BALTIMORE (WMAR) — It'll only take one time, Richard Altieri said, for the Baltimore Fire Department's luck to run out.
"Your neighborhood fire engine is being shut down for the day to supplement the medical field – the EMS field. We're shutting down an engine, up to four a day, for numerous hours to bring on more EMS units," Altieri, the Baltimore Firefighters Union President, said.
The Local 734's leader said shutting down specific fire engine companies around Baltimore is a dangerous decision.
The fire department is calling for personnel that is cross-trained to staff medic units in what's deemed 'critical' areas, forcing the next closest engine to respond in an emergency.
"There could be 'what-if's' and we can't have that. We can't take that chance. We're playing Russian roulette with the citizens of Baltimore and the members of our fire department," Altieri said.
That 'what-if' Altieri said almost bit the department.
Firefighters responded nearly a minute later than they would've to a fire on Druid Hill Avenue on Monday morning.
The closest station, Altieri said, was temporarily down an engine.
While the city undoubtedly has a big 911 call volume, the fire department denied an on-camera interview with WMAR, but a spokeswoman said the shutdown rotations only happen on a need-to basis.
That need, Altieri said, is far too common, and, in times of crisis, there's zero room for error.
"If we're constantly closing down up to four units on neighborhood fire engines, for four units multiple times a day, that's telling you the mayor and city council and the chief of the fire department need to put more full-time units out there in the field," he said.
According to the union, Baltimore is one of the only jurisdictions in the state that is dealing with the fire suppression company issue.