The decision to temporarily keep open several fire companies slated for closure so they could aid in heat-related rescues and clean-up efforts in the wake of the recent storm to is an admission that these companies are needed ("More storms could slow power return," July 4).

Baltimore City Fire Chief Jim Clack went back on his own plan to close companies because of an unexpected emergency situation. But what emergency can ever be predicted? What will Baltimore do during the next emergency without these companies available, and how does that affect the public's safety?


Chief Clack's plan to close three of the busiest companies in one of the busiest fire departments in the country is misguided and not without consequence. It is due to his lack of experience in a department similar in size to Baltimore's that city's residents will be unnecessarily placed in harm's way.

Chief Clack is from a small Midwestern fire department whose work force is one-fourth the size of Baltimore's, and his background is primarily in EMS. He has only been here four years, and in that time he will be responsible for the permanent closing of four fire companies.

We believe Chief Clack came here with the intention of cutting the city's fire department by 25 percent. By doing so he will place in jeopardy not only the men and women of the department but the citizens of Baltimore as well. The BCFD does not operate like a small Midwestern fire department. Our men and women have their hands full at all times and are running at double speed to begin with.

A glance at the news tells of the emergencies with which the men and women of the Baltimore City Fire Department have had to deal. In the last six weeks alone we have responded to the chilling incident in which an infant was stabbed; we pulled three young people from almost certain death on Saratoga Street; and we fought a five-alarm fire downtown in which all the companies slated for permanent closure were called to participate.

Tragically, we were unable to reach an elderly man in southeast Baltimore in time, even with all equipment and companies available to us. And most recently, we have been aiding in the aftermath of massive storms and power outages by responding to over 300 storm-related calls which stretched the department's resources.

In a single 24-hour period during which the companies were slated to have been closed last week, the crews of those companies ran approximately 57 calls. How can Chief Clack reasonably plan to distribute these calls among other fire companies without compromising response times and safety?

The "derecho" storm sent a powerful message that Baltimore City will not be adequately prepared for the next emergency if we close these fire companies. No one using computer modeling or data can predict when or where the next incident will occur.

During emergencies, the city has relied on assistance from surrounding counties. But the other counties had their own problems during the storms and could not provide the resources Baltimore needed. We should not have to rely on the surrounding jurisdictions to bail us out so we can continue to cut valuable core services.

The fact that we had to ask for help plainly shows that we don't have enough resources now. So why are we cutting more?

Rick Hoffman and Michael Campbell, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, presidents of Baltimore Fire Fighters IAFF Local 734 and Local 964.