Members of the Branchville Volunteer Fire Company and Rescue Squad in College Park say they are getting burnt out.
In 2013, the department lost all its paid career firefighters and is now run completely by volunteers. In a meeting March 4, College Park officials and representatives from the Branchville and Prince George’s County fire departments discussed ways to reduce pressure on volunteers, including the possibility of relocating the branch.
Branchville Chief Richard Leizear said the station has about 29 members but only 10 to 15 work regularly, often volunteering 40 or 50 hours per week.
“Some of them work nights, some of them take a day off work to stay [at the station],” he said. “It’s gotten to a point where everybody is burnt out. It has taken its toll.”
Leizear said he works 10-hour volunteer shifts after his job as a career firefighter in Washington, D.C.
“I get off work at seven in the morning. I come straight here,” he said. “I’m only home enough to go to sleep and see my daughter before she goes to bed.”
Last year, the county removed and reassigned paid firefighters from four stations in Prince George’s, resulting in a total of nine all-volunteer departments, said County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor. The decision was driven by a study of the county’s 45 fire stations as well as budget concerns, he said.
Bashoor said Branchville’s paid firefighters were reassigned because there are two other stations in close proximity: the College Park Volunteer Fire Department and Berwyn Heights Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad.
“From a management perspective, it doesn’t make sense to staff all three of those stations,” he said. “There is more than adequate coverage to provide to the community, but I recognize that we have essentially taken away something they were used to and I’m sensitive to [the situation].”
Bashoor said there are nine fire stations near Branchville that are close enough to respond to calls within seven minutes, which is the national standard for response times. Most areas of the county only have two or three stations within this response time, he said.
But Leizear, who has been volunteering with Branchville for 22 years, said neighboring stations can’t always meet the response times.
“Everything looks good on paper, but in reality it doesn’t work,” he said. “I’ve seen times when it takes an ambulance nine minutes to get here.”
College Park Councilman Patrick Wojahn (Dist. 1) said the only compromise at this point seems to be moving the station so it isn’t as close to the others, but he said the council does not currently have funding.
Mark Brady, county fire/EMS spokesman and Branchville volunteer, said the station is doing the best it can with limited resources.
“As time wears on, it gets tougher and tougher for volunteers to staff the station, especially Monday through Friday when the career people would typically work,” he said. “You’ve got to give them credit for working to get the career people back.”