Nearly 500 firefighters rallied in front of City Hall today to protest a plan to lay off 250 employees from their department to cut $3 million from the city budget.
The firefighters, some wearing fire helmets and others walking with family members, gathered to protest what one firefighter called "a serious threat to the city's safety."
Lonnie D. Jackson, an official with the Baltimore Fire Fighters Local 734, said the layoffs could be avoided and that the city needs to explore all options before any firefighters are laid off.
"We're trying to make an impression on the mayor and the citizens of Baltimore," Jackson said. "You can't cut these guys out because when you do, you minimize public safety. When you close firehouses, there are no options."
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ordered the Fire Department to cut $3 million after the state eliminated $21 million in aid to Baltimore because of the state deficit. Other city agencies have been ordered to cut their budgets as well. The Fire Department layoffs are tentatively set for Dec. 6.
Jeff DeLisle, president of the firefighters union, said an alternative to layoffs would be for the city to offer retirement incentives for senior firefighters. Since July 1990, no firefighters have retired.
"These are human beings with families; look at the alternatives," DeLisle said. "The program for senior members to retire is before the mayor now. We can maintain public safety and fulfill budget requirements."
Fire union officials said the incentive plan would be effective because money for it would come out of the firefighters' retirement fund and the city general fund.
Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for Schmoke, said that when the firefighters union presented their plan, there was no mention of danger to public safety. "But now it is suddenly a detriment to public safety," he said.
The firefighters in danger of being laid off are those hired after June 1987.