Fire Dept. may cut shift-filling overtime

December 06, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

The Baltimore City Fire Department is considering reducing its budget next year by ending the practice of filling vacant shifts by paying overtime, meaning that some truck or engine companies could be shut down on days with staff shortages, Fire Chief James S. Clack said yesterday.

The proposed policy, known as "rotating company closures," could save the department $5.5 million in overtime expenditures, Clack said. Mayor Sheila Dixon directed all city agencies last month to reduce their budgets to save $65 million next year. The Fire Department must shave about $6.5 million.

Clack said the cuts are deep and would mean making sacrifices greater then "cutting paper clips and pencils."

"We will just operate with the people we have each day," he said, cautioning that he is still studying the budget and will present final ideas to Dixon on Dec. 15.

Union leaders were split yesterday on what the policy could mean. "Rotating closures are a prelude to permanent closures, and all you are doing is exacerbating the pain," said Capt. Stephan G. Fugate, president of the fire officers union.

Bob Sledgeski, president of the firefighters' union, had a more optimistic view, saying the new policy would be preferable to shuttering companies. "Once you close something, you never open it back up," Sledgeski said. "There is hope that when the economy gets better, you can stabilize what you have."

Firefighting crews work four shifts a day, with 292 firefighters on duty at a time. To fill vacancies now, the department calls in an off-duty worker and pays him or her overtime.

Clack said that the new arrangement would be similar to how the city's Police Department works, redeploying officers based on a given day's staffing. "That would mean some days we will have more units available then other days," Clack said.

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