Schmoke seeks to demote fire officers to save on pay


Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has proposed demoting as many as 18 captains and 8 lieutenants in the Baltimore Fire Department in an effort to save money on their salaries.

The demotions, which the administration is calling a reorganization of the Fire Department command structure, are part of an effort to save $1.2 million from the Fire Department budget in the coming fiscal year.

"Management is making a decision that we don't need a captain on every shift on every piece of combined equipment," said the city's budget chief, Edward J. Gallagher. "A lieutenant will do."

The demotions would save the city about $220,000 per year. Mr. Gallagher said all 26 officers would not necessarily be demoted when the budget takes effect July 1. Some could hold onto their rank by moving into slots of equal rank vacated by retirements.

Still, the administration plan, included in the budget proposal approved by the Board of Estimates last month and sent to the City Council, has upset fire union officials and some council members.

"I don't like it," said Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, who is chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee. "People have earned these ranks and they deserve the ranks they've earned. The city has to save money, but you have to reward people for accomplishment."

"It's demoralizing to the whole department to have a series of demotions based on finances," said Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

The action would reduce the number of captains in the department from 91 to 73. At the same time, it would increase the number of lower-paid lieutenants to accommodate those demoted captains.

The change in salaries could be significant. Captains earn between $33,694 and $41,552. Lieutenants earn between $30,060 and $36,670.

The demotions would effect captains who work on the city's six largest pieces of fire equipment, known as aerial towers.

Fire administrators, ordered by the mayor to pare costs without reducing the number of men who ride the trucks, have decided that the towers can operate just as well with one captain and three lieutenants. Each aerial tower is now staffed with four captains.

The number of Fire Department personnel at the rank of firefighter would remain the same at 996. But Mr. Schmoke has angered the rank and file also by freezing pay raises awarded the fire union in an arbitration, and union officials are planning to go to court.

The Fire Department, along with the Police Department and the schools, was an agency that Mr. Schmoke has said would be the last to suffer budget cuts as the city struggles to cope with an increasingly gloomy fiscal outlook.

Mr. Gallagher sought to downplay the overall impact of the Fire Department restructuring. He said many of the lieutenants who might face demotion could hold their ranks by taking the jobs of other lieutenants who retire.

But it is doubtful the captains will be so lucky. Mr. Gallagher said he does not believe there are any captain's vacancies open for them to fill when the plan takes effect.

The proposed demotions have not gone down well with officials of the group representing fire officers.

"This is something completely new to the Fire Department," said John Seiss, president of the Fire Officers Association, which represents the city's 420 fire officers. "Usually the city tries to cut the fire budget by using attrition methods. I've seen demotions in other city departments, but emergency services are given special consideration."

"It's a big hit in salary and motivation," he said. "There's not going to be much incentive for a person to study and advance himself through the department if he sees this kind of thing happening."

The association has been meeting with administration officials and members of the City Council to find other ways of cutting the fire department budget. Although he would not disclose details of the association's proposals, Mr. Seiss said they involved incentives for early retirement and attrition.

"We are trying to appeal to reason," Mr. Seiss said.

Mayor Schmoke's "office would prefer to do this through attrition, but at this point in time they don't feel that the attrition in our department is sufficient to allow them to save that much money."

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