New top fire deputies know each other well

Chief promotes veterans who joined on same day, served in same station

March 12, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. named as his top deputies yesterday two veteran city firefighters who joined the department the same day and worked together recently in the city's busiest firehouses.

The promotions mark the first moves made by Goodwin to reshape the department since his appointment by Mayor Martin O'Malley last month. A confirmation hearing on Goodwin's appointment is scheduled today before the City Council.

The new deputies - 29-year veterans - are Battalion Chiefs Antonio R. Thomas and Michael A. Moritz, both acting assistant chiefs since late last month.

Thomas becomes assistant chief of administration, overseeing human resources, budgeting and labor relations. Moritz is assistant chief of operations and will oversee the day-to-day work of the city's 1,319 firefighters and paramedics.

They leapfrog four shift commanders in the promotions. Goodwin said he chose them because they are "quality, proven leaders."

"They possess the education and experience necessary to work with me to take the department where it needs to go," he said.

The chief has said he hopes to boost department morale, open it up to the public, set up better educational programs and boost minority recruitment.

Thomas and Moritz joined the Fire Department the same day in 1973 and were most recently stationed in the city's busiest section of town - the 3rd Battalion, serving West and Southwest Baltimore. There, they worked with Goodwin several years ago and often talked over coffee about how they would change the department.

"We always had the conversation about what we would do if we were in charge," Goodwin said.

Thomas, 51, joined the department on a dare from a co-worker at an infirmary in Sparrows Point. One of the department's few black firefighters at the time, Thomas said, he had a tough time climbing the ranks but enjoyed the job. "I pulled myself up by my bootstraps."

Thomas, who grew up in East Baltimore, credited his father with his success. The fire officer was 13 when his father gave him a copy of Manchild in the Promised Land, about a black man's rise from the tough streets of Harlem to Howard University and Rutgers University Law School.

"He told me I could survive the mean streets of East Baltimore."

Thomas recently gave the same book to his son, Zachary, 13.

Thomas was promoted to lieutenant in 1989, captain in 1995 and battalion chief in 1998.

Moritz, 48, took a more traditional path into the fire service - his father was a 31-year veteran of the department, and as a child, Moritz often visited his firehouse in the 1900 block of Hollins St.

Moritz quickly entered the leadership ranks, becoming a lieutenant in 1977, captain in 1979 and battalion chief in 1984. He joined the 3rd Battalion in 1991.

Moritz's two sons, Jonathan, 20, and Matthew, 23, are paramedics in the New York City Fire Department and worked at Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

"My philosophy is to get to the scene, put the fire out, and let's all be able to go home at the end of the day," Moritz said.

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