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Fire officers won't lose their jobs


Baltimore Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr. said yesterday tha no high-ranking fire officers will lose their jobs under a major reorganization.

Under the reorganization, the eight deputy chief positions will be eliminated and four assistant chief positions will be created.

Although the deputy chiefs, all with 22 to 40 years of experience, were notified Friday that they would be laid off effective June 30, retirements and reassignments will eliminate the need for layoffs, Chief Williams said.

He said three of the deputy chiefs -- Joseph Spadaro, William Hunt and Henry Fowlkes -- have already indicated they will retire.

The assistant chiefs will take on the responsibilities that had been handled by the eight deputies, officials said.

Also, eight battalion commander positions will be reclassified as battalion chiefs. They will continue to be paid at their former higher rate until they retire, Chief Williams said.

The changes will streamline the command structure and save the department about $250,000 annually, said Capt. Hector L. Torres, a fire department spokesman.

As required by Civil Service Commission regulations, layoff notices had to be sent out for the department to abolish the deputy chief positions and create the new positions.

"The only way you can do this [abolish the positions] is to technically lay off every deputy chief, reclassify the job and offer them the opportunity to apply" for the new positions, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said.

Chief Williams said the deputy chiefs and the fire officers union were aware of the pending moves.

A few months ago, an outside consultant firm recommended the changes in the command structure. "We were definitely top heavy," Chief Williams said.

The new positions will be removed from the civil service system, thus giving the fire chief power to hire and fire top officials, such as that enjoyed by the police commissioner.

"If that means better control at the top then I'm in favor of that," Mr. Schmoke said.

Chief Williams abolished the chief deputy's position -- the second highest rank in the department -- when he became chief in August.

In an unrelated matter, fire officials announced yesterday a fire cadet program in conjunction with the city school system and the Mayor's Office of Employment.

Under the program, 11th-graders who are accepted as cadets have a chance of joining the department after graduation.

About 25 students are already cadets and will participate this summer in a paid training program at the Fire Academy. Their training will continue in their senior year.

The cadets must also meet educational requirements.

"Career opportunities such as this Fire Cadet Program serve not only the students in the program, but the entire student population," Mr. Schmoke said. "All students are encouraged to stay in school because they can readily see tangible rewards."

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