City Seeks Fire Funds

Nonprofit Donations Among Ideas Discussed After Deadly Blaze

December 11, 2009|By Julie Scharper and Brent Jones | Julie Scharper and Brent Jones , julie.scharper@baltsun.com and brent.jones@baltsun.com

City officials scrambled Thursday to find the money needed to halt the rolling closures of fire companies, a day after a fire claimed the life of a man who lived six blocks from a mothballed firetruck.

Among the ideas City Council members discussed at a midday work session: seeking donations from nonprofit organizations, cutting other expenses and asking firefighters to donate leave time.

It would cost $3.5 million to stop the daily closures of four fire companies until the end of June, Fire Chief James S. Clack said.

Sam Davis, 76, died after the fire in his home in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Rosemont. His daughter, Fran Wilder, 53, remains hospitalized with injuries suffered in the fire. Samuel C. Davis, an executive in the Baltimore Sun's newsroom, is the son of Davis and brother of Wilder. His 76-year-old mother escaped the house without injury.

Since July, shift commanders have chosen five units to close each day in an effort to shave overtime costs from the department's budget. One company is slated to close permanently next month, with its members moved to other units, which would allow for fewer daily rolling closures.

Several council members said that they would like to approach the area's large hospitals for money. However, Mayor Sheila Dixon should "lead the charge," said Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.

Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young asked whether money could be taken from the city's emergency management office, but the chief said that office was primarily funded by federal and state grants.

Other council members noted that about a quarter of firefighters are on vacation or paid leave each day, and asked whether they could donate time to the department. The fire unions recently conceded to furlough days and pay reductions in an effort to save $2.9 million.

The department's $154 million budget this year is $4 million lower than last year. When the rolling closures were introduced over the summer, it was said that they would save $3 million.

Also yesterday, Clack said that if the truck had been in operation, it might not have arrived at the fatal fire earlier than other units because it would have been sent to the incorrect address after a garbled initial call. That was a change from his initial assessment of the fire response.

If units had gone to the right address initially, the closure of the truck "would have affected our response time," he said.

About 100 firefighters and emergency medical workers went door to door in West Baltimore on Thursday afternoon, handing out pamphlets urging residents to keep Truck 16 - the company slated to close in January - open.

Firefighters at the station said the house was closed for three years beginning in 1994 but was reopened because of a high volume of calls from the neighborhood.

The station closes about two days each week for rotating closures and the firefighters are shifted to other areas, according to a firefighter there who asked that his name not be published because he was not authorized to speak with the news media.

"It's hard because all of my gear is here. So you have to carry everything around," he said. "If they send me someplace like downtown, I don't know those streets as well."

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