Baltimore firefighters wade past stranded cars along Caroline Street near Aliceanna after a storm on Aug. 6.
Baltimore firefighters wade past stranded cars along Caroline Street near Aliceanna after a storm on Aug. 6. (Jerry Jackson/AP)

For over 222 years, professional firefighters have been strategically placed throughout our great city to be able to quickly respond and keep small emergencies from becoming large ones.

And over the course of time, major obstacles to the delivery of these services and public safety in Baltimore have been irresponsible ideas and misguided op-eds like the one recently printed in The Baltimore Sun (“Baltimore’s new fire/EMS plan is a temporary fix. Here’s how to solve the problem,” Aug. 27).

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For the past quarter century, calls for fire and medical related emergencies have drastically risen, and the number of firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians available to respond to these emergencies has decreased. After so many years of trending in the wrong direction, public safety in our city is in crisis. Some 1,500 firefighters are now doing the work of 2,500. At some point in any crisis, the dam always breaks.

And while many are claiming they have the answers to fix the crisis, none have any real solutions.

The Baltimore City Fire Department currently operates four shifts with an average of 275 firefighters, paramedics, EMTs and dispatchers per shift. The recent op-ed irresponsibly suggests reducing the number of shifts will save money and increase the number of firefighters on the street. While one would assume cost savings, this would boost the average work week for firefighters from 47 to 56 hours and pay firefighters an extra nine hours of overtime each week, eliminating any cost savings.

Simply put, if the city is looking for serious cost savings, it can start by putting enough firefighters in our communities to do the job in a safe, efficient and healthy manner. It is obvious that the key to eliminating firefighter overtime is to make sure you have enough of them to do the job.

In his op-ed, Samuel Johnson, the former BCFD spokesman, suggests a coming together between the fire union and fire administration to change the work schedule. The Baltimore Firefighters Local 734 has made every attempt to work with the current fire administration to advance public safety in our city on matters of interest much smaller than this. To our dismay, we have run in to opposition on even the smallest issues such as old dilapidated fire trucks, fire stations with mold and asbestos and even an utterly ridiculous 20-month standoff on the type of uniforms firefighters should be wearing. Local 734 has been, and always will be, willing to come to the table and do what it can for Baltimore. However, it is hard to work together when all decisions are made behind closed doors in a vacuum.

Baltimore’s Firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians and dispatchers are part of the fabric that makes this city one of the best in the nation. We have stood tall with her on her greatest days and have been here to protect her when she has needed us the most. In 222 years, we have never given up on her. We don’t intend to start now.

We know what it takes to keep our city safe. Now, we just need someone to listen.

Richard “Dickie” Altieri II, Baltimore

The writer is president of Baltimore Firefighters, IAFF Local 734.

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