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The ability to segregate and multi-cast to the various talk groups was our first opportunity to attempt taxing the system. It was also the first time some of our allied responders had the opportunity to use the radio – however, for the first time, every one of the responders could be instantly “touched” by the incident commander if needed. In the early stages of the ongoing investigation into the 57th Avenue fire, which injured seven of our volunteer firefighters, investigators and radio technicians have been able to map a “radio-path” of use and emergency activation, like no other investigation I’ve seen. While we have what I consider minor bugs to continue working out, so far we are delighted with the system’s capabilities and performance.
Firehouse: Is the call volume growing for the department?
Bashoor: PGFD’s call volume is fairly static, at approximately 130,000 calls for service a year. Over the past year, the percentage of EMS calls decreased slightly; however, EMS still accounts for 78% of our call volume. As our tax base is largely residential, we experience a fairly high volume of the “bread-and-butter” single-family-home fires, with a significantly lower volume of high-rise fires. Garden-style apartments and townhomes balance out the fire volume. PGFD’s EMS volume is driven by multiple factors, with vehicle accidents and general illness topping the charts.
Firehouse: The department used to utilize military ranks. You recently changed to fire service ranks. How did the change come about?
Bashoor: Some years ago, PGFD assumed the use of the military insignia to assimilate with the remainder of the Prince George’s County public safety agencies – all law enforcement agencies. The thought was also relative to the heavy military presence in the county, including Andrews Air Force Base. Upon my appointment in December 2010, one of the realizations made was that we in many cases needed to return to the “basics,” whether that was training, organizational development or yes – apparatus color and rank/insignia. PGFD has returned to the traditional fire/EMS department bugle insignia and designations of chief, deputy chief, assistant chief and so on. While our partners in Virginia and the District of Columbia generally use assistant chief as the second in command, our choice was to take on deputy chief as the second in command, which is consistent with all of our Maryland response partners. Additionally, in the NIMS/ICS (National Incident Management System/Incident Command System) mindset, “deputies” are second in “Command”, further solidifying that decision. We are proud of the fire/EMS service traditions in general – it is good to no longer have to explain the hybrid military insignia we were using.
Years ago, the fire/EMS department also switched apparatus colors to white with a single red stripe. The change to white reflected the county’s historical colonial flag – also white, with a horizontal and vertical crossed stripe. Similar to the traditional switch to bugle insignia and chief titles, the switch to red apparatus draws back to our proud fire/EMS service traditions, while incorporating the latest in DOT (U.S. Department of Transportation) safety striping and lighting. I asked the department personnel to contribute thoughts and ideas for a change in our apparatus color and striping scheme, with a focus on safety and maintenance of our PGFD branding. The results were varied, although the decision to return to red was nearly a universal breath of psychological fresh air. We will not repaint existing apparatus; however, all new apparatus will be red with white cab and dual two-color reflective striping. I want to thank the great combination of career and volunteer members who contributed to the call for ideas to repaint/stripe the new apparatus.
Firehouse: What changes are being planned for the make-up of the Fire Commission and why?
Bashoor: The Fire Commission was developed through the legislative process in the 1970s to ensure the fledgling county fire department and the 37 volunteer corporations being brought under the operational control of the county were able to deliver service and ensure all of the administrative tasks necessary to keep the corporations and members afloat weren’t overlooked or forgotten in the process. The county has grown from a largely rural bedroom community to the county of nearly 1 million people with a diverse economic and business infrastructure, including rail and government facilities. The department has grown from a handful of career staff supplementing the volunteers to a career staff of over 800 with nearly 1,200 active volunteers and call volume of over 130,000.