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Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department Chief Spokesman Mark Brady told a TV reporter yesterday (Wednesday) it was the incident commander at a Capitol Heights, Maryland house fire Saturday who quickly determined workplace violence may have taken place on the fireground. This brought a PGFD internal investigation and the removal from operations of the drivers of the first two engines to arrive at the burning home near Larchmont Avenue and Elfin Avenue.
It wasn’t just obvious to the IC that a serious incident had occurred. Anyone listening to the radio traffic could clearly hear the driver on Engine 826b threaten to clamp the attack line belonging to Engine 833 if his supply line wasn’t charged. A transmission about a minute later gave strong indication the clamping of the attack line occurred when Engine 833 asked command to “have 26’s driver take the hose clamp off our attack line.” There was also a picture posted to Facebook showing a hose clamp around a charged attack line. In the picture the clamp is in the up position.
Engine 826b is from the predominantly career staffed District Heights station and Engine 833 is from the all-volunteer Kentland station. There’s been about a half-century of battles between career and volunteer forces in Prince George’s County. Some of those have involved physical disputes in the firehouse and on the fireground, along with vandalism.
If the radio traffic describes what actually occurred Saturday, and an attack line was sabotaged with firefighters inside the burning home, it would be hard to imagine this ending well for the driver of Engine 826b. You can also see the possibility of this turning into a criminal investigation. The driver of Engine 833 could face a similar fate if it can be proven the delay in providing water was intentional.
Three-years-ago, some of the same issues that brought about Saturday’s dispute were directly addressed by then PGFD Chief Marc Bashoor. In reaction to a physical fight between career and volunteer firefighters at the entrance to a burning home, Chief Bashoor said in a video (above) to the department, “… there is a pattern of activity needing immediate attention”. The December, 2015 fight did not involve either of the stations from Saturday’s incident.
Part of the pattern cited in Bashoor’s video is directly related to the message on the radio Saturday about Engine 826b’s supply line and the attack line Engine 833 ran from its pumper to the house. Here’s what Chief Bashoor said and also distributed in a department email (read entire 2015 message here):
All personnel are hereby directed to cease the practice of charging attack lines from a second or successive piece of apparatus until that units primary mission is achieved (ie: water supply to the first engine). That second line will normally be expected to be deployed from the first arriving engine. The practice of routinely running a long line and charging it before water supply is established must stop! In any case, that second line will support and backup the initial attack line OR will be deployed as directed by “Command” or “Tactical Command”.
A Saturday Facebook post from former Kentland VFD chief Ed Lehan that called the clamping of the hose “attempted murder” and included a lively discussion from current and former PGFD volunteer and career firefighters has since been removed. Some of the comments in that post focused on the 2015 video and email from Chief Bashoor.
Chief Ben Barksdale took over from Bashoor on March 1, 2017. It will be up to Chief Barksdale to find a path forward following this latest and quite serious PGFD battle.