In the face of a $48 million budget shortfall, Baltimore may close permanently three city fire companies, Truck 10, Squad 11, and Truck 15, as proposed by Fire Chief James Clack. For two years now, the city has been carrying out rotating closures of three companies, in the hopes that the local economy would pick up before having to make any of the closures permanent.

Under the proposal, the firefighters of the closed companies would not lose their jobs, but would be shuffled around the city among the remaining 52 companies.

Even if the closings are necessary, and even if they present no increased risk to public safety (as Clack assures us), you know things are bad when you are making permanent cuts to such basic services.

And it’s particularly heartbreaking when excellence and heroism can’t overcome a budgetary reality. Rick Hoffman, president of the firefighters’ union, says that Truck 10 leads the city in department commendations for heroic actions, and just yesterday, the company was instrumental in rescuing three children who lay unconscious in a burning building.

Hoffman credited their experience and skill with the saving of the children. The union president told The Baltimore Sun, “What’s very important on these low-rise fires is knowing the way the buildings are set up. The way these guys know these places played a major part in saving these children.”