Baltimore 2000: What's New In The Baltimore City Fire Department

As the Firehouse Emergency Services Expo, Firehouse® Magazine and return to Baltimore for our 2000 conference and exposition, we take a look at the newest developments in the Baltimore City Fire Department.

Photo by Joseph Louderback
This new four-bay fire station protects Baltimore's Coldstream neighborhood. Assigned to the $2.5 million, 14,000-square-foot facility are Engine 33, Truck 5 and Medic 16.

The debut of its first "community-friendly" fire station, a high-tech 911 center and the addition of 10 new pumpers to its apparatus fleet makes the Baltimore City Fire Department an agency on the move in the dawn of the 21st century.

New Fire Stations

The first of three new fire stations serves Baltimore's Coldstream neighborhood at 25th Street at Kirk Avenue. Engine 33, Truck 5 and Medic 16 moved into the one-story, four-bay station in March. The $2.5 million, 14,000 square-foot facility emphasizes community access and expanded living arrangements.

"It's a prototype based on comfort and logistical advantages," says Chief Hector Torres, the department's public information officer. A community meeting room, separate sleeping quarters for females along with user-friendly enhancements that make firehouse life easier.

Plans are on tap throughout America for firefighters to interact with the communities they serve. The station's meeting area, which can be sectioned off from the kitchen with a room divider, allows small groups like community boards to gather. Since it adjoins the main entrance lobby, the area is delegated away from high-traffic areas should an alarm occur.

Photo by Joseph Louderback
Truck 5's logo: "A Touch of Glass."

Ease of operation is found at every corner. A wide hallway borders the perimeter of the apparatus floor, separating it so members can move safely through the building without navigating between returning units. Pull-down utility cords include a power supply charger, air and diesel exhaust hoses and spotlights for under-carriage repairs.

"It's all right here," says Firefighter Michael Brown, who spent seven years in Truck 5's station on nearby Harford Road. Just inside the bay doors is an electric eye that senses when firefighters and apparatus have exited the building so the doors can close. Controls regulate new traffic signals placed opposite the station apron across 25th Street. An extra bay allows for inclusion of future units like a battalion chief.

Sunlight pours into the station through glass panels, literally making Truck 5's "House of Glass" moniker ring true. A geo-thermal tubing system draws natural temperature from the earth to heat and cool the station. The communications center watch desk overlooking the apparatus floor is equipped with a wall-to-wall communications console. Access panels on the backside allow easy repair work.

Private sleeping and bathroom areas enhance conditions for the department's female members. Handicapped-accessible shower stalls with bathing seats are included. Firefighters say their new digs may take some getting used to. They're transplanting historic mementos like an old walnut gong from their former station. Truck 5's "House of Glass" logo will soon smile down from the apparatus bay wall. The old firehouse's fish tank welcomes visitors in the carpeted entrance lobby.

Photo by Joseph Louderback
Firefighter Michael Brown displays a geo-thermal tubing system that draws natural temperature from the earth to heat and cool the fire station.

Another station will be built near Fort McHenry in the southeastern Locust Point area while plans are on the drawing board for the third new station in the Edmondson Village section of West Baltimore.

911 Dispatch

Fire and EMS dispatchers recently joined their police counterparts in a new public safety communications center. Located inside Baltimore Police Headquarters on Fayette Street in the shadow of the Inner Harbor, the center is special because it unites all public safety personnel - police, fire, water and streets department communicators - in a large fourth-floor suite. One positive feature is a 311 system for non-emergency requests, which has reduced a call-taker's answering time from six to two seconds.

The new center completes Baltimore's communications renaissance that includes a two-year-old 800 megahertz trunked system that is digitally encrypted. Linked to 10 citywide towers, the fiber-optic cable eliminates "dead spots" where transmissions can be losta diesel backup generator can power each tower in an emergency.

Smoke Detectors

In 1999, Baltimore's fire safety program experienced its lowest fire death rate since the department began keeping records in 1938. By mid-June of this year, 23 people had died in city fires. Compared to a record high of 88 deaths in 1984 and a 20-year average of 50 fire deaths annually, fire officials point to their successful free smoke detector give-away program as a primary reason.

Photo by Joseph Louderback
Lieutenant Paul Demme, supervising fire dispatcher, on duty at the new public safety communications center located at Baltimore Police Headquarters on Fayette Street, near the Inner Harbor.

"Operation: Fire Safe," funded by Radio Shack, puts 10,000 smoke detectors in the hands of citizens each year. Strengthening their community involvement plan, Baltimore's Bravest install the detectors, ensuring proper placement. Free replacement batteries, funded by Energizer, are available at fire stations.

Pushing the Baltimore effort is Cynthia Addison, who lost five children in a 1993 fire. Addison removed the detector in her Greenmount home when it frequently sounded during cooking. Her five daughters were under age 6 when the Ensor Street tragedy occurred. Addison's passionate message in a state fire marshal's video brings the smoke detector maintenance issue home to everyone who sees it.

New Apparatus

Ten new Pierce Saber 1,250-gpm pumpers recently rolled into service. Two Seagrave tractor-drawn ladder trucks are on order.

The recent closure of seven fire stations (five engine and two ladder companies) citywide moves 140 members to other companies and EMS duties. An additional four to six medic units will see action on Baltimore streets. New personnel will be cross-trained as firefighter/paramedics. The 1,700-member department operates 36 engines, 20 ladders, one rescue and seven battalion chiefs.

Joseph Louderback, a Firehouse® contributing editor, served as editor of the FDNY's Publications Unit and as a government affairs reporter. He is a 20-year member of the Milmont Fire Company in Milmont Park, PA, and conducts media relations programs for the fire service.