A Prince George’s County firefighter faces possible disciplinary action after he made an “inappropriate radio transmission” that threatened to cut off a volunteer fire crew’s water supply during a call in Capitol Heights, Md.
The firefighter, who had been temporarily banned from responding to emergency calls since the Dec. 29 incident, was allowed to return to full duty Friday after the department completed an initial review of the incident. A volunteer firefighter who had also been removed from emergency operations has returned to duty.
The review, investigated as a possible case of “workplace violence,” determined that although a clamp designed to stem the flow of water through a hose was placed on another crew’s line, it was never activated, said Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department.
“This situation had no impact whatsoever on extinguishing the fire,” Brady said.
The investigation marked the latest incident in the ongoing turf battle between career and volunteer firefighters in Prince George’s County, a dispute that has seen crews accuse each other of sabotage or assault.
The investigation stems from a Dec. 29 house fire at Larchmont Avenue and Doppler Street, Brady said.
A crew from the mostly career-staffed station in District Heights was first at the scene, with an all-volunteer crew from Kentland arriving second, Brady said.
Typically, engines that arrive first pull attack lines, with water supplied from the firetrucks until crews arriving later can connect them into more water from a hydrant. But, based on radio transmissions related to the Dec. 29 blaze, the additional water from the hydrant did not come fast enough for the first engine.
“I need that water,” a firefighter from the District Heights engine tells the Kentland crew again, about a minute after his initial request, according to radio transmissions captured by the fire blog Statter911. “I am going to put a hose clamp on your attack line.”
Shortly afterward, a firefighter from the Kentland engine is heard on the radio demanding that a clamp be removed.
“Engine 833 to command, have 26’s driver take the hose clamp off our attack line,” the transmissions indicate.
Dave Statter, a former volunteer firefighter in Prince George’s County who runs Statter911, said, “If we’re to believe the radio traffic, he’s basically saying, ‘If I don’t get water, you’re not getting water,’ which is really, really childish” of whoever ordered the clamp placed.
Brady, who confirmed that the radio transmissions from Statter911 were authentic, said there was no physical altercation and that two firefighters — one career and one volunteer — were immediately removed from emergency operations that night. It’s believed that the same firefighter who made the transmission about the clamp placed the clamp on the hose, Brady said.
The union representing career firefighters and the Kentland Volunteer Fire Department declined to comment on the matter.
A statement Friday from the county fire department said a review found that a miscommunication between firefighters “played a role in the escalation of radio transmissions between the two pump operators.”
The District Heights engine had called to Kentland to supply water from a hydrant to District Heights firefighters. But the Kentland pump operator thought the radio transmission was coming from his own crew, prompting them to fill their own hose line with water instead of the District Heights line.
“It was at this point, seeing an attack line being charged before the supply line being charged, the District Heights pump operator made a radio transmission referencing using a hose clamp,” the department said in a statement. “The review determined that while a hose clamp was placed over the Kentland back-up attack line, it was never engaged and never restricted the flow of water in the line.”
No one was injured, and one man was displaced in the fire, which started in the kitchen of a single-family home, Brady said.
“There was never really a legitimate threat to either our internal or external people,” Brady said of why the firefighters were allowed to return to duty pending administrative disciplinary review. “While a verbal threat was made, there was no actual action.”
Statter said the District Heights firefighter heard threatening to clamp Kentland’s hose was probably concerned that the Kentland crew ran its own hose line to put out the fire before a water supply from a hydrant was established for the first arriving engine, as protocol dictates. If the hose clamp had been activated, firefighters on the scene could have been endangered, Statter said.
“Whatever the provocation . . . it does not justify shutting down the hose line of people in a fire,” Statter said.
Statter said the rivalry between career and volunteer firefighters goes back 50 years and is rooted in similar feuds dating to the early days of the fire service, when crews would compete to put out a blaze first.
In 2016, then-fire chief Marc Bashoor had stern words for the department after safety gear for career medics and firefighters appeared to be intentionally damaged. That same year, two volunteer firefighters were charged with assault and misconduct in office after they were accused of fighting with another firefighter over who should be first to enter a burning home. The volunteer firefighters were later acquitted after a jury trial.
“Prince George’s has a wonderful fire department with both career and volunteers,” Statter said, “but this rivalry and the fighting does not serve the public well.”