them out of service months ago. This guy may have read a lot of books but compared to our real chiefs (Ruff, Scott, Zimmerman Ect.) this guy couldnt put out a camp fire with a swimming pool.

  • Lex Apostata

    JG, Kenstasko, Unellu — I repeat, lots of whining, no constructive suggestions.  Tell us how you would take the same amount from the Fire Department’s budget without closing companies. OR tell us what other departments should face even greater cuts than they are already facing in order to spare the Fire Department further cuts.  Shall we cut parks & rec? Law enforcement? Schools?  Let’s reduce the mayor’s pay to minimum wage . . . and then tell us where the rest of the money will come from, because that won’t come close to equalling the proposed savings.

  • Bob

    Lex,  maybe you can explain how 500,000 dollar is moved from YOUR firehouses in the NEIGHBORHOODS to another part of the fire department and the city is saving money? You want cuts, tell the politicians to CUT the TAX BREAKS from the mayors politically connected friends. The money wasn’t cut, it is still there. They created a new group in the fire department called community outreach which is headed by a fire department person who is suing the city for discrimination because he didn’t get to be chief of the department. The money was given to them and now you have less fire companies. Now the CITIZENS don’t have the their firehouses. Community outreach isn’t going to come to your house and help you or your family members when there is a emergency.  They are going to fairs and churches to hand out paperwork. What for?  The mission of the fire department is to handle emergencies.  Here is a constructive suggestion, the FD doesn’t need to be reinvented, it works. The members  are commited to the citizens of Baltimore City. Can YOUR polticians say they are commited TO YOU or THEIR BIG MONEY FRIENDS.

  • Concerned County resident

    The fire department is way to top heavy and also has too many supervisors. 3 men or women on a fire truck with 1 supervisor. 6 fire trucks on 1 alarm plus a chief to oversee those 6 supervisors then his supervisor shows up if its a real fire. Thats at least 8 supervisors for 24 firefighters. Now I’ll bet that there isn’t one large company in Baltimore City that operates this way. If so they are bankrupt by now. Cut the positions at the top first. The pay raises and promotions to admin chiefs. Mr Cartwright is a paramedic who was promoted to captain during the last administration a large pay increase. The assistant chiefs get paid to oversee what? Other supervisers. The city is broke because they have to many supervisors and not enough workers. Too many deputy Mayors and the like. Close the firehouse completely and really save money. There are newer firehouses just storing trucks and engines. There are broken trucks and medic trucks scattered about the city yard on Biddle St. They don’t need a Community Outreach program thats what the firehouse was to most of the neighbors. They don’t need a recruitment cheif either. When the word was out that the fire department was testing when I was growing up a few thousand people would be there for the test. How has that changed? How will recruitment help when they aren’t hiring. I know that they are trying to get more minorities in the job but I’ve seen and heard their representatives on You Tube and they are all over weight, out of shape and all black men and women. Where are the Latinos, Asians, etc? Lex you need to investigate like I did before commenting on this. Just because people moved out of the city doesn’t mean the fires have stopped. Most fires that the BCFD went to were in vacant homes. Maybe when you look around as you drive through the city you will see the plutonian landscape I seen as I investigated the fire department.

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