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Written answers to Fire Department issues demanded by City Councilmen

Budget talks halted until questions answered
Posted at 12:48 PM, Apr 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-12 08:38:27-04

BALTIMORE — The staffing and emergency readiness of the Baltimore Fire Department has been the subject of much debate in recent weeks.

Concerns about overtime spending, station readiness, and companies being utilized as Emergency Medical Service providers instead of fire suppression units are causing friction between the city, the department, and fire personnel.

READ MORE: Union says public safety at risk when fire engines taken out of service

The Baltimore Fire Fighters Union complains of stations being taken out of fire suppression action as they serve as supplemental Emergency Medical System services. The Union says this is creating a public safety issue of the city.

READ MORE: Temporary engine shutdowns concern Baltimore Firefighters Union; leader calls it 'Russian Roulette'

In a letter to Baltimore City Fire Department Chief Dr. Niles Ford, two city councilmen cite concerns with overtime spending and the state of fire department facilities, in addition to the supplemental EMS services and how they may affect fire response in the city.

READ MORE: Baltimore fire engines being shut down temporarily to assist with emergency medical calls

“The Baltimore City Fire Department faces severe challenges in staffing its paramedic units, which continues to be a driving force in the department’s growing overtime issues. More importantly, the department has yet to provide the City Council or Mayor’s Office a complete plan on how the department will address this issue,” read a letter from Councilman Brandon Scott, the Chair of the Public Safety Committee, and Councilman Eric Costello, the Chair of the Budget & Appropriations Committee. “By way of this letter we are requesting a formal written plan be presented to us before we discuss the department’s budget in early June.”

Scott and Costello said fiscal year 2020 budget discussions and eventual appropriations will not move forward until a formal, written response is presented that addresses their concerns.

Thursday afternoon, the Baltimore Firefighters IAFF Local 734 union responded in a tweet, saying the welcomed the opportunity to discuss the issues with the City Council.

"We look forward to sitting down with the department and the city council to find a solution to many issues the department is facing," the tweet from @BCFDL734 said. "As always we want to provide the most efficient service to the citizens of Baltimore while providing the best working atmosphere to our members."

The Baltimore City Fire Department responded as well Thursday afternoon, saying the agency was in the process of preparing its proposals for short, intermediate, and long-term actions to address the issues Costello and Scott mentioned. They are now debating using a consultant from outside the department to "undergo a special study of some operations, including overtime practices," the statement said. "Additionally the fire department will be meeting with the City's Department of Finance to discuss the potential parameters and visions for this study."

An inspection schedule has already been created with the City's Division of Safety, Department of General Services, and the Baltimore City Fire Department logistics division, the statement said. "This will allow agencies to collaboratively identify the necessary repair needs and develop a resolution that addresses the concerns in a timely and efficient manner."

The full text of Costello's and Scott's letter can be ready below:

Commissioner Ford:

We appreciate you and command staff members for attending the monthly Council Stat Hearing this month. As we stated during the hearing the City Council looks forward to working with you and the members of the Baltimore City Fire Department on making Baltimore a safer city. Ensuring that our Fire Department has the resources needed to provide world class service to the citizens of Baltimore is a top priority for the Baltimore City Council. To that end, we respectfully inform you that the Fiscal Year 2020 budget for the Baltimore City Fire Department will not move forward until we have formal written responses to address the following concerns.

The Baltimore City Fire Department faces severe challenges in staffing its paramedic units, which continues to be a driving force in the department’s growing overtime issues. More importantly, the department has yet to provide the City Council or Mayor’s Office a complete plan on how the department will address this issue.

By way of this letter we are requesting a formal written plan be presented to us before we discuss the department’s budget in early June. This plan should include short, intermediate, and long term actions that could help address this issue. Similarly, we request that in conclusion with the Department of General Services, the department provides us with a facilities update and plan for each of Baltimore’s fire stations. The conditions that the City Council learned of at the Annapolis Road station are unacceptable and must be addressed expeditiously.

We look forward to receiving the requested information and stand ready to help you with anything within our power as Councilmembers to improve the Fire Department. However, we will not move the departments’ budgets until we receive a plan which we deem adequate – including a comprehensive schedule, cost estimates, and funding sources. Please contact us directly if you need further clarification or information. Thank you for your assistance with these matters and for your dedicated service to Baltimore.

Sincerely,

Brandon M. Scott - Chair, Public Safety Committee
Eric T. Costello – Chair, Budget & Appropriations Committee