UPDATED: Trouble in Prince George’s County, MD. Chief & Morningside VFD in battle over ambulance. Morningside tells its story.

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The Morningside VFD is now telling its side of the fight the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department Chief Marc Bashoor over staffing and providing ambulance service:

The Morningside Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. (MVFD) has received an unlawful mandate from Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department (PGFD) Chief Marc Bashoor to house a PGFD owned and operated ambulance at its Fire Station.  This comes as a result of a recent collective bargaining agreement signed between the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department and the Professional Firefighters and Paramedic Union, Local 1619, which requires the county to up staff volunteer fire stations with additional unnecessary salaried employees.

Over the past 10 months, the volunteers of the MVFD have voiced their concerns about the waste of county taxpayers money and resources at fire stations with adequate volunteer staffing, while other fire stations requests for staffing go unfulfilled.  The current staffing model that has been in place at the MVFD since the PGFD’s Ambulance arrived in 2006 has resulted in the savings of millions of dollars to county taxpayers.  As a founding principle of MVFD, volunteers are here to provide services free to the community.  Unfortunately, the new union collective bargaining agreement mandate any station with 2 salaried county employees be increased to 4 salaried county employees, or have none. 

The Morningside VFD’s position is based on the following facts:

1.) MVFD was chartered in 1944 to provide fire suppression services to the community of Morningside and adjacent communities.

2.) The MVFD does not currently, or has ever owned and operated an Ambulance.  However, MVFD has and will continue to provide first response emergency medical services.

3.) In 2006, while operating in good faith, the MVFD partnered with the PGFD to allow the PGFD to house a PGFD Owned and Operated Ambulance at the MVFD Fire Station.

4.) A Station Policy that affirms the agreement and was written by a County Fire Department Official, dated May 13, 2006 states that “It should neither be assumed nor expected that MVFD members will participate in the operation of Ambulance 279.  The responsibility lies solely on the career shift personnel assigned, detailed or working at Fire Station 27”.

5.) Prince Georges County entered into a new agreement with the Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Union, Local 1619, without consulting the stakeholders that would be directly affected by this unilateral change.  This new agreement explicitly prohibits the current staffing model that has been successfully utilized at the MVFD Fire Station.

6.) The MVFD never requested or mandated the PGFD Ambulance housed at its Fire Station be placed out of service.  The MVFD has only requested the PGFD Ambulance be redeployed to an adjacent station, where the unit responds to the majority of its calls.  This request would allow the PGFD to keep the unit in-service, without incurring the proposed unnecessary additional costs and salaried positions of compliance with the new agreement.

7.) Nearly 7 out of 10 emergencies responded to by the PGFD Ambulance housed at the MVFD Fire Station are outside of the MVFD’s Primary Response Area.

8.) PGFD is mandating Volunteer Fire Departments to staff County Owned Ambulances that they in turn bill taxpayers for.

9.) The MVFD will not staff a PGFD Owned Ambulance that they in turn bill for services rendered, it is against our founding principals as volunteers.

10.) Currently 70% of the funded County Salary Positions assigned to the MVFD Fire Station are vacant.  Just in the month of July, the PGFD accrued over 1,000 hours of overtime to staff the funded positions at the MVFD Fire Station.  This is only part of the 1.1million dollars the PGFD paid for over 21,000 hours of overtime to operationally staff the department during the month of July.  This will only compound the Prince Georges County fiscal deficit in fiscal year 2014, which is already in excess of 152 million dollars.

11.) Conversely to the County’s rapidly escalating overtime cost, the MVFD has provided over 25,000 man-hours of staffing which equates to more than 1.7 million dollars in taxpayer’s savings so far this year.

12.) The MVFD has been actively seeking a resolution to this matter since November 21, 2012.  We have been unable to reach an amicable agreement in these matters and feel that we have been stonewalled by County Officials.

EARLIER

The following is a press release from the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department :

The Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department has been notified by one of it’s volunteer corporations that the basic life support transport unit (ambulance) will no longer be welcomed at their station, and will be placed out of service within the next week.   

The Morningside Volunteer Fire Company, Inc., Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Station 827, in a written notice from their lawyer, stated the ambulance at their station would need to be removed or redeployed by the County on August 19, 2013.  

Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor sent a letter today to Morningside Volunteer Chief Michael White ordering him to keep the ambulance in service.  This action came after attorneys representing the Morningside Volunteer Fire Department notified the County in a letter (entire letter below) dated August 13, 2013, that “after careful deliberations the membership of MVFD has voted and has decided to keep the date of August 19, 2013 at 0700 by which Ambulance 827 will no longer be authorized on it’s property and should be redeployed.”  After reading the letter Fire Chief Bashoor said, “Their decision will compromise the safety of our citizens and residents, which I will not stand for it.” 

This situation is a result of “staffing” brought about by a recent change in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the County and the International Association of Firefighters Local 1619.  This new agreement affects staffing at stations where only 2 career firefighter/medics are on duty.  The Morningside Station currently has 4 career staff on duty from 7:00 A.M. until 3:00 P.M., Monday through Friday.  At all other times, 2 career firefighter/medics remain on duty throughout the 24-hour shift.  The new CBA creates 2 options—either up staff the station with 4 career personnel around the clock, or have the 2 firefighters removed from the 24-hour shift.  Removal of firefighters from the 24-hour shift will require volunteers to staff the apparatus during nights, weekends and holidays.  There are 8 other stations affected by this agreement, with no other adverse actions being taken at this time.  

The Morningside Volunteer Fire Company, Inc. has to date declined the 4-person crew around the clock, which means the 2-person crew at night, weekends and holidays would be eliminated, effective October 1, 2013 (date of the 3rd phase of staffing implementation).  The Morningside Station would then be required to staff the ambulance and suppression units with volunteers.  The volunteer corporation has advised that volunteers will not staff the ambulance at the Morningside station, and therefore the ambulance would be placed out of service and removed from the station on August 19, 2013.  

Fire Chief Bashoor had members of his command staff meet with the leadership of the Morningside Station on several occasions, in an attempt to work through this situation.  There has been no progress or change in Morningside’s stance.  Fire Chief Bashoor has ordered the Volunteer Chief, Michael White, to leave the ambulance in service, allowing it to serve the community and be staffed by Volunteer and/or Career staffing.  

In 2012, the Morningside ambulance responded to 3,627 calls for service.  This is the 10th busiest basic life support transport unit in the county.  The loss of this unit could create an estimated wait time of about 5 to 10 minutes for another transport unit to respond to the scene of an incident in the Morningside community.    

Prince George’s County is the largest and busiest combination (paid, volunteer, civilian) Fire/EMS Departments in the Country.  In 2012, the department responded on 135, 383 calls for service.  Of that figure, nearly 80 percent were EMS-related.  

There are 45 Fire/EMS Stations located throughout Prince George’s County.  Only 2 of these stations operate without an EMS transport unit, and they are both all-volunteer stations.  There are 5 all-volunteer stations that continue to staff and respond with ambulances.  Most Fire/EMS stations have some form of combined career and volunteer staffing.   

There will be consequences to any actions that attempt to place the ambulance out of service at Morningside.  The station’s Volunteer Fire Chief has been notified of actions that will be taken if they move forward with plans to remove the ambulance.  Actions being considered include, but not limited to, demotion of the volunteer chief and response of fire apparatus limited to areas where they are considered first due.  

Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor will continue to work with county and Morningside leaders to resolve this matter.  The goal is to prevent any adverse effect on the Morningside community and surrounding areas.

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