Mr. Goodwin's challenge

Transition: City's next fire chief must bring innovations, economies to a demoralized department.

February 21, 2002

AS A third-generation firefighter, William J. Goodwin Jr. exudes enthusiasm toward his hometown's 1,700-member Fire Department. This is good. Because he has to reinvent it.

"What this department needs is a change agent," Mayor Martin O'Malley said Tuesday after tapping the 46-year-old veteran as Baltimore's new fire chief.

When Chief Herman Williams Jr. retired a year ago, the O'Malley administration wanted to find another African-American for the post. But after two national searches failed, the focus shifted to Mr. Goodwin, who is not black but has outstanding credentials.

This is no small consideration, since race is an everyday issue in the department. Institutional discrimination may be a thing of the past, but new tensions have surfaced. Black firefighters feel they are losing ground in the department because few African-Americans choose to enter the profession.

Mr. Goodwin must confront such diversity and promotion concerns squarely and without delay.

In the wake of September's terrorist attacks, he also must restructure the department so that it can better handle non-fire emergencies in coordination with police.

Although two-thirds of the 115,000 annual calls to the Fire Department are for medical emergencies, the department has only 22 medical units in a fleet that includes 36 engines and 18 trucks.

To correct the imbalance, the department is adding advanced life-support equipment to all of its units. These enhancements cannot come soon enough.

Mr. Goodwin will be facing a host of issues ranging from rampant overtime costs to scheduling controversies.

His varied background -- he has done everything from underwater rescues to overseeing training -- will no doubt stand him in good stead as he tackles the challenges ahead.

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