Concerns are being raised about the response time by firefighters to a deadly house fire Saturday evening at Inlet Street in New Carrollton.
That’s because three of the closest volunteer fire stations were not staffed, according to Prince George’s County Fire and EMS.
The fire left a woman dead and a man in critical condition.
Among those raising the concerns is Andrew Pantelis, president of the Prince George’s County Professional Fire Fighters & Paramedics Association, which is the local chapter 1619 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
“This incident could have had a very different outcome if fire trucks arrived in a quicker amount of time,” Pantelis said.
Engine Company 48 is 1.8 miles away from the home, and Engine Company 28 is 2.2 miles away from the site of the fire. They would have been the first two stations called.
Both stations belong to the West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department. Prince George’s County Fire and EMS confirmed no one was staffed at the stations at the time of the fire. The third call would have been to the Riverdale Heights Volunteer Fire Department, which was also not manned.
It was the Landover Hills Volunteer Fire Department that responded first, a station normally fourth in line to be called to the address of the fire.
Prince George’s County Fire and EMS Deputy Chief Brian Frankle said it took about six and a half minutes to get to the fire after the call came in at 6:04 p.m., a response time he doesn’t considered delayed.
“Our goal is to get 15 firefighters on the scene within 12 minutes of a working incident like this, and we were able to achieve that goal,” Frankel said.
He added that there are systems in place to cover for the volunteer stations when they are not staffed, but the department did say an internal review of staffing needs is underway.
Pantelis believes several volunteer fire stations in the county, including the West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department, should be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
WTOP reached out to the West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department for comment.
Frankel said the county is working to make sure there is staffing where it’s needed to help volunteer departments that struggle to maintain volunteers, but didn’t say that was the reason that prevented West Lanham Hills from keeping their stations staffed.
“It’s been an ongoing discussion for several years and we’re working with the volunteer leadership, the county and the county executive’s office to determine the best course of action moving forward to staff those stations,” Frankel said.
Frankel said in the case of this fire, it is not possible to know if getting to the scene earlier would have changed the outcome.
“A significant amount of fire load was in the house, people were trapped in the basement and even from the initial 911 call, it seems that there was already a significant amount of fire even before we were contacted,” Frankel said.
Video from Inlet Street. TK14 vented the roof and assisted with multiple rescues pic.twitter.com/peB4QyHGIT
— Berwyn Heights VFD (@BHVFD14) January 19, 2020
Frankel said his firefighters did a fantastic job battling the flames to get to the victims, who were trapped in a basement as the home burned. He said the home did not have working smoke detectors.
The cause of the fire, which caused at least $275,000 in damage to the house, remains unknown.
Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to clarify that the first three fire stations that were not staffed were not called the night of the fire. Instead, with the knowledge that the stations were not staffed, a fourth station was dispatched.
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