Baltimore County firefighters’ union raises safety concerns over department practices

January 26, 2024

Firefighters’ union president speaks out on operational changes

The Baltimore County Fire Department is facing scrutiny from its firefighters’ union over recent operational practices aimed at addressing staffing and overtime issues.

The union’s concerns primarily revolve around the safety implications of these changes.

John Sabiga, president of the firefighter union, voiced his apprehensions in an interview with WJZ.

Impact of rotating fire engine closures

Sabiga highlighted that since September 2023, the fire department administration has been implementing the closure of two engine companies per day during weekdays.

This rotation affects various timeframes and areas within the county.

Sabiga expressed his belief that this strategy compromises firefighter safety and, consequently, the safety of residents.

“I think that maybe the fire administration would disagree that this is a safety concern, that this is less services available but I would have to respectfully take an opposite position,” said Sabiga.

He stressed the importance of these double engine houses and daytime engines, citing their critical role in ensuring firefighter and public safety.

Recent house fire in Catonsville raises alarm

The union’s concerns were underscored by a recent house fire incident in Catonsville.

On a Tuesday afternoon, a fire broke out on Lambeth Road, resulting in life-threatening injuries to an individual who was later hospitalized.

Sabiga pointed out that one of the Catonsville fire engines was out of service at the time due to the new staffing policy.

He speculated that the presence of an additional fire engine could have significantly impacted the response.

“Our assertion is there would have been two fire engines on the scene within four minutes as opposed to one engine,” he explained, emphasizing the critical roles played by the ladder truck in such situations.

Response from the Baltimore County Fire Department

The Baltimore County Fire Department responded to these concerns in a statement.

They detailed their response to the Catonsville house fire, noting that a unit from the Westview station arrived within three minutes, followed by a unit from the Catonsville station.

The department emphasized that their operational deployments did not impact the response time in this incident.

“The safety of our residents and first responders remains our top priority… The department will continue to provide the level of service that both the County and our residents expect and deserve,” the statement read.

Ongoing recruitment efforts

The fire administration also mentioned their ongoing efforts to fill vacancies within the department.

Currently, there are two recruit training programs underway, which are part of these efforts.

FSJA comment

The situation in Baltimore County highlights the complex balance fire departments must strike between operational efficiency and safety.

The debate between the firefighters’ union and the fire administration brings into focus the critical nature of resource allocation in emergency services.

While the administration emphasizes their commitment to maintaining service levels and responder safety, the union raises valid concerns about the potential impact of operational changes on emergency response times and effectiveness.

This situation underscores the importance of continuous dialogue and assessment of practices to ensure both fiscal responsibility and uncompromised public safety.

As the fire department continues its recruitment efforts, the outcome of this debate could set a precedent for how similar challenges are addressed in other regions.

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