Firefighter challenge heard

Arbitrator weighs life-saving skills rule

December 21, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun reporter

A Baltimore firefighter is challenging a department rule that all firefighters maintain Advanced Life Support certification, taking his case before a federal arbitrator yesterday.

The closed-door hearing involving Ryan Wenger, an emergency-vehicle driver, centered on whether firefighters who obtain a higher rank should have to remain certified in advanced-level life saving skills, a department policy that has drawn the ire of the city firefighters unions. Wenger and the head of one of Baltimore's fire unions say firefighters who become officers or drivers have added responsibilities during emergency medical calls and should not have to focus on medical care.

But Fire Department officials say they want all firefighters who arrive at the scene of an emergency to be able to perform the advanced-level skills, such as administering intravenous drugs and other medication.

The arbitrator is expected to rule in the next 45 days.

Every sworn member of the department is required to keep up at least a basic level of emergency medical services certification. Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. said the department has required all members to obtain a higher level since 1997. Firefighters must pass a test every two years to remain certified.

Stephen G. Fugate, head of the city fire officers union and a 33-year veteran of the department, said about one-third of the department's 1,700 uniformed workers are ALS-certified. Fugate estimated that about 60 of the 325 officers have ALS certification.

Fugate said he did not think certification for the entire department was possible.

"The department is having quite a difficult time in maintaining ALS certification for all its members," Fugate said. "It's time intensive and expensive. To presume we can maintain on an on-going basis an entire department is unrealistic."

Union officials and Fire Department administrators gave testimony yesterday during the five- hour hearing at the city's Labor Commission office. The union filed a grievance with the city Labor Commission last year over the issue but lost.

Wenger, a 10-year veteran, did not testify. He was the supervisor when fire cadet Racheal M. Wilson died in February during a training exercise inside a vacant rowhouse on South Calverton Road.

A report by the mayor's office said Wenger, 32, was not qualified to instruct others, and that he went into the burning house without safety equipment and a radio, followed a dangerous order to take the recruits above a fire and left ahead of his recruits.

Fire Department officials say they do not believe Wenger's involvement in the earlier incident has anything to do with his grievance.

"I don't understand why we're in arbitration for something that could provide great services to people in the city," Goodwin said. "It would be different if I was asking you to get it and you don't have it. But you have it and no longer want to provide that to the citizens? Why would you do that?"

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