Career firefighters will be pulled from four Prince George’s County fire stations by March 4, county Fire Chief Marc Bashoor announced in a memo Friday.
The stations that will soon be completely staffed with volunteers and have no paid career personnel are: Seat Pleasant Station 808, Branchville Station 811, Boulevard Heights Station 817 and West Lanham Hills Station 828, since they are in close proximity to a number of other stations that respond to calls in overlapping areas, Bashoor said.
Seven other stations — Hyattsville Station 801, Capitol Heights Station 805, Bowie-Northview Station 816, Oxon Hill Station 821, Chapel Oaks Station 836, West Lanham Hills Station 848 and Laurel Rescue Station 849 — will get additional career firefighters to take on more calls and operate apparatus that fire officials said may go unused.
“We just don’t have the financial means to staff 45 stations. This was a really difficult decision to make,” Bashoor said.
In January, Bashoor said the department was $4.3 million over its $132 million annual budget in fiscal 2013, thus creating the need to analyze cost-cutting measures. Bashoor said the stations losing career staff are all within less than a few miles of other stations that all meet the public safety master plan guidelines of responding to calls within seven minutes.
“In order to balance the needs of the entire county, we have to look at where we have redundant service,” Bashoor said.
The decision made by the county fire/EMS department as part of its “strategic redeployment” plan to help balance the budget has brought disagreements between county fire officials and volunteer firefighter and municipal leaders.
At a briefing at Seat Pleasant’s council work session Monday, Bashoor announced the changes and said the benefit of the Seat Pleasant station losing career firefighters and having them placed elsewhere is that he will be able to dedicate an ambulance and fire engine in full service 24 hours a day in the Seat Pleasant area, since the Capitol Heights station will gain career firefighters to operate apparatus.
The Capitol Heights station is about three-fourths of a mile from the Seat Pleasant station, he said, noting that Capitol Heights will soon have five paid firefighters 24 hours a day instead of its current four from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.
Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant said he is pushing for more funding for the county fire/EMS department so that career staffing is not stretched.
“Fire departments should be fully funded,” Grant said. “The volunteer fire department, they do an excellent job here. When I have a partner like this in the city, I’m obligated to fight on their behalf ... . What we have here is a slow death [to the Seat Pleasant Volunteer Fire Company].”
Dave McGill, Seat Pleasant Volunteer Fire Company chief, said volunteer staffing cannot fill the void of career firefighters because recruiting is down and volunteers can only commit so much time because of full-time jobs outside of volunteering.
“In today’s economy, nobody is staying around the fire house. You’re not always going to have service,” he said.
The department as a whole responds to more than 100,000 calls per year, according to fire/EMS officials. Currently, there are 810 career firefighters and 1,560 certified volunteers, according to fire/EMS officials.
Staff Writer Timothy Sandoval contributed to this report.