Hampden resident Bruce Holtman organized the candlelight vigil held outside his neighborhood fire station last night as a last stand against losing a hook-and-ladder truck that has served the North Baltimore community.
The vigil attracted about 75 people, mostly residents along with a few off-duty firefighters and politicians, in an orderly protest against Fire Department cutbacks that take effect today.
Standing in the 3700 block of Roland Ave., the home of Truck No. 9, the 50-year-old Holtman declared that when the truck is taken away, he might force officials to take him with it.
"We'll stay all night if we have to," Holtman said.
The hook-and-ladder is being transferred to a fire station at McMechen and McCulloh streets in West Baltimore, where it will become Truck No. 16. Hampden's loss also includes the disbanding of 22 firefighters assigned to the truck company.
"We're like family and just had our last supper," said one of the reassigned firefighters, who asked not to be identified.
Fourth District City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. was present, but did not address the crowd.
"I'm worried about the safety factor for the [nearby] high-rises," said Mitchell. Residents of the apartments are primarily senior citizens.
Knocking on doors of churches and houses, Holtman spread the word about the city's decision to move the hook-and-ladder truck away from the 40-member Hampden fire station and invited them to attend the vigil.
Battalion Chief Hector Torres confirmed yesterday that four fire stations would be closed. He said the disbanding of the Hampden company - which served an area stretching from Greenmount Avenue to Park Heights - was part of a redistribution of fire resources directed by City Hall.
Torres stated that safety would not be compromised.
Torres said the city will have four new medic units, which will allow the Hampden medic unit to stay in its own area more often, rather than respond to calls from other parts of the city.Torres said that in recent years firetrucks have been responding to more medical cases than fires; that, he said, is one reason for the reorganization of resources.
Yesterday afternoon, the Hampden hook-and-ladder truck returned to the station about 2:25 after responding to a medic call in the Rotunda shopping center.
The justification for the changes was no comfort to Holtman and neighbors at the vigil, who said they resented the fact that they will have to rely on the fire station in Roland Park in case of a serious fire.
"Six minutes is a long time to wait," Holtman said, referring to a letter from the mayor's office assuring him that rescue vehicles would be only six minutes away. He works at night, he said, and worries about his family when he's away. A neighborhood of old, tall wooden houses on narrow streets is also anxious about the Roland Park truck's ability to navigate Hampden's small streets and alleys, because that truck does not have a tiller to turn and maneuver easily, as their former truck No. 9.
There was also a whisper of anger because Roland Park fire station did suffer cutbacks.
Joey Mummert, 10, said a firefighter friend took him roller-skating to say goodbye on his last day.
"We're going to hold the mayor and the City Council responsible," said Holtman. "We're just starting to build the neighborhood up, starting to get young couples, and this knocks it down."