Former City Councilman Nicholas D'Adamo was recently hired by the city's Fire Department to revive a charitable foundation that benefits city firefighters who are injured or who die, raising concerns about creating a paid position during a time when some fire company are being forced to close.
As special assistant to the fire chief, D'Adamo will work on building up the Baltimore City Fire Foundation, a nonprofit that provides emergency financial assistance to firefighters who are injured or to their families, after a death on or off the job, said Chief James S. Clack. D'Adamo will earn an annual salary of $65,000.
The creation of the position comes after the administration of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently closed two fire companies amid budget constraints.
"I don't support adding a command-level position and salary," said Lt. Michael Campbell, president of the Fire Officers Local 964. Although he said he fully supports reviving the foundation, he said he didn't believe the department needs a paid, full-time position directing the fund.
But Clack said the investment was necessary to give the foundation momentum and make it self-sustaining.
"Every person we hire is significant because of budget issues. We have to be careful that every hire has an important purpose," Clack said. "We felt it was worth the investment."
He added, "Hopefully, we can find folks who volunteer their time as well."
D'Adamo, who did not seek re-election to the City Council in 2011, began his new position with the fire department on Oct. 1. D'Adamo did not return calls for comment Friday night.
D'Adamo had served on the Board of Fire Commissioners for four years. He was chosen because of his contacts in the city, Clack said. "His family was active in the business community. He's well connected in the small-business community," he said.
Clack said that D'Adamo's position will be re-evaluated at the end of the fiscal year, June 30, and that he hopes the salary will eventually be paid with foundation money.
"If the position doesn't bring in money, if it doesn't work as we hoped, we won't keep doing it," he said. "It's a pilot program to see if this is a valuable way to get the foundation running."
Ryan O'Doherty, a Rawlings-Blake spokesman, said in an email that the mayor supports reinvigorating the fire foundation and defended the job. Despite budget cuts, he said, no firefighters have been laid off, more companies are in service than in 2009 during rotating closures, and response times have improved and fire deaths have declined.
While families of fallen firefighters do receive life insurance and benefits from a pension, Clack said that funding doesn't come immediately, when families might need assistance with medical expenses and funeral costs.
"When their paycheck stops, there isn't any money coming into the family. That's why we have the goal of 24 hours — to provide them with some money," he said.
The fire foundation will provide assistance similar to that of the Frank J. Battaglia Signal 13 Foundation, which aids city police officers.
Clack said plans to revive the firefighter program were discussed last year after the foundation had been dormant.
The foundation will provide families or injured firefighters with $1,000, but Clack said he would like to see that number grow to $5,000 to $10,000.
The department experiences about two off-duty deaths a year, with two to three significant injuries a year, he said.