Mayor Catherine Pugh has promised the Fire Department an extra $1.2 million firetruck in her 2020 fiscal year budget, the department said Thursday, after the firefighters union warned that two out-of-service trucks in Northwest Baltimore could affect response times.
Both of the out-of-service trucks have been repaired and placed back into service, and two new ones, purchased in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, are set to join the fleet next Friday, said Blair Skinner, a Fire Department spokeswoman.
A third truck, ordered in the 2019 fiscal year, is due to arrive in February and go into service a few months later, Skinner said.
Baltimore did not order any new firetrucks from 2009 until 2011, delaying the costs of updating its fleet, according to the Fire Department and the International Firefighters Association Local 734, the union representing rank-and-file firefighters and paramedics.
The department has 17 firetrucks, and none of the 11 reserve trucks were available to back up the two out-of-service ones, based at 3906 Liberty Heights Ave. and 5500 Reisterstown Road, during the time they were offline, officials said. Instead, a company was moved from 1229 Bush St. in Southwest Baltimore to cover the Liberty Heights area.
IAFF Local 734 President Richard “Dickie” Altieri said the city is seeing a “ripple effect” from repeatedly “pushing problems back another year.”
“It’s got to be consistent,” Altieri said. “You need a minimum of four engines, two trucks, and four medic units [each year]. You can’t deviate from the bare minimum.”
After the union warned, in a “PUBLIC SAFETY ANNOUNCEMENT” on Twitter on Tuesday, that a “lack of properly operating trucks” could lead to delay in response times, Pugh met with Fire Chief Niles R. Ford on Wednesday and authorized him to order a fourth truck in the 2020 fiscal year budget, Skinner said.
Altieri, who met with Pugh on Thursday to discuss the situation, said the mayor promised a total of five trucks — but he did not know when each might be ordered. Pugh also asked the union to help look for used firetrucks the city could purchase, the union president said.
Any new vehicle purchases would have to be approved by the Board of Estimates, the city’s spending panel. A spokesman for the mayor did not respond to a request to clarify the number of trucks being ordered and when. Skinner said she was only aware of the four, and did not know the details of Altieri’s talk with Pugh on Thursday.
“I’m not privy to the conversations the union president had with the mayor,” Skinner said.
Altieri said the aging fleet, the thousands of calls each vehicle responds to per year, and the poor condition of city streets contribute to constant breakdowns, which he said causes situations like this week’s, in which not enough reserve trucks are available to go around.
“We have to work on a realistic replacement plan,” Altieri said. “I have a plan that I would like to go to: four engines every year.”
Skinner, who said response times were not affected by temporarily relocating the Southwest Baltimore fire company to the northwest side of the city, said the Fire Department has adequate resources, but is always happy to accept more.
“Who wouldn’t want more than enough resources?” she asked.
Altieri called his meeting with Pugh “optimistic and positive,” and said he appreciated the mayor’s open-and-honest approach to the problem.
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“We’re gonna get some of the stuff we need,” he said. “If we don’t have proper equipment we need to do it, the job doesn’t get done.”