Layoff notices go to all 8 city deputy fire chiefs 4 new assistants will replace them


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 can apply for those jobs or they may pursue their retirement options, he said. At least three are expected to retire.

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 an outside management review of the department's structure.

"We took a hard look at the department to see how we could operate more efficiently," Chief Williams said at a press conference early today. "We're definitely top-heavy."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said the four new assistant chiefs will be exempt from Civil Service jurisdiction, serving at the pleasure of the chief. This will be a change from past practice -- and parallels the police department's top management structure.

In the shake-up, the fire department also will be downgrading eight "battalion commander" positions to the rank of battalion chief. But those in the commander positions -- all with long departmental tenure -- will continue to be paid at the same level until they retire. Once those officers retire, the commander-level rank and pay levels will be eliminated.

Chief Williams said that despite the shuffling in ranks and consolidation of command responsibilities, no one was being pushed out of the department and that he expected normal turnover in staffing would achieve the desired operational and budgetary results.

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. They have between 22 and 40 years of service in the 1,800-member department.

Fire officers and firefighters interviewed late last night at four fire stations said the changes would make no difference in fire protection.

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.

"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.

"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.

At this morning's news conference at the city's fire academy, Chief Williams also announced a new fire cadet program under which juniors in high school can receive training that will enable them to compete for departmental jobs upon high school graduation.

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