On The Job – Maryland: $8 Million Fire Hits Historic Courthouse in Upper Marlboro

Mark E. Brady reports on a multiple-alarm fire that grew into the biggest fire in Prince George’s County history.


Photo by Mark E. Brady In certain areas of the building, there were three separate ceilings located 15 feet above floor level. Several renovations and additions had been made since the original building was constructed. PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY FIRE/EMS DEPARTMENT Chief...


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Photo by Mark E. Brady
In certain areas of the building, there were three separate ceilings located 15 feet above floor level. Several renovations and additions had been made since the original building was constructed.

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY FIRE/EMS DEPARTMENT

Chief: Lawrence H Sedgwick, Jr.
PersonneL: 1,900 career and volunteer firefighters
Apparatus: 43 engines, 25 aerials, one quint, one water-supply unit, two breathing-air units, two emergency command units, 10 heavy rescues, two foam units, five hazmat units, 14 ALS units, 40 BLS units (reserve fleet includes eight engines, two ladder trucks, one heavy rescue, 10 ambulances)
Population: 833,000
Area: 500 square miles

Upper Marlboro Fire/EMS Company 20, just one block east of the courthouse on Main Street, arrived within two minutes of the initial 911 call. The first-arriving units from Upper Marlboro, Engine 20 and Truck 45, followed by Battalion Chief Thomas Hayden, were confronted with heavy smoke issuing from the roof area of the “old” section of the courthouse. Engine 20’s personnel quickly advanced a large-diameter hoseline to the top floor, then determined that the fire had made significant headway in the roof. Stiff northerly winds, approximately 30 mph, were aiding rapid advancement of the fire.

In an effort to protect the newer portions of the courthouse complex, the company officer withdrew to a defensive position. The command post was established in a large parking lot on the Delta side of the building, proving to be an excellent location as command and control functions expanded.

History & Background

A courthouse has been on the site since the early 1700s. However, the existing courthouse became a large, sprawling facility, with the oldest section dating back to 1881. Over the years, several renovations and additions were made to the original structure, creating a campus in excess of 360,000 square feet of courthouse space. With the newest addition in 1992, the original 151,000 square feet of the county’s Criminal Court Campus became known as the Duvall Wing. A $25 million renovation project was nearing completion and the area was mostly vacant, except for contractors working in the building. The building’s fire alarms, sprinklers and standpipe systems were not yet operable.

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Photo by Mark E. Brady
Upper Marlboro, where the courthouse is located, is largely rural. Some first-alarm companies responded from 10 miles away.

Continuing Operations

As the fire continued to be fanned by strong winds and Engine 20’s personnel took a defensive position, Hayden quickly ordered the dispatch of a second-alarm assignment. As the alarm was dispatched, Lieutenant Colonel Marc Bashoor, emergency operations commander, arrived on the scene and assumed “Courthouse Command.” With the focus on “protecting the new building,” Hayden was reassigned to the interior division.

Upper Marlboro, the seat of Prince George’s County government, is largely rural and has other first-alarm companies responding from up to 10 miles away. Command assigned incoming engines and ladders to take protective positions between the old and new sections, and directed others to ensure that the newer portions of the courthouse complex were completely evacuated. The County Sheriff’s Office, which has primary responsibility for law enforcement in the courthouse complex, confirmed that all prisoners were accounted for and secured. That agency set up a temporary courthouse continuity command post at Engine 20.

As other command officers arrived, command assigned a major (assistant chief) and a battalion chief to work together in the most vulnerable areas – Divisions 2 and 3. Additional majors, battalion chiefs and volunteer chiefs were assigned to Divisions 1 and 4 and Bravo, with the Alpha side identified as the “Main Street Division.” Subsequent arriving chief officers were assigned the operations, logistics and finance sections, along with water supply, rehab and public information. Units were assigned to rapid intervention posts on all sides of the building, with multiple safety officers working the scene.

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