Five Baltimore County firefighters were told they could take off work Sunday when the Fullerton station's ladder truck sprung a leak and left the night shift ladder crew with no equipment.
Without any equipment in reserve, the Fullerton station has been without a 100-foot ladder truck since then. A 1966 fire engine equipped with a 35-foot extension ladder was brought in Monday afternoon as a temporary replacement and the crew returned to work. Two fire engines remained on hand at the station the firefighters on those crews stayed on duty Sunday.
The 100-foot ladder trucks are used mainly for rescue and engines are used to fight fires.
"This is a consistent problem for Baltimore County firefighters," said Kevin B. O'Connor, president of Fire Fighters Union Local 1311. "Basically, our fire equipment is aging very rapidly so that all the reserve fleet is being utilized. The equipment is just old and dilapidated.
"The situation got so bad in Fullerton that they had to ask their crew to go home because they had no equipment to use. This has never happened before where a crew had to be sent home."
The five Fullerton firefighters, who were given the option to take holiday or vacation time, were not available for comment.
Battalion Chief Patrick Kelly, a Fire Department spokesman, denied the men were ordered to go home.
"They weren't forced to go home," Chief Kelly said. "They were asked if they wanted to take that option."
He said the policy of the department is not to summarily remove firefighters from duty.
"We don't send people home," he said "We utilized everyone that we could. A couple of people were sent to two other stations that needed help, but there were some people who decided to take that time off."
Not including volunteer stations, 22 engine companies and eight ladder companies serve the county. At the Fullerton and Sparrows Point ladder companies, fire engines are being used as replacements for ladder trucks.
In the past, Halethorpe and Towson have gone without ladder trucks when their equipment broke down, said Michael Day, vice president of the firefighters union.
"If a large fire erupts and they need to rescue someone from up high, that would be a problem," Mr. Day said.
However, Chief Kelly said if a large fire were to break out, the closest ladder truck would be called to the scene right away.
Firefighters have been complaining about "old, dilapidated equipment" for some time, Mr. O'Connor said. Because of budget cutbacks, no new equipment was bought for four years, he said.
Chief Kelly said the county recently purchased five new ladder trucks and seven new fire engines.
"The last couple budgets have been tough on us," he said. "It's been a couple years since we've bought new equipment and we've been getting in worse and worse shape, but this is the largest purchase we've ever made. As soon as the new equipment comes in, we'll refurbish the old equipment and be back on track again."
"It's a Band-Aid solution to a long-term problem," Mr. O'Connor said.