|The City’s Firefighting Bureaucracy can be Streamlined Without Sacrificing its Effectiveness
|A number of statistics provide reassurance that streamlining the City’s firefighting bureaucracy, will not risk adequate fire protection for the city’s residents. The number of fire deaths has steadily declined since 1980 and was over 50 percent lower from 1995 to 1999 as compared to the five-year period 1980 to 1984. The 19 deaths that occurred from fires in 1999 were the fewest in the City’s modern history.Likewise, the number of structural fires has dropped significantly over the last six years. There were over 60 percent fewer residential fires between 1994 and 1999, and over 57 percent fewer commercial structure fires during the same period.The streamlining of the BCFD should occur throughout the fire suppression bureaucracy. Engine companies and truck companies can be reassigned and stations consolidated. There are four Assistant Chiefs; two would suffice. The BCFD currently has eight battalions, each with one Chief per shift, for a total of thirty-two individuals holding the title of Field Battalion Chief. The BCFD’s records reflect that these field commanders averaged 1.2 fire responses per day, amounting to only 43 minutes of time on fire emergencies. Four of the City’s eight Battalion Chiefs logged less than one response per day and two other Battalion Chiefs averaged less than 1.15 responses per day. Therefore, a reduction of battalions along with a reassignment of their chiefs is in order.Each engine and truck company requires four persons to staff it. The staffing must be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While this requires redundant staffing, the BCFD’s “staffing factor” is 5.5 persons for every position. Peer companies in jurisdictions such as Baltimore County and elsewhere require fewer than five persons for each position.
There are a number of reasons for BCFD’s high staffing factor. Baltimore City firefighters receive a large amount of leave time; when their hours off are totaled, their leave is the equivalent of more than nine weeks each. Management is accorded little discretion to deny a concentration of leave requests on particular days, exacerbating the leave problem. Moreover, in order to staff non-fire-fighting positions, a number of firefighters are permanently detailed to the Fire Academy, headquarters and elsewhere, leaving open positions behind.
The net result is extraordinary overtime costs. To fill all the fire suppression positions and provide the minimal staffing of the engine and truck companies with the excessive high staffing factor has required many callbacks. Last fiscal year, over $7 million in overtime was spent to staff the relatively inactive firefighting positions. Significant savings, without layoffs, can be achieved from the streamlining recommended.
Introduction: Fire Department