Fire Engine Catches Fire at Station

Some concerned about response time

CAPITOL HEIGHTS, Md. -- A fire at a fire station in Prince George's County has some in the community concerned.

A fire engine caught fire at the Boulevard Heights Fire and Rescue Station #817 upon returning from a false alarm early Monday morning, according to the department. As the engine returned to the station at 1:46 a.m., firefighters smelled smoke. They investigated upon parking inside the station.

An automatic fire alarm sounded at 1:57 a.m. but was canceled by the Boulevard Heights volunteer deputy chief a minute later with the belief that the station could handle the fire without help, according to the fire department.

When the firefighters turned the truck back on to pull it out of the bay, the fire escalated and thick black smoke started pouring from the engine compartment, News4's Darcy Spencer reported. The station requested another engine to help at 2:04 a.m., and a minute later a request for additional units was dispatched. Help arrived at 2:12 a.m., and the fire was out by about 2:30 a.m.

"It's kind of ironic that a piece of fire apparatus inside a fire station would have a fire, but that did happen occur this morning, and we had to dispatch additional firefighters to extinguish the fire," said Prince George's County fire spokesman Mark Brady.

Some are questioning the response time, noting that about eight minutes expired between a request for another engine and help arriving. The county's standard response time is six minutes.

"While this is an unfortunate incident, it does bring attention to the need that the community has to know that they're secure," Gwyn Bowman, of the Boulevard Heights Civic Association, told News4's Tracee Wilkins.

The closest station, Capitol Heights, didn't respond to the fire. No volunteers or career personnel were on duty at the time, officials said. The career members were pulled as part of a staffing redeployment plan that took effect Sunday.

"The staffing and current redeployment that we're using in Prince George's County had no impact whatsoever -- zero impact -- on this particular incident," Brady said.

Staffing issues aren't the concern of Prince George's County Public Safety Director Vernon Herron, either. He criticized the station for canceling the automatic fire alarm and for pulling the engine into the bay in the first place. Those missteps made the situation worse, Herron said.

"We were just fortunate this time that it didn't get really out of control and burn the station down," he said. "We can't have people who work for us that do not follow basic policies of Prince George's County Fire and EMS."

The apparent electrical fire caused about $75,000 damage to the engine and $7,000 damage to the firehouse, primarily involving ceiling tiles.

Investigators believe the fire was accidental.

The incident is under investigation and a high-ranking firefighter likely will face suspension.

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