(Courtesy of Prince George’s Fire Department)

When Branchville volunteer firefighters hold a press conference at noon today, they plan to show in hard numbers why their services should not be cut, as warned, on March 1. Such a showing should not be necessary, as recent raging fires that claimed a life and destroyed apartments, a row house and a church in the county clearly show a need for firefighters. Volunteers and paid staff, all hands on deck!

“We’ll have all the stats and everything available at the press conference,” said Branchville Deputy Chief Jeff Dickey, a Prince George’s resident, who has been a volunteer firefighter at the Branchville station for 27 years while also working 27 years as a D.C. career firefighter.

The Branchville Volunteer Fire Department in College Park is fighting to save the four career firefighters who man their station between 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. The department has about 90 volunteers who work mostly evening and weekend shifts.

Volunteer firefighter departments need their career firefighters to help them ensure safety, Dickey said. “Career staff means a lot to us. We work well together, and it’s security for the community,” Dickey said.

There are perks to having career firefighters in the house. Their schedules are more dependable, and they allow volunteers to remain free for training during the day, earning certifications and qualifications needed for paid careers as firefighters. These perks notwithstanding, the Branchville Volunteer Fire Department has responded to fires at Springhill Lake apartments, a house fire on Riggs Road and an apartment fire at the Franklin Park apartment complex on Edmonston Terrace in Greenbelt, Dickey said. “We’ve had major fires in the past three to four weeks. . . . Anytime you get people out, it’s a life saved.”

The County has 38 volunteer fire and rescue corporations, according to the Prince George’s Volunteer and Fire Rescue Association, which also claims volunteer fire fighters save the County about $43 million annually in salary costs. Prince George’s County Council member Eric Olson (D-District 3) favors keeping career staff at Branchville. It can take dozens of firefighters to put out a major fire.

“I’m going to keep advocating to keep career staff in the station,” Olson said. “Volunteers do a terrific job, and volunteers are critical. But we have a combined system (volunteers and career staff), and both are critical to our public safety.”

On New Year’s Day, just hours after the congregation at First Wesleyan Church of Oxon Hill concluded its Watch Night Service, which was interrupted by a power outage, a fire broke out. Later that day, a fire broke out at a vacant house in Clinton. More than 35 firefighters and medics responded. It took them about 30 minutes to get the fire under control and about 30 minutes more to extinguish it. No personal injuries were reported in either of those fires, and both are under investigation. Last week, a row-house fire in Greenbelt, killed 86-year-old Betty M. Starry.

Leaders of the Branchville Volunteer Fire Department, which has lost its career staff before and had it replaced, will make the case for maintaining its volunteer-career firefighter system today, and officials of the Prince George’s County Fire Department are expected to respond. Here’s hoping they have already reconsidered their possible plans to cut fire staff at this or any other fire station in the county any time soon.

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