Baltimore Fire Chief James Clack Is Stepping Down

June 07--Baltimore Fire Chief James S. Clack announced Friday he is stepping down, after a five-year tenure that spanned two mayoral administrations as the agency endured several rounds of budget cuts and dealt with increasing demands on its medical units.

Clack, the first chief hired from outside the department's own ranks, came to the agency in 2008 amid a national economic collapse and immediately had to begin dealing with a fiscal crunch. His decisions to eliminate several fire companies have drawn criticism from department members and union leaders.

Clack, 52, will serve through the end of July, when he and his wife Rose will move back to their native Minnesota, he said. In an interview, he cited no other reason for his departure.

"Her parents are getting up in age, so we want to spend time with them and just get back to home," Clack said. He and his wife made the decision following a visit to her parents last month, he said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blakehas appointed Jeffrey Segal, the department's current assistant chief of operations, as an interim replacement for Clack while a more exhaustive search is conducted to find Clack's permanent replacement.

Rawlings-Blake kept Clack on as fire chief when she took office amid a scandal that forced her predecessor, Sheila Dixon, out of office.

In a statement on his departure, Rawlings-Blake said Clack "worked successfully to increase our focus on the safety of residents and fire personnel," while noting last year's historic low for fire deaths in the city, at 12. She also noted a program, which Clack has pushed heavily during his tenure, to distribute free smoke alarms to city residents.

"Chief Clack's commitment to improving the overall operations of the department has prepared us for further achievement in the coming years," she said.

Segal, 44, a Baltimore native who has risen through the ranks of Baltimore's department since his arrival in 1987, has a master's degree in the science of management from Johns Hopkins University. In his current role, Segal oversees all the department's field operations, from fire suppression to emergency medical services and hazmat responses.

"I love the city, I enjoy being in the city," Segal said in an interview. "And being able to be in charge of the fire department is a privilege that usually doesn't come to people."

Rick Hoffman, president of the firefighters union, said he respects Clack, but thinks the native Minnesotan had too little experience to run a big city agency. He said Clack did too little to protect the department from the administration's cuts and leaves the department with low morale.

"On a personal level I think Jim Clack was probably one of the finest men I've ever met in my life, a church-going man faithful to his family," Hoffman said. "On a professional level, I think, unfortunately, he came from a small fire department and got thrown into the big city here, and I think he was swimming up stream since the time he put his boat in the water."

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