Naval Academy To Lose Fire Engine Company

In a move that could affect fire and rescue services for the area, the Navy is considering a plan to reduce the number of fire engine companies at the Naval Academy from three to two.

But those plans also include upgrading the academy's ambulance to an advance life-support unit.

Depending on who's asked, the likely changes, which are expected to take effect before Oct. 1, will either help or hurt local emergency services.

Under a mutual aid agreement, the city and county fire and rescue services and the Navy installation support each other. For example, a Navy engine was the first on the scene when fire ravaged three buildings on Main Street in Annapolis on Nov. 25.

Bruce F. Poore, president of the union local that represents the Naval Academy firefighters, said the change will stretch his resources thin, and the company won't be able to provide as much firefighting assistance as it has in the past.

"It is going to compromise public safety," Firefighter Poore said. "It is going to make the Naval Academy rely more on Annapolis city and Anne Arundel County every day."

Under the existing plan, the academy always keeps one truck on the base in case of an emergency at the school or across the river at the Navy facility, and sends one or two to assist local firefighters.

With the new plan, only one engine can be dispatched to aid city and county units. Also, under extreme circumstances, the city and county will be expected to send more units to assist Naval Academy firefighters.

Firefighter Poore said the plan also calls for cutting the fire station at the Navy lab in Chesapeake Beach by one engine, or 11 firefighters.

The union estimates that Naval District Annapolis assists the city and county more than 600 times a year, but local firefighters said there are enough stations in the area to make help always available in an emergency.

"The impact will be minimal," said Battalion Chief Douglas M. Remaley of the Annapolis Fire Department.

Chief Remaley said upgrading the Naval Academy ambulance to an EMT unit will reduce the strain on the city's resources, since the city provides advance life-support services for the school.

He said the city has responded to 74 medical calls at the academy since Jan. 1. No numbers were available for fire assistance to, or from, the academy.

Division Chief Stuart McNicol, a county Fire Department spokesman, said he didn't know the details of the changes, but he also said he didn't think they would pose a serious threat to the community or the academy.

Though the changes appear inevitable, the commander of naval institutions hasn't set a course to implement the changes recommended by a review panel, a spokesman for Naval District Washington said on Friday.

"The assessment was done, and realignments are being made based on what the need is," said Lt. Cmdr. Ed Zeigler.

Firefighter Poore said he expects the plan to go into effect before the new federal fiscal year, unless the public pressures congressional leaders to maintain the existing three engine companies.

While eliminating the engine company at the Naval Academy will cost 11 jobs, upgrading emergency medical services will add seven, Firefighter Poore said. That's a net loss of four jobs.

The Navy Installation Command, which is responsible for any changes made in staffing Navy fire departments, has said repeatedly that cutting the number of engines would not compromise safety.

"Given the close proximity of outstanding mutual aid support (just outside the main gate), we believe this can be achieved without any increase in company response (time)," the command staff wrote in its report last year.