Layoffs,cutbacks aimed at fire units 11 city fire companies, 252 firefighters may get ax.

November 08, 1991|By Laura Lippman and Joe Nawrozki | Laura Lippman and Joe Nawrozki,Evening Sun Staff

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke could announce today the shutdown of 11 fire engine and fire truck companies and the layoff of 252 firefighters as part of a plan to cut $3 million from the fire department's budget.

Jeffrey A. DeLisle, president of Baltimore Fire Fighters Local 734, said the city told the union of the closings and layoffs yesterday.

"It's going to get real scary this winter," said DeLisle.

Clinton R. Coleman, spokesman for Schmoke, declined comment yesterday on DeLisle's recounting of day-long talks with the city. He said only that the mayor planned to make an announcement today.

The layoffs would be the first time on-line firefighters would be released in the 132-year history of the Baltimore Fire Department, Capt. Patrick Flynn, a department spokesman, said today.

As another piece of the cutbacks needed to offset a cut in state aid, Baltimore school nurses may keep their jobs, but thousands of the city's poor children may have trouble getting immunizations and other preventive services as the city moves to cut almost one-third of the grants that underwrite five clinics that serve uninsured youngsters.

Schmoke was expected to announce the reductions today as part of a $25 million package of cuts forced by a reduction in state aid. The state cut aid to local governments in an effort to balance its own budget.

The layoffs, which will affect 17.8 percent of the fire department employees below the rank of officer, are expected to take effect Dec. 6, DeLisle said.

The impact of the cuts will not affect paramedics, who make up 144 of the union's 1,411 members, DeLisle said.

City officials turned down several other proposals, including one in which union members would give up a 6 percent raise, he said. The union fought hard for the raise, winning it through binding arbitration and then through a lawsuit after Schmoke tried to withhold the money.

Delisle said forfeiting the raise for 2,000 firefighters and officers would have covered the $3 million in cuts city officials want from the fire department.

The shutting down of the 11 companies will force the demotion of 44 officers who will be reassigned into lower-paying positions. DeLisle said he did not know which companies would be affected and whether the cutbacks will force the closing of any fire stations.

DeLisle added the city was reluctant to give any assurances about further layoffs due to the state's worsening financial situation and the loss of state aid.

The union had offered an alternative that would have provided retirement incentives for senior firefighters, the closing of six engine or truck companies and some layoffs. The city also turned down that proposal, said DeLisle.

Part of the overall cutback plan will severely impact health clinics. "The way it was explained to me is that the squeaky wheel got the grease," said Dr. Virginia Keane, medical director for the children and youth clinic at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Keane and Dr. Archie Golden, who heads a private clinic at Francis Scott Key Medical Center, said yesterday they had been told unofficially about the proposed cuts. The City Health Department had no comment.

Also affected are a clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital; the Greater Baltimore Medical Center's Community and Family Health Center in East Baltimore; and Baltimore Medical Systems Inc.

A sixth pediatric clinic, the Druid Hill Center, which relies completely upon city funds, will not be affected.

About 30,000 children use these clinics each year. Half have Medicaid or state Medical Assistance, but the others are uninsured or have private insurance that does not cover "wellness" services such as immunizations, annual physicals or diagnostic screenings, according to Advocates for Children and Youth Inc.

If the cuts take place as expected, Golden said, clinics could be

forced to drop 30 percent of their 15,000 uninsured patients.

Other options include cutting services to the uninsured, raising co-payments or laying off staff, Keane said.

The $253,000 slated to be cut represents only 1 percent of the funds the city must cut. Overall, the City Health Department must come up with $6 million in spending reductions.

But Susan P. Leviton, president of Advocates for Children and YouthInc., described the youth clinic cuts as shortsighted action that will end up "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

"We've just gotten this infant mortality grant," she said, referring to a multimillion-dollar federal grant that will underwrite a five-year program intended to cut the city's infant death rate by half. "So now we're going to have healthy babies, but sick kids."

Keane said her funds have plummeted over the last three years. In fiscal year 1990, she said, the program received $544,000. That money was cut to $377,00 and then further sliced to $292,000 this year.

Under the most recently proposed proposed plan, she said, the clinic will lose another $106,000.

The other cuts are: Francis Scott Key, $30,506 out of a $122,024 grant; Hopkins, $38,856 out of $155,000; Baltimore Medical Systems, $25,000 out of $100,000; and Greater Baltimore Medical Center, $33,506 from $134,024.

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