Emergency medical equipment removed, then returned, to firefighters

Fire department ordered life-saving apparatus off city fire trucks yesterday. The department ordered the equipment back on this afternoon.

truck 5 and engine 33

All city fire trucks, including Truck 5 shown here, carried medical apparatus for emergencies – until yesterday.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

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.

Budget Pressures

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.”

Today's remains of the first fatal fire in Baltimore in 2013, which claimed two lives overnight at 3019 Montebello Terrace, in Northeast Baltimore. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Remains of the first fatal fire in Baltimore in 2013, which claimed two lives overnight at 3019 Montebello Terrace. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

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.

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  • Carol Ott

    The city’s fire chief needs to worry more about resident and firefighter safety.  Jack Young may have “backed down” and supported Jim Clack’s contract extension, but residents certainly haven’t forgotten his ill-conceived plan to close fire companies, and we won’t soon forget this debacle either.

    If BCFD needs to save money, perhaps Chief Clack would see the wisdom in returning his pay raise and refusing future pay raises.

  • Sal_Lambert

    With contract negotiations beginning this month, Clack has already been threatening to close more fire companies if the firefighters do not accept a schedule change thatll have them working more hours a week. Clack is a JOKE. He has no clue as to how to run a fire department. The only thing he is good at is getting women and “minorities” hired and promoted through the ranks.

  • asteroid_B612

    I was at a bar in Canton on a Friday night last year, and a woman had a seizure. A fire truck arrived, and she was taken outside and treated by paramedics on the truck. The truck waited for over 30 minutes with her for an ambulance to arrive to take her to the hospital. At the time, it seemed like a waste of resources to have a fire truck kept out of action for this long, and I have seen fire trucks routinely respond to medical emergencies at other times as well. While a lot of the focus by the Brew has been on closing firehouses, the main issue I see as a citizen is the lack of ambulances. I am sure that the fire bureaucracy knows this as well, and the decision to remove medical equipment from fire trucks sounds like it would be  death sentence for a good number of sick or injured citizens.

  • Kaye Wolf

    Be careful what you wish for… here in California, when you call for an ambulance, you get both the ambulance and the fire truck because of some weird law. We don’t have many fires here, so I’m guessing the fire department put the rule in place to ensure they would get more calls. What they created was a situation where less than 25% of their calls are actually fire-related.  Now there is push-back to reduce fire fighters because they are underused.

    Good luck with your solution.

    Daughter of Retired Baltimore City Fire Captain 

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