Wednesday, June 19, 2013 7:17 AM
Photo by Jim Davis. Starting March 4, four Prince George’s County volunteer fire stations will not have daytime career staffing.
Published on: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
By Jim Davis
Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department made it official Jan. 31 that the department will remove 20 career firefighters from four fire stations. The removal goes into effect March 4.
Seat Pleasant (Company 808), Branchville (Company 811), Boulevard Heights (Company 817) and West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department (Station 828) are slated to lose their career staff between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
As a result of the reassignment of those 20 firefighters to other departments in the county, Branchville, Boulevard Heights, Seat Pleasant and West Lanham Hill will have to depend on their volunteers to staff the fire trucks and ambulances during the week days.
“This puts a strain on our volunteers to cover daytime hours as well as nighttime hours,” said James Crisman, president of Branchville Volunteer Fire Department.
Volunteer Fire Chief Dave McGill, of Seat Pleasant Volunteer Fire Company, said volunteer staffing cannot fill the void of career firefighters because recruiting is down and volunteers can only commit so much time because of full-time jobs outside of volunteering.
Laurel Volunteer Fire Department’s Volunteer Chief Travis Pearcy said, “I think it’s not right that you have to ask volunteers to take a day off from their work to staff fire equipment because the county cannot manage their budget or staffing.”
In a memo sent out Feb. 1, 2012, Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor said that the changes were in response to an internal evaluation of the department’s “overall operations and personnel deployment” including current career staffing patterns for all facilities.
Bashoor said the reassignment would provide firefighting and emergency medical services to more residents than the current staffing model.
Starting on March 4, two additional firefighters will be assigned to Hyattsville (Station 801),West Lanham Hills (Station 848), and Laurel Rescue Squad (Station 849 ) from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, Bashoor said.
Oxon Hill (Station 821), Bowie Northview (Station 816), and Chapel Oaks (Station 838) will have two more additional firefighters assigned to the station for a 24-hour period. With additional staffing, Chapel Oaks will place an additional EMS unit in-service.
Capitol Heights Volunteer Fire Department will receive four firefighters from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, but starting on March 3, the department will also have five firefighters working a 24-hour shift 7a.m. -7 a.m. seven days per week.
According to Andy Pantelis, president of Prince George’s County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association Local 1616, said that the contract and a Memo of Understanding that was voted on in 2012 by Prince George’s County requires Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department to add staff to 10 fire stations by March 1 with six firefighters — four assigned to the fire truck and two assigned to the ambulance. It’s up to the county to pick which fire stations to receive increased staffing. “Clearly we would like all fire stations in the county to have six firefighters,” Pantelis said.
“The county had three options, to hire more firefighters to up staff fire stations, pay overtime or redeploy firefighters from one station to another,” Pantelis explained.
The four fire stations losing their daytime staffing are located within a seven-minute response time from other fire stations. The Capitol Heights fire station, which will have staffing around the clock, is two miles from the Boulevard Heights fire station and one mile from the Seat Pleasant fire station. College Park and Berwyn Heights fire departments are about a mile from Branchville, and the 24-hour-staffed Landover Hills fire station is a mile from West Lanham Hills station, said PGFD chief spokesman Mark Brady.
“I agree that College Park and Berwyn Heights is a mile from our station, but College Park is part of the county’s Hazardous Material Team and responds to hazardous material incidents throughout the county as well as provides fire and emergency medical services to the University of Maryland,” said Richard Leizear, Branchville volunteer fire chief.
Leizear also said that Berwyn Heights only has a ladder truck, two heavy-duty rescue squads and an ambulance, but it lacks a fire truck that can extinguish fires. This could result in longer response times for calls in Branchville’s service area, Leizear said.
“Many of the county volunteer fire stations are seeking volunteers,” Brady said. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter or an emergency medical technician, call (301) 583-2200 for more information.