Two incidents of alleged misconduct at fire scenes led investigators to file criminal charges against three Prince George's volunteer firefighters.
The alleged infractions include physical confrontations and assault on other firefighters and even tampering with breathing apparatus used when entering burning buildings.
The most recent incident stems from an altercation between volunteers in February at a fire on Standish Drive in Landover Hills.
Lt. Nicholas Martin and Firefighter Adam Brown, both volunteers at Kentland Volunteer Fire Department, have been charged with hindering fire department operations and reckless endangerment of other firefighters in the Feb. 16 incident.
According to charging documents, Martin assaulted the volunteer chief from the Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department. The documents say Martin told him to move a ladder truck, pushed him, yelled profanities and threatened bodily harm. The incident was also caught on a citizen's video camera.
A second incident that night occurred when Martin allegedly entered the burning home and yelled at a volunteer captain from Bladensburg, grabbed him by the chest and his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) face mask and slammed him against a wall, dislodging the critical piece of safety equipment.
Brown faces charges stemming from his alleged refusal to follow orders from a superior officer at the same Standish Drive fire.
Charging documents state that when Brown was ordered to move from a doorway to allow two other firefighters to put out the fire, he refused. The fire spread from the kitchen to the dining area.
The two firefighters, who are full-time employees, reported they were pushed and had their breathing equipment turned off or ripped away by unknown assailants on the fire ground, according to the documents. Brown was not named as the person who committed these infractions.
Prince George's Fire/EMS Department spokesman Mark Brady declined to call the assaults "fights" because the targets did not return violence in kind.
He said that the fire department's investigations served as a warning against further unprofessional conduct.
"There were no retaliations [at the first incident]," Brady said. "These investigations have been getting across the message loud and clear about this kind of unprofessional behavior."
But the fallout from the Standish Drive incident last month has been serious. Martin has been dismissed and his volunteer chief, Michael Mattison, has been demoted for other alleged rules violations.
Kentland volunteers have also alleged that career personnel assaulted them at another fire scene this month in apparent retaliation for actions by volunteers at the Standish Drive fire.
County volunteer firefighter representatives have complained that Martin's dismissal occurred without due process, though they have said they too will not accept dangerous and unprofessional behavior.
"We're not going to tolerate any violence in the workplace," said Jim Collins, vice president of the Prince George's County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. "But our fire chief [Lawrence Sedgewick] just made a decision without a review. He says we're one company, but there are two sets of standards. Apparently it's no pay, no say."
The controversy has renewed interest in a bill that would create a Firefighters Bill of Rights to standardize procedures for both volunteers and career personnel.
Matthew Despos, the third Kentland volunteer charged, is alleged to have turned off another volunteer firefighter's breathing apparatus as a kind of joke at a fire in Capitol Heights in December.
The victim confronted Despos, saying he was angry about Despos' alleged behavior. The victim claimed in charging documents that Despos said: "Aw... you know I was just messing with you."
Andrew Pantelis, vice president of the Prince George's County Professional Fire Fighters Association, said the incidents have raised tensions in the entire fire service.
"It's members from one department who allegedly are engaging in unsafe and hostile conduct," Pantelis said of the Kentland firefighters. "The fact it's turned into a career versus volunteer issue is a mistake.
"Firefighters shouldn't have to look over their shoulder to see if other firefighters are going to do them harm, either career or volunteer."