Md. firefighters in brawl acquitted

WASHINGTON — Competitive tension between volunteer and career firefighters, which boiled over at the scene of a fire and landed inside a Prince George’s County courtroom, has been resolved.

Two Maryland firefighters charged with attacking two colleagues at a house fire in 2015 have been acquitted by a jury of all charges.

Jeffrey Miller and Christopher Kelly are both volunteer firefighters with the West Lanham Hills station.

They were facing second-degree assault charges, as well as accusations of interfering with a firefighter and misconduct in office stemming from a situation that occurred on Dec. 8, 2015.

Police and prosecutors alleged the two attacked two female career firefighters from Career Engine 30 at the scene of a house fire in Hyattsville, an incident that former chief Marc Bashoor would describe as a “turf battle” between career and volunteer firefighters in the wake of that incident.

Bashoor, who is now retired, went on to institute a number of policy changes related to how the department would respond to calls.

The trial lasted four days, and the verdict came in shortly after 8 p.m. Friday.

An attorney representing Kelly, Brian Bregman, confirmed the news to WTOP Saturday afternoon.

He also broke down the specifics of what exactly happened the night of the fight.

“The career unit did arrive first, however, they only had three personnel on their fire engine,” Bregman said. “Meanwhile, the volunteer unit had five personnel.”

“So when they arrived, they were very fast, very efficient and they were also very experienced personnel,” Bregman continued.

Bregman said that one of the two career unit members, on the other hand, was “relatively new to the department.”

“Meanwhile, back to the volunteer unit, it was staffed with five, very experienced volunteer members — some of whom are career personnel in other jurisdictions. So when they took action, they did it very swiftly and very efficiently, got the line immediately to the front door, while the personnel from the career station were not ready.”

That, according to Bregman, is when the trouble started.

“I think the career crew felt that they got outmatched, essentially. It’s not a competition, but at the same time, there were two units, and one was ready to go in and one wasn’t. So the crew that was ready to go in went in and immediately began putting the fire out.”

“That’s when the career crew felt — in their own opinion — perhaps slighted by that, which they shouldn’t have felt that way but it appears that’s what happened,” Bregman said.

Bregman also said that he had video evidence that showed how the career crew tried to push and knock the volunteer personnel out of the way.

“And that’s where the volunteer responded with words, and the video cut off because the person who was taking the video was another volunteer who went over to intervene. That’s when there was a dispute about what happened next but the jury obviously felt it was clear our members had not assaulted anyone,” Bregman said.

“In fact, it was our position it was the other way around: that the career crew had assaulted the volunteers.”

Calls to the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office, as well as Prince George’s County Fire and EMS, have not been returned.

WTOP’s William Vitka contributed to this report.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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