Danger at a Residential Basement Fire

  There are no shortages of close calls, or worse, related to basement fires in single-family dwellings. In just the past few years, several firefighters have died in the line of duty as a result of operating in such fires. From floor collapse to...


  There are no shortages of close calls, or worse, related to basement fires in single-family dwellings. In just the past few years, several firefighters have died in the line of duty as a result of operating in such fires. From floor collapse to disorientation to delays in getting water...


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There are no shortages of close calls, or worse, related to basement fires in single-family dwellings. In just the past few years, several firefighters have died in the line of duty as a result of operating in such fires. From floor collapse to disorientation to delays in getting water on the fire, to name just a few problems, basement fires are among the most dangerous and challenging fires most of us respond to. In this case, a genuine close call was experienced by firefighters in Prince George's County, MD.

The Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department is a very active, highly experienced and well-trained professional combination department. Under the command of Acting Fire Chief Marc Bashoor, the department has more than 720 uniformed career personnel (720 is the approved strength; current staffing is 670), staffing 45 community-based fire-rescue stations, two administrative facilities, two support facilities and a fire/EMS training academy, and nearly 80 non-uniformed employees who perform fire inspections, maintain the fleet, present educational programs and provide administrative support. Additionally, the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department counts nearly 1,200 active volunteer fire/EMS personnel among its ranks, with approximately 50% functioning in emergency operations. In 2010, the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department answered 133,718 fire, EMS and related incidents (104,680 EMS runs and 29,038 fire runs) under one seamless, countywide command and operational structure.

The volunteer company primarily featured in this close call is Prince George's County Fire/EMS Station 812, the College Park Volunteer Fire Department (CPVFD). Under the command of Chief William Corrigan (Chief 812), the CPVFD was founded in 1925 and today operates a truck company, two engine companies, a foam unit, a hazmat support unit, two basic life support (BLS) ambulances along with a county 24-hour career-staffed advanced life support (ALS) medic unit. Career firefighters from the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department staff the station with an officer and three personnel Monday-Friday from 7 A.M. to 3 P.M. Volunteer members staff the station at all other times. It is also not uncommon for volunteers to be in quarters riding along with the Prince George's County Fire/EMS career members to enhance staffing during the weekday. Due to the level of activity, volunteer personnel are in quarters and, other than chief officers, are not on call from home or work. Like all stations in Prince George's County, they operate an integral part of the county department under the command of acting county Fire Chief Marc Bashoor (who started as a volunteer in Prince George's County) and respond to emergencies in their "first-due" (community) area as well as anywhere else they are needed. For example, most of the structural fires Station 812 responds on are outside its "first-due" area.

Unique to the CPVFD is its internationally known "Sackroom." Many fire departments have followed the CPVFD's lead and turned to college students to supplement their "traditional" volunteer staffing. In other communities across the country, there are live-in programs for college students who want to fight fires and provide EMS care. But, as pointed out to us, there is only one College Park Sackroom; the ultimate and original college-based firefighting experience.

The Sackroom provides the best student live-in accommodations of any station in the region. It is directly across the street from the University of Maryland's engineering quad; home of the world-famous fire protection engineering program. The entire campus is within easy walking distance from the firehouse. The Sackroom has 12 fully furnished, two-person dormitory-style rooms; student line officers and ladder truck drivers are typically rewarded with single rooms. Each pair of rooms is joined by a common bathroom. The rooms are carpeted, furnished, have free cable TV, free high-speed Internet and an advanced alerting system so the members never miss a run. At either end of the Sackroom are brass fire poles to ensure a quick response to the apparatus fleet directly below.

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