After taking heat for declining to send any of Baltimore’s windfall in federal pandemic aid to the city’s strapped Fire Department, Mayor Brandon Scott on Wednesday announced that he was setting $10 million aside for the agency.

The funding, which comes out of Baltimore’s $641 million pool of American Rescue Plan Act funding, will go towards a variety of facility improvements, roof repairs and emergency aid equipment, Scott and his Fire Chief James Wallace said at a news conference. The allocations were approved earlier Wednesday by the city’s mayor-controlled spending board.

The first-term mayor said the funding for the Fire Department, coming after the vast majority of Baltimore’s $641 million has already been committed, came after a long period of discussions with agency leaders about their needs.

It’s been a “very, very tough few years” for the Fire Department marked by “more tragedy and unexpected loss” than the agency has seen in long time, said Scott, alluding to two separate incidents under his tenure in which a total of five firefighters were killed fighting rowhome blazes.

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“They’ve shown exemplary service, toughness and dedication throughout that, continuing to do their work each and every day,” he said.

More than half of the $10 million will go towards facility improvements and roof repairs at some fire houses, while $4.7 million is earmarked for overhauling the department’s breathing apparatus equipment and purchasing thermal imaging cameras, said Wallace, who thanked the mayor for answering the department’s requests.

In the last year Scott has faced criticism both from the City Council and from a firefighter’s union for withholding American Rescue Plan money from the department, despite its glaring equipment needs.

Matthew Coster, president of the IAFF Local 734, appeared on Fox45 in February expressing his disappointment that the department hadn’t received any of the pandemic aid, despite its frontline aid during the COVID-19 pandemic and staffing shortages, aging firehouses and equipment deficiencies.

Less than two weeks later, International Association of Fire Fighters chapters Local 734 and Local 964 endorsed Scott’s reelection campaign and rebuked his lead challenger, former Mayor Sheila Dixon. Coster thanked Scott at the time for coming to the table to discuss federal pandemic aid allocations and to hear out his members’ needs.

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A month later, the national IAFF union pumped $50,000 into a political action committee backing Scott’s reelection.

Baltimore has until the end of this year to earmark all of its federal aid and until the end of 2026 to spend it. As of the end of February, the city had spent just 33% of its $641 million.

Scott’s top pandemic aid officer has said her office is evaluating the city’s spending plan and could soon announce changes in order to ensure compliance with the end-of-year deadline.

Adam Willis covers city government for The Banner, including the impacts of the large COVID-19 stimulus package that Baltimore received from the federal government.

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