Baltimore Fire captain disciplined for TV interview about being ordered away from fire

A Baltimore Fire captain was suspended and transferred from his post on Wednesday after giving a television interview about his engine being directed away from the scene of a house fire on Friday, a department spokesman said.

Capt. John Parker, of Engine 31, which is housed in the 3100 block of Greenmount Avenue in Waverly, was transferred to Engine 6 in Oldtown, according to an internal Fire Department document obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

Chief Roman Clark, the department’s spokesman, confirmed the disciplinary move Wednesday.

“Captain Parker was charged with [violating] one of the Fire Department rules and regulations that does not allow members of the department to give interviews about the business of the department without prior approval of the Chief of Fire Department,” Clark said in an emailed statement.

Michael Campbell, head of the Baltimore Fire Officers Association Local 964, could not be reached to comment Wednesday. Parker was not at the Oldtown fire station Wednesday evening, and no phone number was listed for his address.

Engine 31 happened to be near the scene of the fire Friday, in the 1600 block of Chilton Street in Northeast Baltimore’s Coldstream Homestead Montebello neighborhood, and attempted to help, according to recorded audio posted to YouTube.

The fire department recently began using GPS technology — called Automatic Vehicle Location — to determine how to dispatch fire apparatus. Previously, engines, ladder trucks and other units responded to fires within their “box,” or geographical area of coverage.

After the incident became public, the department circulated an updated policy that allows battalion chiefs to authorize an additional unit to respond to fires if it happens to be near a blaze to which another unit is assigned by GPS.

In the interview Tuesday with Fox45, Parker criticized the new protocol.

“It’s increasingly frustrating,” he said. “That’s exactly what we’re here to do, and we also have to obey orders. If an order is given, you have to follow it.”

“When the opportunity arises and we’re right there, we don’t want to be turned back,” the captain told the TV station.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday that the city revised the policy to give more autonomy to commanders to make common-sense decisions, rather than rigidly sticking to what the GPS system dictates. She said the move to a GPS system is designed to improve response times.

"Technology certainly has its challenges, but I think ultimately it improves the response time and that's what we want," the mayor said. "Everybody needs to be trained on the process and there needs to be autonomy to make decisions in situations like that."

Of the new policy, she said, "I do know that it's been corrected and we're moving forward."

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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