Although the Baltimore firefighters union continued to warn the public this week about staffing shortages and shift changes that could lead to delayed response times, Baltimore Fire Department officials said they are keeping response times short while working to address the department’s reliance on overtime.

The International Association of Firefighters Local 734, which represents city firefighters, warned residents through social media that multiple firetrucks were out of service Wednesday and Thursday, causing delays in responses to nearby fires while staff were reassigned to other EMS units.

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But fire department spokeswoman Blair Adams said the department has maintained response times below the national average of 5 minutes.

The union warned residents Wednesday that Engine 13, based out of the station at 405 McMechen St. in Madison Park, was out of service after its members had been reassigned to a “critical alert” — another EMS in need of personnel.

Later that day on the other side of town, the union tweeted that Engine 51, based at 646 N. Highland Ave. in the Ellwood Park/Monument neighborhood, was out of service as members were also on a critical alert. Meanwhile, according to the union tweets, houses within blocks of the station were on fire.

Fire engines pump water to fight fires, while firetrucks are outfitted with ladders and other equipment.

Adams said other crews responded to the fires in place of those specific vehicles that were out of service.

“We send multiple units to one particular scene — it could have been the same thing if Engine 51 or 13 could have been on another call,” she said. “Because we know how to manage our resources we assign other units to these scenes.”

On Thursday, the union again warned residents that responses to a fire on Carey Street were delayed.

“Between the two fires and the critical medic there is 18 fire suppression pieces out of service,” the union tweeted. “Response times will be drastically affected.”

Adams said the first unit arrived on the scene of that fire within a minute of the initial call, and all other fire department vehicles that responded were there within four minutes.

Local 734 president Richard “Dickie” Altieri did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Mike Mancuso, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, which represents Baltimore’s rank-and-file police officers, issued a statement Monday saying it was “no surprise” that the fire department union resorted to social media to share public safety warnings. He expressed his own concerns about similar issues the police department faces — namely that the department is blamed for overtime costs caused by manpower shortages.

The fire department is paying overtime to fill about a third of its daily firefighter and medic shifts. By mid-March, the department already had used up the $11.2 million in its budget allotted for overtime pay, with three months left in the fiscal year.

Baltimore Fire Department using overtime to fill nearly one-third of shifts amid daily staffing shortages

The Baltimore Fire Department is paying overtime to fill nearly a third of its firefighter and medic shifts every day, blowing through its overtime budget in the process.

“Those substantial budget overages are being implemented just to fill the police cruisers and fire emergency vehicles at a bare minimum level of safety and efficiency,” Mansuco said in his statement.

This isn’t the first time the firefighters union has warned residents of equipment and staffing shortages. On New Year’s Day, the union warned that two units in Northwest Baltimore were out of service.

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January’s shortage prompted Mayor Catherine Pugh to promise the fire department an extra $1.2 million for a firetruck in her 2020 fiscal year budget. Additional equipment is on order, Adams said.

The department currently has 35 engines, 17 ladder trucks, 20 medic units and six ambulances in service, plus about nine engines, five trucks and 12 medic units on reserve, Adams said. Since January, the department has added two trucks to its fleet. A third is expected to come online in about a month.

“The time has come for the Mayor, along with Police Commissioner [Michael] Harrison, Chief [Niles] Ford and the members of the Baltimore City Council to acknowledge the concerns of both our unions and to act swiftly in order to address these issues,” Mancuso said in his statement. “Our lives, the lives of the good people of Baltimore City, and our visitors depend on it.”

Councilman Brandon Scott, who chairs the city council’s public safety committee, said the Baltimore City Council asked the fire department to present short-term, intermediate and long-term plans for alleviating the burden on its overtime budget. The department did not submit that plan before the last public safety committee hearing, he said.

Scott said he and Councilman Eric Costello, who chairs the council’s budget and appropriations committee, plan to notify the fire department Monday that its budget will not be approved this summer without plans that outline how it will overcome relying on overtime to staff open shifts.

“It’s unacceptable and irresponsible for them to think that they’re going to just continue to do overtime,” Scott said.

Adams said the department is working to comply with that request.

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