Budget Cuts Blamed for Md. FF Injuries

BALTIMORE --

The union representing Baltimore city firefighters said budget cuts are to blame for a firefighter's recent injuries, but the Fire Department said the city is just as safe as always.

The injured firefighter was hurt while rescuing people inside a burning house on Wednesday night on Liberty Heights Avenue.

The union is blaming the incident on city budget cuts that led to the rotating closures of fire stations, something the city started doing last July.

The first two fire stations dispatched to respond to Wednesday's fire were out on other calls, officials said, and the third was closed for the day as part of city budget cuts, so the fourth station in line responded.

The firefighters union called the decision to rotate closures "firehouse roulette" and said it was a danger to public safety.

"It's a well-thought out, well-rehearsed plan of what we do, and anytime you start adding more and more time into that and companies are coming from longer distances, you're really placing everybody at risk," said fire union President Bob Sledgeski.

He said that's what happened Wednesday when a water truck didn't get to the scene right away so a fire paramedic on the first truck ran into the burning building to save people inside.

The firefighter eventually had to jump out of a third-story window as the fire spread, department officials said. He broke several bones and suffered burns to his hands and arms.

The firefighter is still at Shock Trauma but is expected to be OK, officials said.

"The claim that this firefighter suffered injuries because we were not appropriate or adequate or had insufficient units on the scene -- I question that," said Fire Department spokesman Kevin Cartwright.

Cartwright said the city is staring down a $121 million budget deficit and that every department is affected, but he said the Fire Department still has the tools and manpower to do its job effectively.

The fire union disagreed.

"Our Fire Department isn't getting less busy and they're also using the fire apparatus and our members to help support the EMS system, which is fine. The problem is, we don't have the resources to do everything for everybody all the time," Sledgeski said.

Cartwright said there's no data to support the union's theory that the rotating closures of four fire stations per day have negatively affected public safety.

"We have very dedicated and committed members. Every time we get a call, we're going to respond and we're going to be there as fast as we can," he said.

The new budget starts July 1. It's not finalized yet, but Cartwright said he is optimistic that it will include enough money for the department to keep doing its job sufficiently.

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