The president of the Board of Fire Commissioners today said it would be a disastrous blow to public safety if he has to dismiss as many as 220 firefighters and eliminate 10 companies, including several ambulances and perhaps eight fire houses.
"It almost makes me quiver," board president David L. Glenn said. "The potential for disaster is staggering."
The proposed layoffs -- the first in the history of the Fire Department -- would jeopardize the public's safety by slowing response times and possibly allowing small fires to grow into larger ones, he said.
The board met today to discuss the impact of the cuts as about 150 fire personnel jammed the the board room and the hall outside.
Fire personnel and their union representatives feel the situation could be alleviated by implementing a early retirement incentive plan now languishing in the City Council.
The plan would give a fire employee regular retirement beneifts plus the amount of the money the employee has paid into the pension plan as an incentive to retire early. Now firefighters and fire officers can retire after 20 years of service.
"This way they can retire a firefighter making say $33,000 a year and replace them with a starting firefighter making $17,000," said Firefighter David Evans, who with only a year of service stands to be laid off. "And the department might not have to retire as many people as they plan to lay off to reach the $3 million in cuts."
The early retirement incentive was introduced into the council last June. But the Schmoke administration had concerns about the cost of such an incentive and asked that action be withheld for further study.
Union officials said if the plan had been implemented, close to 200 personnel would have retired by now.
Robert Sledgeski, secretary-treasurer of Fire Fighters Local 734, told the fire board "we need to demonstrate to the mayor and the citizens exaclty what these cuts will mean."
Fire Chief Peter J. O'Connor that the cuts could risk public safety.
"Right now the average response time citywide is 1.52 minutes," said O'Connor. "If the citizens can live with a longer response time and risk to lives and property that goes with that, then that's what we'll have."
Glenn said O'Connor is reviewing three different plans to affect the reductions. The layoffs would be in line with Schmoke's order to cut $3 million from the Fire Department's budget.
The proposed layoffs are in response to a $21 million cut in state aid to the city ordered by Gov. William Donald Schaefer two weeks ago as a way of closing a $450 million state budget shortfall.
The three-member fire board will meet in an executive session later this week before forwarding its recommendations to Schmoke Oct. 21. The administration wants to implement a plan by Dec. 1.
Salaries and related expenses make up about 90 percent of the $93 million Fire Department budget.
and one ambulance company.