Come June, Patrick P. Flynn will be allowed to pronounce fire like any self-respecting native Baltimorean.
"It's been difficult for me to get in front of those television cameras and say 'fire' correctly all these years," says Captain Flynn, who grew up on Durham Street in East Baltimore.
Captain Flynn is going to retire June 29, after 14 years as the public information officer for the Baltimore Fire Department and 41 years as a firefighter and officer.
"After that, I can wake up in the morning and say 'far' department all I want," he said yesterday at the agency's headquarters in the 400 block of E. Lexington St.
Captain Flynn, who earns $58,000 annually, is the second well-known figure to announce recently that he'll be leaving municipal service. Last month, Police Department spokesman Dennis Hill announced he had been informed by Commissioner Edward V. Woods that he was being fired.
Captain Flynn said his departure won't be acrimonious like Mr. Hill's. "The fire chief told me I could be here 100 years, but I think it's time to move on," he said.
The spokesman would not comment about reports that a major portion of the Fire Department's top command -- including Chief Peter J. O'Connor -- will be gone by summer's end.
"The only point I can address is that I see the morale problem in the department greater than any other time in my four decades here," Captain Flynn said. "There are the budget cuts, threatened layoffs, the young firefighters have been facing off against the older members.
"And you listen to the talk shows, it seems the public is criticizing us more and more."
Like Mr. Hill, Captain Flynn earned a solid reputation among members of the news media for his accessibility and his candor. Appearing at fire scenes day or night, Captain Flynn also was well-known to television news viewers who heard from him fresh accounts of tragedy or heroism.
"Because he is a firefighter, and not just a conduit for information, he gives us a better perspective on a story," says Larry Roberts, a news reporter for WBAL Radio.
To Captain Flynn, substance always was a more important concern than image-building. He paid close attention to promptly returning telephone calls from reporters. And when three daily newspapers were published in Baltimore, he stayed aware of their separate deadlines.
"People seemed to know me in uniform from the television," he said. But at a City Hall function during the administration of William Donald Schaefer, Captain Flynn received a real jolt.
"One of Schaefer's aides walked up to me -- I was wearing a business suit -- and asked me who I was," Captain Flynn said. "I introduced myself and the lady said, 'Oh sure.' But she didn't know me with clothes on."
His wife of 35 years, Regina, also got a laugh from that malaprop.
Captain Flynn and two of his brothers followed their father's footsteps into the Fire Department. Captain Flynn worked at engine companies in Fairfield, Hampden and Gardenville and was assigned as an aide to the chief in 1975.
He was appointed the department's first public information officer three years later.
"Every time they called me, and I heard that a firefighter was injured or killed, my stomach turned on my way to the scene. But when I got in front of the cameras and microphones, I had to be a professional," he said.
Among his many memories, one stands out. "I saw lots of people die tragically in this city and they all stay with you. But to me, the most tragic thing I saw in 41 years was my city in flames during the riots in 1968," Captain Flynn said. "For three nights, our firefighters moved in and fought those blazes, unlike fire departments in other cities at that time."
Captain Flynn and his wife have two grown children, Mary Nell DeLong, an insurance company executive in Doylestown, Pa., and Dr. Patrick A. Flynn, a physician on a fellowship studying pediatric cardiology at Cornell University.
Mrs. Flynn, who worked at the Loch Raven VA Hospital, and her husband put both their children through college and their son through medical school. "I made many a trip to the city credit union for those educations," Captain Flynn said.
On June 29, the captain will turn in his pager, fire department radio scanner and special departmental telephone he keeps by his bedside.
"Regina and I are going to take our first airplane ride when I retire," he said. "We're going to Las Vegas. . . ."