Baltimore City Fire Chief Kevin Cartwright, who for a decade was the connection between the department and the public, has moved on. He departed April 1, exchanging his uniform for a suit, tie and private sector job.
As the spokesman for the fire department since 2002, Cartwright was a common sight at the scene of fire and major medical emergencies, sometimes arriving before the fire engines and ambulances. He tweeted reports of paramedic rescues and posted photos of fires on Facebook. He initially joined the department in 1989 and is a trained paramedic.
In an interview with the Afro, Cartwright, 49, declined to identify his new employer. He said, however, that he would serve as a “public affairs and corporate communications liaison.” Additionally, he will continue to run his own public relations company, Cartwright PR and Media Consulting, LLC. Through that company, he wrote, produced and hosted a public safety broadcast program for the fire department.
Cartwright made the announcement that he would be retiring from the Baltimore City Fire Department less than a week before he left. Asked why he was leaving now, he said: “I have come to a juncture where I want to expand my knowledge base, skill set into another setting.”
Cartwright said serving in the fire service was always his dream job.
“As a child, there was a friend of the family who was a paramedic and another was a firefighter and I would go to the firehouse and was intrigued by being able to help people in need,” he said.
Cartwright shifted from being a firefighter/paramedic to the administrative side in 2002, competing for the spokesman job.
“It was unconventional for someone at my initial rank as a firefighter or paramedic to ascend to a rank so far above where you are,” he said. He said he was supported in his campaign for the position by then-Baltimore City Fire Chief William J. Goodwin, Jr. He continued as public information officer when Fire Chief James S. Clack took over the department.
As the voice of the city’s fire department, Cartwright oversaw all the internal and external aspects of communications. He developed, implemented and evaluated public relations policies, procedures and guidelines in compliance with local, state and federal policies. Cartwright also conducted crisis and hazard analysis during major emergencies that directly impacted Baltimore City, he said.
Cartwright said the highlight of his career was putting a face on the Baltimore City’s Fire Department. He said that serving as the public information officer gave him the opportunity to establish a rapport with the citizens.
In a statement, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called Cartwright “one of the most well-known and trusted” employees in the city.
“Victims and their families were always given the respect they deserved,” she said. “That is why he will be greatly missed. A calm demeanor and commitment honestly cannot be taught. Whoever they choose to replace him will have enormous shoes to fill.”
Cartwright pointed to the 2007 death of fire recruit Rachael Wilson, 29, in a training exercise, as a low point in this tenure. The death shocked the city. In October 2012, Cartwright responded to a fully-involved house fire that took the lives of a grandmother and her four grandchildren.
“Sadly, lives were lost,” he said. “But out of this tragedy collaboration was established with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF)…in order to provide 1,000 smoke alarms to protect Baltimore citizens from the dangers of home fires.”
Cartwright lives in Southeast Baltimore with his wife, Sonya. The Cartwrights have four daughters and recently became grandparents with the birth of their grandson.