By Emily Opilo
Baltimore Sun |
Jun 22, 2020 at 4:16 PM

Baltimore’s firefighter unions have organized two community rallies this week in an effort to oppose cuts to fire companies serving Pigtown and Northeast Baltimore. The community rallies, scheduled for Wednesday, are being held in response to the reduction of two fire companies by Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young in his fiscal year 2021 budget. The cuts do not reduce the number of city firefighters, but shift staff from the two companies to other vacancies within the department. The engines run by those companies will move out of neighborhood firehouses and into the city’s reserve fleet.

Richard “Dickie” Altieri II, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 734, said the closure of the companies will increase response times and leave pockets of the city more vulnerable to fire. Engine 4, one of the two companies slated for closure, is the first engine to respond to Morgan State, Loyola and Notre Dame of Maryland universities, he said. “Right now, the universities are a little less occupied because of [coronavirus], but they won’t always be,” he said.

The rallies will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the firehouse on Bush Street, and at 1 p.m. at the fire station on East Cold Spring Lane.

Last week, a majority of Baltimore City Council’s membership signaled its opposition to the fire company changes as the Council cut $22 million in police department spending from Young’s proposed $3 billion budget. Council members suggested reallocating that money to other public services, including the fire department. Baltimore’s charter, however, limits City Council’s power to reallocate funds in a proposed spending plan. Only the mayor can control where money is allocated during the budget process. Young signed the budget last week for the fiscal year that begins July 1, his spokesman Lester Davis said Monday. Budget documents on the City Council agenda show he made the budget official on June 17. Davis said the money cut by Council will default to a budget surplus in the next fiscal year and cannot be spent. It is also unavailable for spending in final days of fiscal year 2020, he said.

Altieri said Young still could submit a supplemental budget to fund the fire companies. He called it foolish to cut fire and emergency medical services in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The fire union chief also questioned whether the politics of the recently completed election guided Young on the issue. The cuts to the police budget were orchestrated by Council President Brandon Scott, who won the Democratic nomination for mayor this month. Young placed fifth in the primary.