Ninety-five percent of the city firefighters who participated in a no-confidence vote on Baltimore's fire chief disapprove of his leadership, union officials announced yesterday.
Union leaders mailed paper ballots to 1,629 of their members, and said that 53 percent responded. Ninety-five percent - or 820 - of those who voted supported the no-confidence measure, officials said.
"In order to create the type of morale problem that we have takes effort," said Capt. Stephan G. Fugate, president of the fire officers union at a news conference where the results were announced. "It doesn't happen overnight."
Richard G. Schluderberg, president of the Baltimore Firefighters Union, called the results "significant" and said: "This is what we believe to be the true pulse and the true feeling of the rank and file within the department."
Rick Binetti, a Fire Department spokesman, acknowledged that the vote represents "a significant number," but he said it would not stop Chief William J. Goodwin from making changes.
"It is not going to change the reality that the department needs to change to meet the needs of today's world," Binetti said.
The job description of a firefighter has changed significantly in the post 9/11 era, he said, with more of a focus on hazardous materials and specialized training. Fire departments, including Baltimore's, have put more resources into emergency medical services over the past decade.
But yesterday, both union leaders said they do not believe Goodwin is the person to lead them into a new age.
A representative from the unions' national organization, Kevin B. O'Conner, echoed that sentiment. "Chief Goodwin is attempting to lead. He's followed a path that has led to chaos and decline," O'Conner said.
The Fire Department has been at odds with its two unions for years, but the tensions escalated in February after a cadet died from injuries suffered in a training exercise that went horribly wrong. The department admitted that 36 national safety standards were not followed during the fatal training fire.
Mayor Sheila Dixon fired the head of the training academy, and Goodwin beefed up the department's safety office. Goodwin announced recently that the department's culture needs to change to focus more on safety.
Dixon's spokesman, Anthony McCarthy, said that the mayor is surprised that the changes are being met with resistance.
"I think that has added to the dissatisfaction that some members of the force have with Goodwin," McCarthy said. "The mayor is confident that the department is moving in the right direction in this regard."
Previous stories about problems in the Baltimore City Fire Department at baltimoresun.com/recruit