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Fewer fire trucks are on Baltimore City streets as inflation tightens the budget

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Baltimore Firefighters IAFF Local 734
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There was a two alarm fire along the 400 block of South Monroe Street in the Carrollton Ridge neighborhood in Baltimore this week.

Baltimore City Fire Department leaders blamed inflation, stagnant budgets and supply chain issues for keeping five of its trucks off city streets, which reduced the fleet by 30%, officials told a Baltimore City Council committee on Wednesday. Department officials say the lack of fire trucks has not affected response times, firefighters still arrive in less than five minutes for 80% of calls for service. But fire department leadership and union representatives warned that the lack of proper equipment could lead to issues down the road.

“This issue is not because we don't have the staffing for it,” Joshua Fannon, president of the Baltimore Fire Officers Association, told the city council’s Public Safety and Government Operations Committee. “It’s not because we don't have the funding for it is because we don't have the physical apparatus for it. That is an unacceptable situation and puts a lot of our members at risk. It puts the communities at risk that they serve.”

The issue comes to light just one week after Niles Ford, the Baltimore fire chief, resigned from his position.

City administrators told the council that the emergency services department’s budget for vehicles has held steady at $24 million since 2014. But as the cost of goods and services has increased significantly amid record inflation, that budget hasn’t been able to go as far as it did eight years ago, which limits how much the department can afford.

“Anybody who can do a simple math would understand the inflationary changes that cost us in a way that we had to reduce the number of assets that each year we're producing under the master lease,” said Berke Attila, Baltimore General Services Director.

The city has 35 fire engines, 17 trucks, a HAZMAT truck and a rescue truck. The difference between an engine and a truck is that trucks have ladders and other rescue equipment.

Some of the ambulances and trucks are brand new, others are nearly two decades old.

However, officials said even if they could order new trucks, the company backlogs may take years before the vehicles are actually delivered.

The issue is not just about the size of the fleet but ongoing maintenance of the vehicles.

Attila said the city is down about 40 mechanics out of 135 positions. He noted that the city is having trouble hiring the workers it needs because of the labor market. Baltimore is competing with companies like FedEx and Amazon for talent.

Some councilmembers said they were worried about how effective the department can be now and in the future.

“I am deeply concerned about the overall functioning of this department at this moment,” said Zeke Cohen councilmember for District 1 which includes Fells Point and Highlandtown. “We need to make sure that we are focused on procurement, making sure we have the equipment that we need.”

Some Public Safety and Government Operations Committee members said they may consider supplemental funding to help bolster the emergency services fleet.

Scott is the Health Reporter for WYPR. @smaucionewypr