- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

The fire chief who has been at the forefront of the investigation into the Washington-area serial arsons announced yesterday that he is resigning as head of the Prince George’s County Fire Emergency Medical Services Department.

Ronald D. Blackwell is going a few miles east to become fire chief in neighboring Anne Arundel County.

A “gracious offer” from the county executive helped Chief Blackwell, 52, make his decision.

“I felt that while there’s never a good time to leave, now is probably the right time,” said Chief Blackwell, whose last day will be Aug. 20.

For months, Chief Blackwell has been the face of the Arson Task Force investigating 39 fires since March 8, 2003.

There have been 18 fires and an attempted arson in the District, 16 fires in Prince George’s County, one fire in Alexandria, two fires in Fairfax County, and one fire in Montgomery County.

“My departure will have little to no effect on the work of the task force,” Chief Blackwell said.

Eleven local, state and federal agencies make up the task force, and he expected managers to meet later this week to decide on a new spokesman.

“I certainly would’ve liked for all the issues related to the serial arsons to be resolved,” Chief Blackwell said in a phone interview.

He took the helm in Prince George’s County on September 11, 2001, and said that fateful day made hazardous-materials work an even more important part of the department’s many jobs.

Among the accomplishments Chief Blackwell cites is getting more sophisticated equipment for hazardous-materials and bomb teams.

In addition to the serial arson investigation, Chief Blackwell says his successor will have to deal with controlling costs.

“Overtime is an issue, but in our post-September 11 environment, overtime is something that’s inevitable, and will be even in Anne Arundel County,” Chief Blackwell said.

Hiring firefighters and recruiting and keeping volunteers also must be dealt with.

“The issue of the decline in volunteerism is a national issue, and one in which Prince George’s County is not immune.” He expects that county volunteer departments eventually will receive funding to deal with recruitment and retention.

Chief Blackwell leaves a department with 1,900 career and volunteer personnel for one with 721 employees. His new job will pay $120,000 annually.

Lt. Col. Darrell Odom will assume the role of acting chief until a permanent replacement is selected. Along with Lt. Odom, Maj. Lawrence Sedgwick, Maj. Mark Bashoor and Maj. Carla Blue are among the candidates under consideration.

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