Four Prince George’s County fire stations are set to lose all their paid firefighters on March 4, as announced in early February by county Fire Chief Marc Bashoor.
As part of a multi-step plan to combat redundancy, Seat Pleasant Station 808, Branchville Station 811, Boulevard Heights Station 817 and West Lanham Hills Station 828 will be losing 22 career-professional firefighters to other local fire stations, leaving them to operate on the volunteer-only basis.
“The goal is to provide staffing around the clock,” said Mark Brady, chief spokesperson for the Prince George’s County Fire Department, “and have enough staffing to operate all of the apparatus adequately.”
Currently, the four stations are staffed by career professionals from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, with volunteers covering evenings, weekends and holidays. The new volunteer-only stations will operate under new rules: Volunteers will not be mandated to be present in the firehouses and if the station is empty during a fire, a nearby station, .5 miles to two miles away, will answer the call.
The objective of the multi-layer redeployment is to decrease duplication, increase volunteer participation and establish uniform operational standards. Response time, call volume, population density and response time at each location were analyzed to determine where there was overlapping service.
In 2011, there were 18 fire related casualties in Prince George’s County. In 2012, the number of casualties was cut in half with the fire department reporting 10 casualties.
“Fire fatalities are very difficult to predict. There’s no one particular area that causes an issue,” said Brady.
Redeployment of firefighters is not the sole solution to address the $4.3 million budget deficit facing the fire department since January 2013, said Brady. But the plan will help to reduce overtime paid out on the daily basis.
In 2009, another restructuring plan was implemented under former Fire Chief Eugene A. Jones.
The plan four years ago, resulting from state and county budget cuts at the high of the recession caused by the 2008 housing crisis, led to Calverton Fire 841, Chillum Fire 844, Capitol Heights Fire 805 and Riverdale Fire 813 losing career-professional fire fighters and switching to volunteer-only participation.
In a press release, the county fire officials stated, “The Riverdale Heights Fire/EMS station has struggled at time to staff and provide service with an all volunteer staff since August 2009 when career staffing was removed for budgetary reasons.”
Residents in Prince George’s County have addressed their concerns at various town hall meetings about the redeployment plan, said Brady.