Dispute over fire company closures at City Hall

Three companies slated to close July 1

A budget hearing in Baltimore City featured a heated exchange between the city's fire chief and council president, over the proposed closure of three fire companies.

The plan is part of the mayor's proposed budget, so if it is approved those companies would be closed as of July 1 st, and replaced with other units in their stations.

The station housing Ladder Truck 15 in East Baltimore – the so-called "Hotel Montford" -- is so old that still has a wooden board commanders used to use to keep track of the fire trucks.

And just outside of that there are black outlines along the wall -- the last remnants of the stables for the horses that used to pulled the fire engines.

The job done by crews that work on the current Truck 15, and other ladder trucks, is to rescue people trapped in burning buildings.

A plan unveiled by the chief, and supported by Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake would disband Truck Company 15 and replace it in the Montford Avenue fire house with an "engine" company.  Engine companies are charged with putting water on fires, not rescues.  A medic unit would also be added to the fire house.

It's a plan that brought this outburst from City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young, in a hearing attended by the fire chief.

"I want somebody to be able to get up to that third floor with that ladder and rescue me. I pay taxes in this city too, and this is unacceptable, and I want you as the chief to stand up for your men," he said.

The council president says the chief, should be fighting against the closures of Truck 15, along with Truck 10 in West Baltimore, and Squad 11 in Southeast Baltimore.

Chief James Clack said the original budget proposed by the mayor would have eliminated nine fire companies.

"That number was reduced primarily because of the work of this staff and the work we did behind the scenes," he said.  "I'm not going to call a press conference and get everybody excited, but i am going to work to defend this department."

The fire station on Montford Avenue has a basement.  It can support the weight of Truck 15.  But at the hearing on Thursday, Chief Clack confirmed that replacing it with an engine and a medic unit would require a major renovation, with a price tag of at least $250-thousand.

The head of the city's fire officers union tells ABC-2 News that the station would also need more space for the crews who would work on the medic unit; that could mean even more costly renovations to the station.

The chief maintains that after July 1 st the fire department will still have the same number of fire companies working as it does today, because those permanent company closures will replace the system of three nightly "rotating" closures.

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