It’s been a longstanding practice for all Baltimore city fire trucks to carry Advanced Life Support (ALS) equipment to offer medical aid to citizens injured in fires or car accidents, or suffering from a heart or asthma attack in their homes.
Hundreds of city firefighters are licensed paramedics who can administer IV therapy, operate a defibrillator, conduct tracheal intubation or dispense drugs before emergency medical service (EMS) personnel arrive at the scene.
That is, until yesterday when, without explanation, fire department headquarters informed battalion chiefs they were to remove all such life-saving equipment from fire trucks.
As word of the change spread through the department today – and The Brew started making inquiries – the fire department reversed course.
This afternoon the ALS equipment was ordered back on the fire trucks.
Asked for an explanation, department spokesman Kevin Cartwright said that “no decision has been made to remove ALS from suppression.”
There is no official – or even unofficial – word yet on why Assistant Chief of Operations Jeffrey R. Segal and others made the decision to remove the life-saving equipment.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s press office – and her chief of emergency management and public safety, Robert M. Maloney – did not respond to a series of questions from The Brew earlier today.
“I believe when Maloney hears about this, he’s going to explode,” said one source, who said Maloney is a strong supporter of equipping firefighters with ALS, despite its cost.
Indeed, the cost of maintaining emergency drugs at fire stations, and replacing aging medical equipment in the field, reportedly led to the decision to cut back ALS duties by firefighter paramedics.
The fire department – which closed two companies last year and threatened to shut a third – is under pressure to cut its fiscal 2014 budget by 2.5%, sources tell The Brew.
Last year’s fire closings prompted criticism by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who later backed down and supported the renewal of Fire Chief James S. Clack’s contract by Rawlings-Blake through July 2018.
Firefighters who are licensed as paramedics receive a stipend of about $1,500 to $2,000 a year, depending on rank and seniority.
Chief Clack and his staff have unsuccessfully tried to trim back or eliminate the stipends during negotiations with Baltimore Fire Fighters Local 734 and Fire Officers Local 964.
Would Compromise Public Safety
“What better way to argue against the stipend than by ceasing to deploy the equipment on the wagons,” said a union official who traded candor for anonymity.
Firefighters interviewed today said removal of ALS apparatus from the city’s 17 fire trucks would compromise public safety since victims of fires, car crashes, heart attacks and asthma would have to depend on EMS medics to administer emergency field care.
“The EMS system is overloaded every day,” said a firefighter. “This will take away immediate care that can be given by our people as we wait on the medic units to arrive.”
Added a veteran fire officer, “The idea has long been that if you put ALS equipment on every truck and engine, someone will use it. If ALS is only continued on fire engines – which was the order we got yesterday – but a fire truck is the first piece of equipment on the scene, then public safety is going to be hurt.”
Two Fatalities in Lauraville
Hours after yesterday’s order to remove ALS equipment from fire trucks and from an additional 16 critical alert medics – firefighters who become a medical unit during a critical alert – Baltimore firefighters responded to a blaze that killed two people in the Lauraville section of Northeast Baltimore.
At 11:40 p.m., firefighters responded to a fire that had engulfed 3019 Montebello Terrace, a wood-frame bungalow across the street from the Safeway on Harford Rd. and a few doors from Zekes Coffee.
The two victims – the first fire fatalities in Baltimore in 2013 – have not yet been identified by the department. Spokesman Cartwright said five other people, including a pregnant woman, escaped with minor injuries.
(UPDATE: The victims have been identified as Scott Wiles, 56, and Andrew Bryant, 52. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Cartwright said.)
The property is listed as owned by Mary E. Lago, co-owner of La Mar Liquors at 3600 Belair Rd.