City Officials Roll Out Unsafe Vacant Marking Initiative

Mayor Brandon M. Scott, Fire Chief Niles R. Ford, & City Leaders take steps to protect the community

BALTIMORE, MD.  Today, the Baltimore City Fire Department launched its Unsafe Vacant Marking Initiative to help first responders identify unsafe vacant homes, buildings, or structures when determining the structural integrity before entering.

Joined by Mayor Brandon M. Scott, Councilman John Bullock, Baltimore City Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy, Mount Clare Community Association President Kintira Barbour, Fire Chief Niles Ford led City Officials and his team of First Responders through the Mount Clare Community to secure 12x12 inch, red square reflective signs on properties considered unsafe for anyone to enter.

"Vacant properties present a danger to our entire community. My administration has committed to addressing this issue with the utmost urgency. We refuse to leave anything on the table and are working to improve all operations, procedures, and processes connected to how the City government deals with vacant houses," said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. "Identifying and marking unsafe vacants will ensure the safety of our residents, first responders, and agency personnel so that we can prevent the unspeakable tragedy that occurred last January from ever repeating itself."

This initiative comes months after a vacant house fire on the 200 block of S. Stricker St. claimed the lives of three firefighters and left one critically injured. "The manner in which our fallen firefighters lost their lives has severely affected the members of this department - and quite frankly - the entire community," said Fire Chief Niles R. Ford. "The coordinated efforts to protect first responders, building engineers and others is ‌vital as we consistently work to improve our safety standards and identify new opportunities to protect the City of Baltimore. Chief Ford added, ‘we will have boots on the ground-with the goal of aggressively tagging and documenting unsafe vacant properties in Baltimore City.'

With over 800 signs in stock, the reflective signs will soon be visible throughout Baltimore City. Chief Ford noted when identifying an unsafe vacant property, firefighters will consider the stability of a structure & the roof, previous fire damage, and visible signs of a collapse.

"The City has been working for decades to combat vacancy and hold derelict property owners accountable," stated Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy. "Even as we continue this work-using code enforcement, tax lien foreclosure, condemnation, and demolition - we must ensure the safety of our first responders. These reflective signs represent another tool in our toolbox supporting our coordinated response in the fight against blight with a commitment to public safety."

Following the deaths of Lt. Paul Butrim, Lt. Kelsey Sadler, and FF/Paramedic Kenneth Lacayo, Mayor Scott issued a 30-day Vacant Review, requiring all City agencies to review their operations, procedures, and processes connected to how City government manages private and publicly owned-vacant properties.

Of the approximately 218,000 total properties in the City of Baltimore, 14,600 are vacant and abandoned, and over 92% of those are privately owned. Derelict vacant properties negatively affect our communities, and many have become a haven for drug use, shelter for the homeless or "squatters", and serve as a prime location for crime and illegal activity.

Every Wednesday beginning October 26, firefighters will hit the pavement for two hours to document unsafe vacant homes. So far, over 500 unsafe properties have been identified.

When marking unsafe vacant homes, firefighters will attach signs to the front and back of properties. Thereafter, firefighters document and submit the address, occupancy status, type of structure, and the specific unsafe conditions to Fire Communications before entering it in the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD).

Once information on an unsafe vacant property appears in the CAD, firefighters can access the information before responding to a scene. "It has to be determined fairly quickly whether it's safe to enter a structure," Chief Ford said. "We have just a few moments to decide to fight a fire internally or externally."

The public can also report any concerns about vacant structures by calling 311 or visiting 311 Online.

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