All eight deputy chiefs in the Baltimore Fire Department have been given layoff notices as part of a "major organizational change" that may bring more internal shake-ups later, a city fire official said yesterday.
The eight deputies, who are paid about $60,000 annually, were informed on Friday that they will be laid off effective June 30, said Capt. Hector L. Torres, a spokesman for the department.
Four new assistant chief positions will be created in the department and will pay about $65,000, Captain Torres said.
The laid-off chiefs may apply for those jobs or they may pursue their retirement options, he said.
Captain Torres said Fire Chief Herman Williams and the Board of Fire Commissioners decided to lay off the chiefs -- the second-highest ranking officers -- after completing a review of the agency's structure.
"They decided the department could be run a lot more efficiently if it's restructured," Captain Torres said. "Chief Williams has seen some inefficiencies. It was decided after taking a look at the top echelon of the department that some changes needed to be made."
Chief Williams was not available for comment last night and referred all questions to Captain Torres.
The chief is expected to answer questions about the restructuring after an early morning news conference today at the city Fire Department's training academy.
The deputy chiefs being laid off are Clyde J. Smith, Robert Belluomo, Joseph Spadaro, William Hunt, Henry Fowlkes, Gary Frederick, Raymond Lehr and Michael Dalton. Each has at least 22 years in the 1,800-member department.
Deputy Chief Frederick, a 30-year veteran, said last night, "We received the layoff notices at the same time we received a chance to apply for the job of assistant chief.
"The chief has been trying for a reorganization program, and I assume that's what this is about," the deputy chief said. He declined to discuss the move in detail, saying only, "It's hard to make any statements."
Deputy Chief Belluomo, a 34-year veteran, also declined to discuss the matter at length, saying, "Whatever the Fire Department or the mayor is saying, I'm sure that's the way it is."
Fire officers and firefighters interviewed late last night at four fire stations said the personnel changes would not make any difference in fire protection in the city.
Firefighter Brian Machovec, 33, a member of the department since 1984 and assigned to Engine 31 in the 3200 block of Greenmount Ave., said the changes were "no big deal."
"We've heard for some time that changes at the top would be coming down and the fire department remains one of the best in the country," he said.
Firefighter Machovec said the personnel changes would be administrative and that whoever is placed into the new positions of assistant chiefs would be qualified people who have earned that post.
Four fire officers who asked not to be identified said that in general, the changes would not filter down to such an extent that daily fire protection for the city would be injured.
"We will still be there when the people need us, regardless of what happens at the top of the table of organization," said a captain at a downtown station.
Under the current structure, the eight deputy chiefs receive an estimated total of $480,000 a year in salaries, plus benefits.
Under the new structure, four assistant chiefs would be paid an annual total of about $260,000, plus benefits.
But Captain Torres said that budget is not the only consideration.
"The Fire Department is going through a reorganization and the first phase is a restructuring of the upper management of the department," he said.
"More changes will be made later," Captain Torres said, adding that the details still are being worked out.
No timetable has been set for the hiring of the four assistant chiefs.