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Prince George's Fire Department may redistribute career staffing

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Photo by Jim Davis. Branchville Volunteer Fire Department is one of the stations that may be affected if Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department reassigns staff from several volunteer stations to reduce overtime for career firefighters and medics.

Photo by Jim Davis. Branchville Volunteer Fire Department is one of the stations that may be affected if Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department reassigns staff from several volunteer stations to reduce overtime for career firefighters and medics.

Published on: Friday, December 21, 2012

By Jim Davis

The Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department will be re-establishing the Volunteer Staffing Utilization program, which was established in 2008 to help the Fire Department reduce overtime for career firefighters.

The Fire Department has more than 750 uniformed career personnel, staffing 45 fire and emergency medical services stations in the county.

Fifteen of the 45 stations are staffed with four career firefighters from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Nine stations have two career firefighters working 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and two firefighters working a 24-hour shift seven days a week.

The county also has 17 fire stations staffed with four or more firefighters who work a 24- hour tour and are off duty for 72 hours.

Four fire stations in the county — Riverdale, Kentland, Ritchie and Bladensburg — do not have any career staffing. These stations are completely staffed by volunteer firefighters and medics.

The VSU program will allow the Fire Department to remove career staffing from a fire station for eight to 24 hours and reassign them to another station in the county to reduce overtime. This action will force volunteer fire departments to staff fire trucks and ambulances with their own volunteer members. Up to 14 fire stations in the county could be affected by the VSU program each day.

The volunteer stations will be given at least two months notice prior to their VSU day in order to give the station time to seek volunteers to staff the station on the VSU day, PGFD spokesman Mark Brady said.

The Fire Department has between 35-50 vacancies and plans to hire 45 more firefighters in 2013, but those firefighters will not be assigned to fire stations until late summer or early fall.

Some fire stations, such as College Park Volunteer Fire Department and Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department, will not have a problem staffing their apparatus because those stations have a large number of volunteers who are available during the day. Some other stations will have a problem providing daytime staffing because their volunteers work during the day.

Laurel Volunteer Fire Department Volunteer Chief Travis Pearcy said, “I think it’s not right that I have to ask my volunteers to take a day off from their work to staff our equipment because the county cannot manage their budget.”

Pearcy said that annual statistics show that volunteers in day-work stations in Prince George’s County staff apparatus 72 percent of the time compared to career firefighters in day-work stations who staff apparatus 28 percent of the time.

“Now the county wants us to do more,” Pearcy said.

The Fire Department may have plans to remove career daytime staffing from Branchville Volunteer Fire Department and two other volunteer fire departments, a source said. A total of 12 firefighters could be reassigned, leaving the three volunteer departments to provide their own staffing. 

“If the county removes our daytime crew, it would put a strain on our volunteers to cover daytime hours as well as nighttime hours,” said James Crisman, president of Branchville Volunteer Fire Department.

The Branchville company responds to 4,500 calls per year and covers a large portion of the Capital Beltway and I-95, Crisman said. Branchville’s fire engine is also the first to respond to incidents at Franklin Square Apartments, which Crisman said is the largest apartment complex on the East Coast.

“If our daytime crew is removed and we cannot provide staffing for our equipment, then other companies will have to cover our response area, which will result in longer response time,” Crisman added.

If career staffing is removed from Branchville, this will be the second time the Fire Department has removed career staffing from Branchville.

On Aug. 1, 2002, daytime career staffing was removed from Branchville. The volunteer department was given only 27 hours notice. The county sited the station’s proximity to other volunteer fire companies as the reason for the staffing removal, according to sources.

“And now we can be faced with the same problem again,” Crisman said.

After a number of meetings with Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department, career staffing was returned to Branchville in 2006. 

In November, Greenbelt Volunteer Fire Department was placed out of service 25 times because it could not provide staffing for its equipment. In those instances, Branchville had to respond to incidents in Greenbelt. 

“If Branchville is unable to respond to incidents in Greenbelt because of no staffing, then the residents of Greenbelt will have even a longer wait for help to arrive,” Crisman said.

Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department will have a meeting with several volunteer companies on Friday, Dec. 28, to discuss this issue.

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