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The Dripby Mark Reutter4:42 pmApr 18, 20120

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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