Maryland Official: No Firehouses Will Go Unstaffed

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UPPER MARLBORO, Md. -- Prince George's County Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Public Safety/Director of Homeland Security Vernon Herron tells STATter 911 he has given the fire department authority to temporarily suspend furloughs when it has been determined firehouses could be left without staffing.

This comes after Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department Chief Lawrence Sedgwick met with Herron Thursday over the department's plan to furlough each employee for a total of 80-hours by June of next year. The furloughs have been ordered for all county employees.

As STATter 911 has been reporting this week, the PGFD plan calls for entire shifts of career firefighters to be removed from stations for eight-hours at a time. The reason entire shifts of either two or four firefighters would be furloughed together is because of the county's collective bargaining agreement with IAFF Local 1619. The contract requires stations with career firefighters to have at least 4 firefighters on duty Monday through Friday from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Union president Doug Batholomew confirms during those hours it is either four firefighters or none.

Similarly, at all other times, there is a minimum requirement of two firefighters to be on duty at stations with career staffing.

While a county spokesman insisted Thursday afternoon that entire shifts would not be furloughed, Vernon Herron later confirmed that was incorrect information. Herron said the county would abide by its contract with Local 1619. But Herron also told STATter 911 he has ordered Chief Sedgwick to make sure no firehouses are left without staffing.

One of Chief Sedgwick's top aides was scheduled to meet with volunteer chiefs Thursday night in an effort to have volunteer firefighters cover for furloughed career firefighters. The department is also expecting to use firefighters and medics currently assigned to office duty to fill in at fire stations.

Sources familiar with the fire department's plan tell STATter 911 they aren't clear how the department will be able to follow Herron's mandate to staff firehouses at the same time they are proceeding with furloughs. The sources, both career and volunteer, say they don't believe there are enough volunteers and office staff available to keep all of the stations open.

The plan calls for as many as seven stations to be targeted for furloughs in any 24-hour period. Career battalion chiefs are to coordinate with volunteer leaders to determine if the 8-hour furlough for a specific station will occur between 7:00 AM and 3:00 PM or between 11:00 PM and 7:00 AM.

As STATter 911 reported on Thursday, the first round of furloughs is scheduled to begin Sunday. Entire shifts of firefighters at six of the county's 44 stations have been notified they will be taking eight-hours off. Those stations are 805 (Capitol Heights), 813 (Riverdale Heights), 819 (Bowie), 821 (Oxon Hill), 823 (Forestville), and 825 (Clinton). Also scheduled for furlough this Sunday are Battalion Chief 801 and Medic 818 (Glenn Dale).

STATter 911 has been able to confirm that the Forestville VFD has already lined up volunteers to fill inn for the furloughed career firefighters.

Vernon Herron insists that the safety of the public will not be compromised by the furloughs.

Republished with permission of WUSA-TV.

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