Political fire at Sparrows Point

Station closure: County plan doesn't seem to harm Beth Steel, which long ago relinquished control.

May 04, 1999

NORMALLY, when people, companies or institutions relinquish control over property, they lose the right to dictate how it will be used in the future. That's one reason Baltimore County's plan to close a fire station based at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant is justified even though the company would prefer it to remain open.

The steelmaker is annoyed that Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger wants to transfer 40 firefighters and apparatus from the Sparrows Point Fire Station to other firehouses. The county intends to maintain round-the-clock paramedic coverage on site while other nearby stations provide fire coverage, but the company contends removing firefighters threatens its 8,500 workers.

This is not a matter of jeopardizing safety at a large, long-standing industrial concern. Rather, the company in 1988 turned over 400 acres to the county in exchange for $3 million in annual savings in utility tax forgiveness and the public takeover of its costly 50-man firefighting operation, saving the company millions more. Baltimore County made no commitment to operate the station in perpetuity.

For the past 11 years, the station has served Bethlehem Steel almost exclusively. This may have misled the company into believing operations would go unchanged. But the county reports that the number of engine calls at Sparrows Point, 393 last year, is far less than at other stations, some of which handle five times as many. By transferring staff and equipment where they're needed more, the county will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime. The Sparrows Point building also requires $1.9 million in repairs.

With five stations less than five minutes away and a full-time paramedic team on site, safety at Sparrows Point won't be compromised. If Bethlehem Steel believes this level of service is inadequate, it has the option to re-establish its own firefighting force.

Pub Date: 5/04/99

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