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The Washington Post’s Lynh Bui is the latest to report on the December 29 allegation of fireground sabotage at a house fire in Capitol Heights, Maryland. After almost two weeks, there’s still no word from the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department on whether what was described rather clearly on the radio by firefighters actually occurred and any decision about disciplinary action.
As Bui reports, two firefighters have been suspended from emergency runs as this investigation continues. One was the driver of Engine 826b, from the largely career staffed fire station in District Heights. The other firefighter was operating Engine 833, from the all-volunteer Kentland VFD.
According to the radio traffic (listen to it here), Engine 826b arrived first at the house fire near Larchmont Avenue and Efin Avenue and took an attack line into the burning home. Engine 833 pick up Engine 826b’s hand-stretched supply line while the crew from Engine 833 took a long attack line from its pumper into the home. There are two radio transmissions from Engine 826b requesting water from Engine 833. On the second transmission Engine 826B says, “33 I need that water. I am going to put a hose clamp on your attack line.” About a minute later Engine 833 transmits, “Engine 833 to command, have 26’s driver take the hose clamp off our attack line.”
What hasn’t been confirmed by PGFD is whether what we hear on the radio is a factual portrayal of what occurred. An image posted to Facebook, and since removed, shows a hose clamp in place on an attack line, but at the time the picture was taken it’s in the up position. Last week, a PGFD spokesman confirmed for a reporter the incident commander quickly recognized what happened on the fireground was potentially a case of workplace violence and got the investigation rolling.
Reporter Lynh Bui asked me for an assessment of the incident and this is how I described it to her:
If Kentland’s water supply were indeed cut off or if Kentland delayed in getting water to the first engine, firefighters inside the home were placed in jeopardy, Statter said.
“If we’re to believe the radio traffic, he’s basically saying ‘If I don’t get water, you’re not getting water,’ which is really, really childish,” Statter said of the firefighter who threatens to clamp Kentland’s hose. “Whatever the provocation … it does not justify shutting down the hose line of people in a fire.”
Obviously, none of this is good for the image of Prince George’s County. Surprisingly, PGFD is allowing this incident to linger. The Washington Post article is the third story by local news media since this incident occurred. The Post coverage today has now been picked up by other newspapers around the country and posted by Fox News. PGFD and PGPD have a reputation of proactively dealing with bad news, including alerting the public to some of these incidents even before they were uncovered by the news media. In this rather serious case there doesn’t seem to be any urgency to get the bad news behind the department and out of the public eye.