"If we see a gap in our coverage, we should cover it, and that's what we're trying to do," Segal said.

In addition to its special operations duties, the Locust Point station will retain its truck and medic units and continue to fight fires in its coverage area, said Moore, who oversees the department's training academy. The station's engine will be upgraded to a squad unit, which can handle vehicle extractions.

While the dive team remains out of service for the time being, Jeff Dickinson, a firefighter/paramedic and a member of the team for about 20 years, said members are happy that department leaders took the December incident seriously and are providing new resources.

"It's unprecedented what we're going for here," Dickinson said, noting $20,000 in grant funding has been slated for new dive equipment. "We're raising the bar on ourselves."

The first round of training got under way in early September, and all those stationed at Locust Point have been told they will have to train to become part of the Special Operations Command or find a new station to call home.

Among the current Locust Point members, Moore said that "everybody doesn't want to hang off a rope, and everybody definitely doesn't want to dive in the harbor." But there will be other jobs to be filled in the command, he said.

Hoffman and Campbell questioned the selection of the Locust Point station as the new command center. The station is one of the city's least busy, is in a nice neighborhood, is just one level with no stairs and being stationed there has been a pre-retirement reward for older members, Hoffman said.

"A guy in [Special Operations] is a guy that's in shape, is able to run — I want to say is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound — and you have very few of that down in the Locust Point station," Hoffman said. "I'll be honest, the guys are still able to do a good job, they're still good firemen, but they have some years under their belts."

Moore said when he was looking for a station for the new command center, Locust Point stood out for a number of reasons. He wanted a station that wasn't very busy and could be better used. He also wanted a station close to water to facilitate coordination with fire boats, and close to downtown to ease coverage during big events at the Inner Harbor.

Segal said the transition will be difficult for some members but worth it for the department. The "mile-high picture" of the program, he said, can't just be about the Fire Department and its members.

"We've really got to think about the end result," he said. "What's best for the community?"

krector@baltsun.com

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