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Maryland’s PGFD again suspends ‘Ride-Along Observer’ program

Many volunteers upset over impact on summer recruitment

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For at least the second time in a dozen years, the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department has temporarily suspended its Ride-Along Observer Program. The move came yesterday (Wednesday) in a memo from PGFD Chief Benjamin Barksdale. Chief Barksdale describes “events over the last year” as the reason for the re-evaluation of “current policies and procedures”, but provides no details on what those events were. Statement by PGFD this morning:

The #pgfd Ride-Along Program is an important part of recruiting and public relations efforts. The suspension of the program is expected to last 30-45 days and allow for an evaluation that will strengthen policies & procedures and ensure the continued success of the program.

In 2007, the first year of, the program was also suspended. That occurred after an ugly incident at the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department. Here’s what I wrote then:

As STATter 911 first reported last month, a 17-year-old boy from Pennsylvania, who was riding at the Riverdale station, was set on fire by two volunteer firefighters. Riverdale VFD Chief Vince Harrison said he suspended the two volunteers for 30 days after they ignited an alcohol-based disinfectant foam that had been sprayed on the teenager.

The incident was not immediately reported and the teen did not receive medical treatment until Prince George’s County fire investigators were told about it almost a week after it occurred. Sources tell STATter 911 the boy received second-degree burns to his back.

While Chief Harrison said again Tuesday night that Riverdale’s investigation has been completed, Major (Chauncey) Bowers tells STATter 911 the county continues both internal and criminal probes into the matter.

Then, as now, the move has upset the leadership of a number of volunteer companies in PG County because the program is used for recruitment. A letter (below) is circulating on social media from Branchville VFC’s president, Jeramie Jordan, that expresses sentiments similar to other volunteers posting on Facebook.

In late May, news reports indicated PGFD put eight career firefighters on administrative duties as a hazing incident was investigated at one of its stations. There has been nothing public that I’ve seen on the outcome of that investigation or any indication there was a connection to the ride-along program.

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