Baltimore firefighters stretched thin because of dozens of vacancies in department
By Paul Gessler,2023-05-31
BALTIMORE - Baltimore City firefighters are being stretched thin because of dozens of vacancies within its department.
The head of the Baltimore City Fire Union told WJZ that burnout is real at the fire department.
Just last month, it lost five members to Harford County.
City fire leaders told council members on Tuesday that more than 60 city EMS jobs are unfilled.
"We're losing members left and right to better-paying jurisdictions with a lot less workload," said Rich Langford, President of the Baltimore City Firefighters Local 734.
Langford said firefighters are filling the gaps in the paramedic shortage.
"It puts a huge stress on all of our providers," Langford said.
Acting Baltimore City Fire Chief Dante Stewart said firefighters are being called to work overtime to cover for the shortages.
"They'll go somewhere else, make more money, and work less," Stewart said. "We had one member who just wanted to go work for Amazon."
The department is going on six months without a permanent fire chief.
Niles Ford resigned in December amid the release of a report into last year's Stricker Street fire that killed three firefighters.
"Our EMS units are the busiest per capita in the United States, so there's no downtime at all," Langford said.
The staffing crunch manifests in longer wait times, too.
Budget documents show EMS response times have suffered in recent years, falling far short of the 90 percent within nine-minute goal.
Most recent stats show EMS is only meeting that goal in a little over half of its calls.
"When COVID first started, our call volume went through the roof," Stewart said.
Chief Stewart said Medic units are being tied up at hospitals.
Often times, patients are transported by fire trucks or other means.
"Sometimes, the patient will just get tired of waiting and just call an Uber or go in a personal vehicle," Stewart said.
The mayor's budget calls for a $15 million increase for the fire department.
Baltimore city received $641 million through the American Rescue Plan in 2021.
Many at Tuesday's council hearing were surprised to learn the fire department has not received any money through ARPA.
"They're getting frustrated," Langford said. "They're getting tired of waiting, so they're taking Ubers, or calling a cab, or calling family and friends to get them to hospitals."