The city's Fire Department has begun closing two fire stations each weekday for the next month to accommodate training classes for paramedics, a move that has angered the union representing firefighters.
Beginning this week, the stations are being closed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and will rotate among all the city's fire companies, said Fire Department Lt. Thurman Pugh.
In addition to the daytime closing of two fire stations, the city will stop running two fire engines in stations with double companies -- leaving those stations open, but with only one engine to respond to emergencies, he said.
Firefighters will be reassigned temporarily to other stations when their stations are closed.
An officer of Baltimore Fire Fighters Local No. 734 charged yesterday that the city is closing the stations to avoid paying overtime to firefighters, medics and communication workers.
Union Vice President Charles Carroll argued that the city's move could reduce the Fire Department's response time to an emergency by as many as five minutes.
"There will be no area of the city that will be untouched," he said.
But Lieutenant Pugh disagreed.
He said the closings are not unusual and estimated that any time delay to a fire could be as little as 30 seconds but "no more than two minutes."
He noted that every fire brings seven pieces of equipment, only one of which would be from a station that might be closed during the day.
In case of closing, a seventh piece of equipment will respond from another station farther away, Lieutenant Pugh said.
He also denied the department is closing the stations to avoid paying overtime.
The paramedics who will be absent from the stations are taking firefighter training courses as a result of a court suit filed by the union to get the medics overtime pay.