In an effort to avoid a confrontation with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and long legal proceedings, the City Council unanimously voted last night to recall a bill that would have required four-person crews on fire engines.
Two weeks ago, the council unanimously passed the bill while saying that public safety was threatened when the Fire Department reduced crew size to three.
Mr. Schmoke threatened to veto the bill, however, saying that mandating four-member crews would require him to close firehouses in times of financial crisis.
David Glenn, president of the Board of Fire Commissioners, said the council had no legal authority to enact such an ordinance and vowed to challenge it in court.
Council President Mary Pat Clarke said calm was restored yesterday when the council was assured that at the fire board's next meeting, members would adopt a statement reaffirming their commitment to the policy of maintaining four-person engine crews as long as the city can afford to do so. Mr. Glenn also assured the council that city firehouses would be fully staffed by early December.
"The fire board's action has quelled a potential conflict," said City Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th. "Now we will have to vigilantly monitor the staffing levels and be sure that the fire board is keeping this commitment."
Mr. Glenn said the fire board has always wanted to maintain four-member crews, but was forced to make tough decisions when confronted with a citywide hiring freeze.
"I told the mayor that we could either cut the size of the crews by one or close firehouses," he said. "The first option seemed to be the most acceptable and the one that would least affect public safety."
He added that if such a crisis occurs again, he would be forced return to the mayor and consider similar options.
Councilman DiBlasi said money was not the issue.
"To us, this is strictly an issue of public safety," he said. "This council has the know-how to find funds from somewhere when it comes to a matter of public safety."
Jeffrey J. DeLisle, president of the city firefighters union, had supported the City Council bill mandating four-member crews. And although the bill will now lie dormant in committee, he was pleased to get a verbal commitment from the Fire Department and the mayor.
"Now if they don't do as they promised, we can just retrieve the bill and send it back for the mayor's signature," he said.
Mr. Schmoke could not be reached for comment.
In other action, the City Council voted to form a committee to investigate and make recommendations about the qualifications and responsibilities of elections judges.
Council members said the move was proposed after polling staff problems delayed the Board of Elections' tally of votes during the September primary election.