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Baltimore fire department cuts: Saving lives vs. saving dollars

What if there was a fire at your house, and nobody came? That may sound ridiculous — but it's not.

The decision, in the wake of the recent monumental storms, to keep open temporarily those fire companies slated for permanent closure to aid in storm cleanup and heat-related rescues is an admission that these companies are needed.

Baltimore City Fire Chief James Clack went back on his plan to close companies because of an unexpected emergency situation. What emergency can ever be predicted? What will Baltimore do during the next emergency without these companies, and how does that affect your safety?

Chief Clack's plan to close three of the busiest companies in one of the busiest fire departments in the country is misguided and not without consequence. It is due to his lack of experience in any department of a similar size to Baltimore's that our city's residents will be placed, unnecessarily, in harm's way.

Chief Clack has only been in Baltimore for four years and in that time will be responsible for the permanent closing of four fire companies. He is from a fire department in a medium-size Midwestern city whose work force is one-fourth the size of the Baltimore City Fire Department, and his background is primarily in EMS. We believe Chief Clack came here with the intention of cutting your fire department by 25 percent, which jeopardizes the safety of not only the men and women of the department but the citizens of Baltimore. Our men and women have their hands full at all times.

A glance at the news recently tells of the emergencies to which the men and women of the Baltimore City Fire Department have been called to respond. In the last six weeks, we have responded to the chilling incident in which an infant was stabbed; we pulled three young people from almost certain death on Saratoga Street; we fought a five-alarm fire downtown in which all of the companies slated for permanent closure responded; we were tragically unable to reach an elderly man in Southeast Baltimore in time; and most recently, we have been aiding in the aftermath of massive storms and power outages by responding to more than 300 storm-related calls, which stretched the department's resources.

In a single 24-hour period during the time the companies were slated to have been closed, the crews of those companies ran more than 50 calls. How can Chief Clack reasonably plan to distribute these calls among other fire companies without compromising response times and safety?

The storms sent a powerful message that Baltimore will not be adequately prepared for the next emergency if we close these fire companies and that you cannot predict when or where the next incident will occur. During busy times, the city has relied on assistance from surrounding counties. But the other counties had their own problems during the storms and could not provide the resources Baltimore begged for. The fact that we have to ask for help plainly shows that we don't have enough resources now. So why are we cutting more?

The lives of firefighters cannot and should not be subject to considerations of cost savings or budget accommodations. The men and women of the Baltimore City Fire Department are your last line of defense when it comes to lives saved and lives and property protected. We will never forgo our responsibility to you, the citizens of Baltimore. And we now ask you to not forgo your responsibility and to voice your opposition to the permanent closing of three fire companies.

Rick Hoffman is president of Baltimore Fire Fighters IAFF, Local 734. His email is rick6truck@gmail.com. Michael Campbell is president of Baltimore Fire Officers IAFF, Local 964. His email is capttain16@hotmail.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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