The city will shutter one fire company and close four on a rotating basis, according to a proposal endorsed by Mayor Sheila Dixon Tuesday night in an abrupt change from her previous plan to close three companies permanently.
Truck Company 16 will close in mid-January, but an engine company and medic unit will continue to operate from the station in the West Baltimore community of Upton, the mayor said at a meeting with fire officials and City Council members.
The mayor said that after discussing the plan with Fire Chief James S. Clack, she decided to "minimize any closings" of fire stations. Cutting the two other companies would have meant closing their stations.
Council members urged the mayor to stop closing companies on a rotating basis, a measure that fire union leaders say puts firefighters and residents at risk.
Since July, five fire companies have been closed each day and night at the discretion of shift commanders and the firefighters assigned to them have been deployed elsewhere to minimize overtime costs. The city is facing record budget shortfalls as a result of falling revenue and a drop in state aid.
The closures have put residents and firefighters in dangerous situations, council members and union officials said.
"The rotating closures are really wreaking havoc out there," said Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, adding that firefighters are often sent into unfamiliar territory.
The firefighters "can't be asked to do more than what they're doing right now," said Councilman James Kraft.
If the truck company were closed, it would cost the city $3.5 million to end the rotating closures from January through June, the end of the budget year, Clack said.
Councilman Nicholas D'Adamo Jr. suggested that the city ask nonprofits to contribute the money to keep the fire companies open, a proposal that many council members endorsed.
The mayor said that she would discuss whether $3.5 million could be found in the budget with the head of the city's finance department.