Baltimore's firefighters union was told yesterday that the city plans to announce layoffs today of 252 of its members in a budget-cutting move that will shut down 11 engine or truck companies and one fireboat.
"There's never been a layoff. This is the first," said Jeffrey A. DeLisle, president of Fire Fighters Local 734, who said the cutback amounts to 17.8 percent of the department's manpower below officer rank.
The layoffs will not affect paramedics, who make up 144 of the union's 1,411 members. As a result, Mr. DeLisle said, the impact will fall entirely on fire suppression services.
Union officials, reached after daylong talks with city officials on the cutbacks, said the layoffs will take effect Dec. 6 -- near the start of winter, the busiest fire season.
"It's going to get real scary this winter," Mr. DeLisle said.
Clinton R. Coleman, spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, said neither he nor the mayor would comment on the union's account. He said the mayor planned to make an announcement today and would not discuss his decisions beforehand.
Mr. DeLisle, meeting in a Little Italy restaurant last night with his secretary-treasurer and lawyers for the firefighters and fire officers' unions, said the city turned down alternative proposals that would have minimized the impact on public safety.
Among those proposals, Mr. DeLisle said, was an offer by his union to give up a 6 percent raise it had won first through binding arbitration on its contract, and then through a lawsuit in June after Mr. Schmoke sought to withhold the money due to budget constraints. The money from those raises for 2,000 firefighters and officers would have covered the $3 million in cuts that the city administration was seeking from the Fire Department, Mr. DeLisle said.
In exchange, the union sought a guarantee from the city that there would be no layoffs of firefighters for the next 18 months and settlement of all pending lawsuits on manning levels, vacation time and the wages and hours of paramedics.
The city, he said, was reluctant to give any guarantee on layoffs that was not contingent on there being no further change in state financial aid to Baltimore or worse economic downturns.
An alternative proposal backed by the union would have provided retirement incentives for senior firefighters, who receive the highest salaries, but likely also would have required some layoffs and the closing of six engine or truck companies, Mr. DeLisle said.
"In our minds, they've chosen the worst scenario they could have," Mr. DeLisle said.
Mr. DeLisle and the union lawyers said that in shutting down 11 companies, the city will demote 44 officers who will be reassigned into lower-paying firefighter positions.
The fire union president said he was not certain which companies will be taken out of service, and whether the cutbacks will result in the closing of any fire stations, many of which have both an engine and truck company.