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Chief Roman Clark said that the department is still investigating an incident that President Richard "Dickie" Altieri II of IAFF Local 734 claimed showed the new policy's limits.
Chief Roman Clark said that the department is still investigating an incident that President Richard "Dickie" Altieri II of IAFF Local 734 claimed showed the new policy's limits. (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox)

The Baltimore City Fire Department’s (BCFD) new response reduction policy, which lowers the number of vehicles and battalion chiefs responding to initial fire alarms, went into effect on Sunday, September 1. Barely a day passed before an incident that the city’s rank-and-file firefighters’ union said shows the policy’s critical weaknesses. Department spokesperson Chief Roman Clark said the incident is being looked into.

A statement from Richard “Dickie” Altieri II, president of of the International Association of Firefighters Local 734, described an incident that happened Sunday evening, in which a 911 caller said that someone was trapped inside of a burning building. The call was designated a “Local Alarm,” Altieri wrote, and 17 firefighters responded to the scene instead of the previous standard of 30.

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“Our firefighters made entry into the structure without having the proper resources in place due to this new policy,” the statement read. “Incidents involving entrapment requires additional personnel to facilitate rescuing victims, putting out the fire, and to provide emergency medical care. There is also a need to have more units on scene to provide backup for the safety of our firefighters.”

The rescued individual allegedly survived despite being “severely injured.” “We hope that the Fire Department Administration will see that despite less than 24 hours into this new policy in effect, it has already demonstrated that this new policy is a dangerous practice and needs to stop now,” Altieri wrote.

Please below for the Press Release on behalf of Local 734 This evening, there was an incident involving our latest...

Posted by Baltimore Firefighters Local 734 on Sunday, September 1, 2019

Altieri told The Baltimore Sun on Monday that under the previous policy, this call would have been met with more personnel that could better address the issue of someone being trapped. For instance, a “rapid intervention team" can intervene if something happens to firefighters already inside of a burning building; without that in place, Altieri said, the firefighters made a call to take action and save a life despite the risks.

“[The situation] put them in greater danger than necessary," he said, adding that he hopes to meet with the BCFD administration and the mayor’s office to discuss concerns soon.

“The unions are not here to fight the administration and city,” he said. “Well, we are, but we’re here also to work with them to make sure that our members are protected as much as the citizens of Baltimore.”

The new policy brings the standard response to an initial alarm down from five engines, two trucks and two battalion chiefs to three engines, one truck and one battalion chief. Fire Chief Niles R. Ford said that the policy will free units up to respond to other calls, especially the emergency medical services (EMS) requests that the department increasingly receives. The union and other early critics said the new policy risks putting both firefighters and citizens in increased danger.

Both Altieri and Department spokesperson Chief Roman Clark confirmed reports the incident took place on the 2200 block of Booth Street. Clark also told The Sun that the department will look into this incident on Tuesday.

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