Fire Department overtime tab questioned by Schmoke, council Mayor hires consultant to examine allocation of $2 million budget

September 29, 1996|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The city Fire Department's decision to close a fire station in West Baltimore has Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and some council members demanding to know why the department has already spent its entire $2 million overtime budget.

"The mayor has hired a consultant to examine the allocation of overtime and advise the Fire Department on other management issues," Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's press secretary, said yesterday.

City Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, whose 4th District includes part of the Bolton Hill area that will be most effected by the closing of the station at 401 W. North Ave., said she approved of the mayor's action.

"We need to look at the issues that caused the fiscal problems the Fire Department is now facing," she said.

"The way the system is set up currently they're always going to be in this situation," Dixon added, citing the city's contractual obligation to give firefighters between 12 and 27 days vacation each year. "When firefighters go on vacation, the city is forced to pay others overtime to fill in the gaps in staffing."

Bill Taylor, president of the city firefighters' union, disagrees. He said the department was forced to pay firefighters overtime because the city has not hired firefighters when they are needed.

"Our vacation schedule has not changed since 1979," said Taylor, president of Firefighters Union, Local 734. "The real problem is the fact that the city doesn't fill vacancies."

Taylor said that several years ago the union negotiated a shorter workweek with the understanding that 110 additional firefighters would be hired to make up the difference. "They never hired a single person," he said.

According to Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman, the city is training 28 recruits who are scheduled to graduate as firefighters in mid-November.

"They will be assigned to stations throughout the city," Torres said. Another class of about 50 recruits will be trained immediately after the 28 graduate. He was not sure when they would be finished with their training.

First District Councilwoman Lois Garey said the new firefighters will help ease the department's staffing problems. However, she added that more must be done to solve the department's fiscal woes.

"The department has to do better at collecting ambulance fees," she said.

Last year, the Fire Department collected only $950,000 of the $6.9 million it was owed for transporting patients.

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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