Two volunteer firefighters accused of fighting with another firefighter over who should be first to enter a burning home and extinguish the blaze have been indicted on charges of assault and misconduct in office, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
Jeff Miller and Chris Kelly of the West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department were responding to a call Dec. 8, 2015, arriving shortly after career firefighters got on the scene, according to a statement from the Prince George’s County state’s attorney’s office.
Kelly and Miller then “blocked the door so members from the career company could not go in before members from the volunteer company,” the statement said.
Kelly and Miller then hit a female firefighter, knocking her off the porch as she tried to enter the home, prosecutors said. The altercation ended after police arrived to separate the parties, prosecutors said.
A grand jury indicted Miller and Kelly on charges of second-degree assault, interfering with a firefighter in the performance of their duties and misconduct in office.
“Mr. Kelly and Mr. Miller were fighting with a career Fire/EMS unit over who should be the first to go into a fire instead of remembering that their main responsibility was to help anyone in need and extinguish the fire, not argue over who goes inside first,” Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said in a statement. “Their actions were reckless, irresponsible and uncalled for.”
Prince George’s has the largest combination volunteer and career fire department in the country, with clashes between paid and unpaid firefighters arising from time to time.
About one week after the alleged assault, Fire Chief Marc Bashoor posted a video message on YouTube addressing the incident.
“I will not tolerate any environment that results in verbal or physical altercations and/or violence in the workplace of any kind,” Bashoor said in the video recording. “We cannot and will not tolerate competitions to ‘get to the fire first,’ which ultimately compromises the safety of everyone involved and the integrity of our operations.”
The Prince George’s County Fire Department released a statement Tuesday saying it is aware of the indictments and will continue to cooperate with prosecutors.
“The individuals identified in the indictment were removed from emergency operations when the initial incident occurred and will remain so until the case is adjudicated,” the statement from the fire department said. “We regret the shadow cast upon our Department by this unfortunate incident and are committed to continuing to provide the highest caliber of fire and emergency medical services to the residents of Prince George’s County.”