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Rawlings-Blake to request extension of embroiled fire chief's contract

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Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will request Wednesday that the city Board of Estimates extend the contract of Fire Chief James S. Clack and provide for incremental increases to his salary each year through 2018, according to the board's agenda posted online Monday.

The vote of confidence from the mayor, who is also a powerful member of the board, comes at a politically charged time for Clack, who is embroiled in controversy surrounding his implementation and support of Rawlings-Blake's decision to close three fire companies for budgetary reasons.

Two closures officially occurred Monday, while a third has been postponed until October.

Under the new contract, Clack would receive a raise in January from his current salary of $161,262 to $164,487, and incremental increases each January through 2018.

"The Mayor believes that extending his contract will allow him to continue to implement meaningful changes to the Department and improve public safety in the city," Ian Brennan, a mayoral spokesman, said in a statement.

Baltimore firefighters union president Rick Hoffman called the mayor's request "ludicrous" and heavily criticized Clack's receiving a raise at a time when companies are being closed for a lack of funds.

"It makes me sick to my stomach," Hoffman said.

Clack could not be reached for comment, but the mayor's office strongly defended his record.

Since taking over the fire department in May 2008, Clack has expanded recruitment efforts, modernized the department, pushed for grant funding for the city's free smoke detector program and reduced the number of fire fatalities in the city, Brennan said.

There were 17 fire fatalities in 2011, the fewest since 1938, Brennan said. There have been only two this year, he said.

Hoffman said it was factors other than Clack's leadership, including a cool summer and a warm winter in 2011, that contributed to the low number of deaths.

Clack worked for the city without a contract from 2008 — when he took over the department after the retirement of Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. — until 2010.

In June 2010, Clack was one of seven fire chiefs nominated by the International Association of Fire Chiefs to head the U.S. Fire Administration.

In August 2010, the city's spending board approved an initial contract paying him a salary of $158,100.

In the reasoning for the amendment request included in the board's posted agenda, the mayor's office wrote that under Clack's leadership, the department has gained "two Medic Assist Cars, has implemented the Operation Care Program and is moving the Department to a new Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) System."

It noted a 44 percent decrease in fire-related deaths and a 50 percent decrease in overtime costs in 2009.

It did not note the fire company closures or the budgetary issues that led to them.

krector@baltsun.com

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