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Bashoor: In addition to our own fire/EMS training academy, we are fortunate to have one of the best university-based emergency service training centers right here, at the University of Maryland, Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI). Between our academy and MFRI staff and facilities, coupled with the use of our mutual aid academies, the availability of training opportunities is virtually limitless. We are currently beta-testing several in-house and online administrative training programs, which coupled with a new Officer Candidate School, will broaden those opportunities even further. Training is provided in-house and at particular academy locations, seven days a week. Career staff has the opportunity to sign onto a weekly training calendar, allowing one company to go out of service, one day at a time, to participate in particular training opportunities.
Firehouse: The department borders four other counties and the District of Columbia. Is there a lot of mutual aid between departments?
Bashoor: PGFD routinely provides and receives mutual aid through automatic mutual aid agreements with Montgomery, Howard, Anne Arundel and Charles counties, with non-automatic aid provided and received with the District of Columbia, with Calvert County in Maryland and with Fairfax County and Alexandria City in Virginia. Although we do not currently use CAD-to-CAD (computer-aided dispatching) capabilities, we are meeting with several of our partner agencies to determine that feasibility for public safety communications. Since the migration to the 700-Mhz trunked digital radio platform, most of the historic radio communications and safety-related problems have disappeared. There are efforts afoot to attempt standardization of operational policies among the Maryland-area chiefs, although each county currently operates its own policies and procedures. The significant mutual aid response does present some concern with potentially disparate operational policies; however, the radio connectivity has limited that concern.
Firehouse: Being in close proximity to the District of Columbia and housing numerous government buildings, is the department ready to respond and offer assistance to whatever comes your way in the National Capital Region?
Bashoor: PGFD has benefited from the Urban Area Security Initiative grant programs. Enhancements to the Fire/EMS Department Bomb Squad, the addition of regionally based medical ambulance buses and protective gear/equipment enhancements have provided us with the opportunity to be prepared for whatever comes down the road. That said, it is incumbent of all of us in the fire and EMS service to continue training and practical skills development to stay on top of our game. All the gear and equipment in the world won’t mean a hill of beans if we don’t have the right people, with the right training, in the right places, doing the right things.
Firehouse: The county has Interstate 95 running north and south through it. The Capitol Beltway and numerous state highways are also in the county’s response area. With tremendous volumes of traffic, are units busy responding to these numerous highways every day?
Bashoor: The National Capital Region routinely trades the distinction of worst, or almost worst, traffic ratings with several other large cities. Our response patterns allow for bi-directional response, with the occasional quad-direction response for incidents near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. That area, where Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia share response, provides local and express lane corridors on split bridges in both directions over the Potomac River. The latest statistics compiled show that 1.5% of the nation’s gross national product flows up and down I-95 every day. We work closely with the State Highway Administration and State Police to ensure responder safety, while clearing the roadways as quickly as possible. Our folks are very busy covering the I-95 corridor, along with the other major roadways. A recent school bus accident on Route 301 brought the Prince George’s and Anne Arundel County medical ambulance buses to transport 32 students to area hospitals.
Firehouse: How has the new Public Safety Communications Center (PSCC) helped out during incidents, especially those involving multiple agency and department dispatches (including police, fire, EMS and sheriff) within the county?
Bashoor: The new PSCC is phenomenal. The advent of the new 700-Mhz radio platform fills out the system’s network, providing instant interoperability, connectivity or separation as needed. At a recent gasoline tanker rollover on Route 301, responders from Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, along with crash trucks from Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington (formerly Andrews Air Force Base and Naval Air Facility Washington) were joined by police agencies from Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County, the City of Bowie and the Maryland State Police.