Former Balt Co. Fire chief blasts dept.

BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. - Former Baltimore County Fire Division Chief Jonathan Hart says he's been fighting cuts to command staff in the department for the better part of a decade.

Then the fire at Dowling Circle happened killing volunteer firefighter Mark Falkenhan in January, 2011.

In the report after that fire, the National Institution for Occupational Safety and Health recommended Baltimore County Fire increase its command staff personnel to better manage large and dangerous fires.

 A warning Hart says the department and county did not heed.

"We have chief officers that just cannot respond to an incident quickly enough to impact the incident in the early stages of the incident," Hart said.

Important because in many departments chiefs organize and run the fire and the response to it.

In the Dowling Circle fire, the report says it took nearly 20 minutes for that to happen which was too late as Falkenhan who would send out his mayday shortly after.

"When the battalion chief arrives approximately 20 minutes into the incident, he looks at what's going on.  He says firefighters shouldn't be in this building, it's not a safe situation.  He calls for the evacuation for the building and seconds later, mark transmitted his mayday because he was trapped on the third floor."

 That could have been avoided with more resources Hart says, more battalion chiefs making scenes quicker and controlling the response.

 It is a criticism Baltimore County takes issue with.

"There has been no reduction in the number of field chief officers in thirteen years," said Baltimore County Fire Spokesperson Elise Armacost.

County fire says its captains and lieutenants along with its battalion chiefs can run a fire and often do.

 It points out that while the response time to the Dowling Circle fire for a battalion chief was nearly 20 minutes, the department's average is less than 10 minutes for command staff....two minutes under the national standard.

"We have many commanders and every day they're commanding fires and other incidents in Baltimore County and they're doing so very successfully," Armacost said.

What prompted Hart's editorial was the Reisterstown fire last week that critically injured Gene Kirchner.

Hart says it is likely command staff issues in the county contributed to his injures, but the county says it is still entirely too early to know what happened and why.

» INFOGRAPHIC | Stats on firefighter fatalities

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