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Baltimore City Fire Department

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Country  United States
City  Baltimore
Annual calls  ~235,000
State  Maryland
Established  1859 (Founded 1797)
Employees  1,800
Baltimore City Fire Department

The Baltimore City Fire Department (BCFD) provides fire protection and emergency medical services to the city of Baltimore, Maryland. Founded in 1797 and established in 1859, the Baltimore City Fire Department covers an area of 81 square miles (210 km2) of land and 11 square miles (28 km2) of water, with a resident population of over 640,000 and a daytime population of over 1,000,000. The BCFD responds to approximately 235,000 emergency calls annually.



Baltimore's early firefighting was performed by volunteers. The various companies engaged in serious rivalries, resulting in what a Baltimore mayor termed "irregularities". For example, gangs operating out of firehouses participated in the Know-Nothing Riot of 1856. A municipal organization was established in 1859.

The Great Baltimore Fire in 1904 burned for thirty hours straight and decimated a major part of central Baltimore, including over 1,500 buildings. Mutual aid companies from as far away as Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York City were called in to assist. The fire led to uniform national standards in fire fighting equipment and protocols. As with other large fires of the time, it was a predecessor to the stringent fire codes of today.


The Baltimore City Fire Department responds from 31 fire stations located throughout the city. The BCFD operates 31 engine companies, 17 truck companies, 4 squad companies, 1 rescue company, 2 fireboats, 24 medic units, 11 critical alert medic units, 2 peak medic units, 2 medical assist cars (M.A.C.), as well as numerous other special, support, and reserve units. These companies are organized into 6 battalions, each under the command of a battalion chief. Each battalion chief reports to the on-duty shift commander.


Each BCFD frontline engine company and each frontline truck company is staffed by an officer and 3 firefighters per shift. Each engine company is staffed by a lieutenant or captain, a pump operator (driver), and 2 firefighters each shift. Each truck company is staffed by a lieutenant or captain, an emergency vehicle driver (EVD) (two drivers if the truck operates a tractor-drawn apparatus), and a firefighter each shift. The captain of a BCFD company is in command of that company. In a fire station with more than one fire company, the senior captain of one of the two or more companies is the "house captain", in command of the fire station that the two or more companies share. Each BCFD medic unit is staffed by two paramedics per shift. Each battalion chief's unit is operated by a battalion chief and his/her aide/driver.

Response Profiles

All responses are dispatched to field units by the Fire Communications Bureau using pre-determined response profiles from the computer-aided dispatch system. Units can be special-called by any field unit once an incident is underway, however, the greater alarm system is typically used to request additional resources.

  • Silent Alarm (1 engine, 1 truck, 1 engine & 1 truck): Vehicle fire, brush fire, trash fire, activated fire alarm system, odor investigations, minor spills
  • Tactical Box (2 engines & 1 truck): Structural fires reported extinguished; electrical fires; appliance fires
  • Task Force Alarm (1 BC & 3 engines & 1 truck): detached garage fires; tractor trailer fires; fires involving light rail or mass transit buses
  • Box Alarm (2 BC & 5 engines & 2 trucks & 1 medic [& Rescue 1 in certain areas]): fire reported in structure
  • Rescue Alarm (1 BC & BCEMS & 1 engine & 1 truck & 1 squad & Rescue 1 & 1 medic & 1 EMSO): any entrapment, typically a vehicle accident with trapped persons. Special units added for specialized/technical rescues, such as harbor, swift water, building collapse, trench collapse, confined space, high angle.
  • Apparatus Descriptions

    The BCFD utilizes a variety of standardized and specialized apparatus to carry out its duties.

  • Engine - The engine company is the backbone of the fire suppression operation. Every BCFD engine is manufactured by Pierce, and has a 500-gallon water tank. Engine companies carry a basic assortment of hose lines, appliances and adapters, forced entry tools, basic and advanced life support medical equipment, five-gas air monitoring, and a hand-held thermal imager. Most first line engine companies have a 1250GPM single stage pump. Basic hose line compliment is 1,200' of 4" 'Stortz' supply hose, 250' of 2.5" attack line, 300' of 3" setback/standpipe hose, 500' of 1.75" attack line, and 20' of hard suction hose. Engine companies have a daily minimum staffing of four; one Pump Operator or Acting Pump Operator, one officer (Captain, Lieutenant, or Acting Lieutenant), and two firefighters. Occasionally, when extra staffing exists, certain engine companies may be assigned a third firefighter.
  • Truck - The truck company is a vital part of the suppression operation in Baltimore. Every truck company is outfitted with a 100' aerial ladder, an assortment of portable ground ladders, extensive forced entry tools, a Holmatro portable power unit with combination tool, several gasoline-powered ventilation and demolition saws, an electric reciprocating saw, basic life rope packs, basic and advanced life support medical equipment, a four-gas air monitor, a thermal imager, and a rapid intervention kit including a RIT air pack. The BCFD's fleet of ladder trucks is made up of both straight-body trucks and tractor-drawn aerials ("tillers"); there are both Pierce and Seagrave vehicles in the BCFD's fleet of first-line trucks. Daily staffing of truck companies vary between straight-body trucks and TDAs; a straight-body truck is staffed by an Emergency Vehicle Driver or acting EVD, an officer (Captain, Lieutenant, or Acting Lieutenant), and two firefighters, while a TDA is staffed two EVDs or Acting EVDs, an officer or acting officer, and one firefighter. An additional firefighter may be assigned to certain truck companies during times of increased staffing.
  • Squad - the squad concept in Baltimore combines a basic engine company with a medium rescue company. Squad companies carry all of the same equipment as an engine company, plus a complete set of Holmatro rescue tools, cribbing, rescue airbags, gasoline-powered ventilation and demolition saws, advanced air monitoring equipment, basic Haz-Mat equipment and basic water rescue equipment, and tools to free occupants from stalled elevators. Squad 26 is assigned to the Special Operations Command, and carries additional technical rescue equipment. On a structural fire response, squad companies operate exactly as engine companies would, and squads have the same staffing as engine companies.
  • Rescue - Baltimore has historically been one of few large cities to have only one dedicated heavy rescue company. Rescue 1 is stationed in Downtown Baltimore, and responds on all reports of persons trapped, regardless the situation. It is equipped with two complete sets of Holmatro hydraulic rescue tools, a generous assortment of cribbing and struts for stabilization, high and low pressure airbag systems, numerous specialized saws, drills, and air hammers, an inflatable rescue boat, swift- and cold-water rescue suits and equipment, trench shoring equipment, equipment for structural collapse, a rescue tripod and confined space rescue equipment, a rapid intervention kit including RIT air pack, and scene lighting. Rescue 1 is part of the Special Operations Command, and responds to all rescue situations citywide, as well as all second alarm fires.
  • Fire Boat - Two full-sized fire boats are maintained by the BCFD, one in first-line status, and one in reserve status. Fire Boat 1, the "John R. Frazier" is 87' in length and is capable of pumping approximately 7,000 gallons per minute of water from draft. It is equipped with an on-board supply of AFFF fire-fighting foam for battling hydrocarbon fires, has a complete supply of fire-fighting hoses and appliance, and a full-service medical treatment area. In addition to the on-board deluge monitors, the vessel is also capable of supplying water to land-based units. Fire Boat 1 is staffed by five members; a marine pilot, a marine engineer, an officer (Captain, Lieutenant, or acting Lieutenant), and two firefighters. It is the only full-service, full-sized fire boat for the majority of the Chesapeake Bay; the next closest vessels of its capability are in Wilmington, DE and Norfolk, VA.
  • AirFLEX - This vehicle incorporate three special service fireground support functions into one apparatus. The first service is air cascade and breathing apparatus support. AirFLEX units are equipped with a supply of extra, full SCBA cylinders and a cascade and compressor for filling SCBA and SCUBA cylinders at the scene of incidents, as well as basic repair service for SCBA components. AirFLEX can also provide static breathing air via air lines for specialized rescues such as confined space, etc. The second service is floodlight service. Historically, in the fire service, before every front-line apparatus was equipped with power inverters, generators, and scene lighting, stand-alone floodlight units responded to support night-time operations. Original AirFLEX units were equipped with multiple portable floodlight fixtures for such operations, but have adapted to current needs; modern AirFLEX units are equipped with mobile light towers for scene lighting at incidents. The third service is high-expansion foam. Each AirFLEX unit is equipped with a high expansion foam generator, a supply of foam concentrate, and the delivery hose. High-expansion foam is traditionally used for stubborn fires in below-grade or confined environments, where water cannot adequately penetrate, and entry by firefighters is unsafe or unrealistic. In addition to the three "namesake" services, AirFLEX units also provide drinking water for fire scenes, and a supply of freshly charged portable radio batteries for extended incidents. AirFLEX units are staffed by one Emergency Vehicle Driver (or acting EVD). Two front-line AirFLEX units are in service continuously, splitting the city east and west of Charles Street for primary service. An AirFLEX unit is dispatched on working fires, or fires where the Fire Communications Bureau believes that the balance of companies will be utilizing SCBA. An AirFLEX unit is also dispatched automatically on any report of a fire in an ocean-going ship at port, fires below grade (tunnels), and on responses where the SCUBA team is utilized.
  • HAZ-MAT - The Baltimore City Fire Department utilizes two first-line Hazardous Materials (HAZ-MAT) response units. HAZMAT-1 is a full-service response unit equipped with an extensive cache of equipment for all types of hazards, including chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) incidents. Equipment includes computerized sensors and databases for identifying unknown potentially hazardous substances; static and dynamic air sampling and monitoring equipment; personnel protective equipment for all levels of incidents; spill control and overpack equipment; damming and diking supplies; personnel decontamination supplies; command and control equipment, including an indoors command post. Alternatively, HAZMAT-3 is a spill control unit, built on a commercial "plumbers body" utility truck. HAZMAT-3 responds to the bulk of HAZMAT requests, and carries bulk absorbent and spill control supplies for hydrocarbon spills (ruptured fuel tanks, heating oil spills, etc.). HAZMAT-3 is also equipped with a pump-off device for removing remaining hydrocarbon fuel from a damaged storage vessel. HAZMAT-1 and HAZMAT-3 are cross-staffed by a single HAZMAT-trained Emergency Vehicle Driver. If both units are needed simultaneously, the on-duty HAZ-MAT coordinator, or a member of the HAZ-MAT task force will bring the second unit to the scene.
  • In popular culture

    The movie Ladder 49 portrays the BCFD, with a fictional truck company (referred to as a ladder company in the film). Additionally members of the BCFD served as advisors for the film.

    Baltimore Riots of 2015

    During the Baltimore riots that took place from April 27, 2015 to April 28, the Baltimore Fire Department was backed up with multiple calls and also battled against rioters. Many fire trucks were damaged by rioters where bottles and rocks were thrown at the fire trucks as they were responding to incidents. In one case there is also video footage of a rioter cutting a fire truck's fire hose in an effort to hinder their effectiveness. The Baltimore Fire Department responded to 144 vehicle fires and 15 structure fires during the course of the riots. Many surrounding areas such as the Howard County fire department, Anne Arundel County fire department and Prince George's County Fire Department sent crews to Baltimore to help the Baltimore Fire Department during the riots.


    Baltimore City Fire Department Wikipedia

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