- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2012

Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor has transferred all career firefighters out of a Riverdale station, leaving volunteers to provide service after a series of conflicts between career employees and volunteer firefighters reached a boiling point, fire officials said.

Beginning Monday, four career firefighters who staffed the station for eight hours a day during weekdays were transferred from the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department to the nearby Riverdale Heights fire station in order to allow for “some cooling-off time,” Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department spokesman Mark Brady said.

Department officials declined to discuss the reason behind the transfers, announcing the transfers in a statement that only says the station was the site of “several ongoing conflicts between career and volunteer members.” Union officials said the conflicts stemmed from a female career firefighter’s complaints of harassment.

“One of our female members made allegations including having her personal protective gear tampered with,” fire union President Andrew Pantelis said. “We’ve been aware of a tense and sometimes hostile work environment for several months now.”

Volunteer firefighters will be responsible for staffing the station 24 hours a day until further notice, county department officials said.

Volunteer leadership declined to comment.

“All I can say is that Chief Bashoor made his decision so that outstanding issues can be resolved,” said Stephen Lamphier, president of the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department.

The transfers come at a time when the traditionally volatile relations between career and volunteer firefighters have improved.

“The issues that occurred at Riverdale are certainly the exception, not the rule in Prince George’s County today,” Mr. Brady said.

As recently as three years ago, tempers often flared publicly over career and volunteer staffing arrangements made at fire stations across the county. Going back 20 years, Mr. Brady said he could only recall one instance when conflict got so bad between career and volunteer factions that career personnel were removed from a station.

“The removals I remember were more for budget reasons rather than personnel issues,” he said.

The county’s fire and EMS department is one of the largest combined career and volunteer departments in the country, relying on approximately 720 paid and more than 1,000 volunteer firefighters to staff its 44 fire stations. With the transfer of career firefighters out of Riverdale, the station becomes the fourth all-volunteer fire station in the county, joining the Bladensburg, Kentland and Ritchie volunteer stations.

Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer said he thinks the quality of service from the station will remain the same with the all-volunteer force.

“I’ve been assured from both sides that adequate coverage is available and will be maintained,” Mr. Archer said. “The ideal situation is to have paid staffing during the day, but this is adequate.”

Volunteer firefighters from Riverdale have been under the microscope recently as former volunteer members were criminally charged during arson investigations. Two former volunteer firefighters pleaded guilty in 2010 to starting fires in abandoned houses in Riverdale in 2008. Just last month, a third former firefighter, Gerard McBurnie Dixon Jr., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit second-degree arson — one of six charges he faced from an investigation into another 2008 fire.



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