Prince George's County fire officials are investigating why a volunteer rescue crew stripped lifesaving equipment from an ambulance, leaving the vehicle unable to transport a boy who suffered a head injury, authorities said yesterday.
The injured child was brought by his parents to the Riverdale Heights Volunteer Fire Department on Thursday afternoon, but a new ambulance that could have immediately delivered him to a nearby hospital sat empty because the volunteer crew had abruptly withdrawn it from service earlier in the day, officials said. Two volunteers cared for the child until a fully equipped vehicle arrived a few minutes later.
Capt. Chauncey Bowers, a spokesman for the county's Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, said he could not say how long the delay was or how serious the boy's injuries were.
But Bowers said that county officials are investigating why the volunteer crew, which the county supervises, removed the equipment and that they are considering whether administrative punishment should be imposed.
"There's a lot to figure out," Bowers said. "This crew was told not to take the ambulance out of service, so the investigation includes why they disobeyed a directive, why service was interrupted and whether it caused a potential delay in treating the child."
In Prince George's, career and volunteer rescue crews and firefighters work out of the same station houses and report to Fire Chief Ronald D. Blackwell. But there is friction between the squads, and it has erupted in public disputes several times in recent years.
Jay Tucker, president of the county's Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, said the current dispute is between the county and the station, not between the volunteers and paid firefighters.
"The ultimate goal is to be of service to the citizens, and the initial problems that exist will be resolved in the very near future," he said.
He did not say why the volunteers took their ambulance out of service, stripping the vehicle of medicine, bandages, stretchers and equipment intended for saving lives. Bowers said a dispute earlier in the week over the maintenance of a volunteer-owned ambulance may have led to the action.
Bowers said volunteers drafted a letter to Blackwell on Thursday in which they said they "would no longer provide ambulance service to the community" of Riverdale, leaving those duties to the paid men and women also assigned to the station. Shortly after, the volunteers removed the medical equipment from ambulance No. 137, Bowers said.