Volunteer firefighters at a College Park fire station say service could be strained by a plan that may shift its paid firefighters — who work daytime shifts — to other Prince George’s County stations.
“When you remove paid staff during the daytime, it creates a snowball effect and it leaves you uncovered for evenings,” said James Crisman, volunteer president of the Branchville Volunteer Fire Company and Rescue Squad in College Park, adding that the station receives more calls during the evening than the day. “We need our daytime career staff.”
Mark Brady, a spokesman for the county fire/EMS department, said there is a plan to shift about 20 paid firefighters from volunteer stations across the county to other stations, even though the department is scheduled to hire 98 new firefighters this fiscal year. Currently, the department has 810 career firefighters, but would like to have about 1,200 to consider itself full staffed, he said.
Brady said the plan is partially the result a contract agreement with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1619, which represents 1,300 personnel, to have staffing increased at some stations. He also said paid firefighters are leaving the department at a rate of three per month.
“We always have a need for more firefighters,” he said.
Brady said Branchville may not lose career firefighters since officials are still determining which stations the firefighters will be shifted from and where they will go. He said all 37 volunteer fire corporations in the county are being considered, and there is no timeline as to when the changes would occur.
Crisman said the four paid firefighters at the Branchville station work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. He said it is often difficult to find volunteer staff for the day shift because many of the nearly 90 volunteers at the station work and go to school during that time.
“It is unfortunate that they are under the microscope again,” Brady said, referring to the period from 2002 to 2006 when Branchville and several other volunteer stations operated with no paid firefighters because the department was looking to trim spending to stay within its budget. “But if you look at the geography, you can see why they are being considered.”
Brady said volunteer stations in close proximity to other stations would be more likely to get their career staff shifted and noted that Branchville has two nearby stations at Berwyn Heights and College Park, which are both roughly a mile away from the Branchville station.
Branchville Fire Chief Richard Leizear, who has been a volunteer at the station for more than 20 years, said the last time the station lost its career staff, many volunteers quit.
“We lost a lot of people,” he said. “They just took a beating. They wore themselves out.”
Kenneth Trader, 43, who lives on the Eastern Shore, said he works full time and volunteers up to 20 hours per week as a firefighter at the Branchville station. He said he preferred to have the paid firefighters working day shifts.
“We have gone through this before,” he said. “I feel we can probably handle it, but I would rather see the career staffing here just because it put a lot of strain on the people here.”