- Last Updated on Saturday, 06 November 2010 22:00
- Published on Saturday, 06 November 2010 22:00
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Residents of Monmouth Village in Dahlgren want answers. They want to know what took King George Department of Fire and Rescue so long to respond to a house fire on Lisa Lane on the evening of Sept. 21. They also want to know why the conduct of firefighters on the scene was “atrocious,” describing firefighters riding around in the homeowner’s scooter and dancing around the rescue stretchers.
It is 11 p.m. on Sept. 21 and there was a fire starting in the back of Patrick and Angel Durham’s home in Monmouth Village.
KG Sheriff’s Deputy Timothy Lyons came upon the scene at 11:25 p.m. after noticing smoke pouring out of the home on Lisa Lane and contacted dispatch to report the fire. KG Sheriff’s Office dispatch sent out the call to King George Fire and Rescue and two mutual aid units at 11:28 p.m.
According to Major Steve Dempsey of the King George Sheriff’s Office, the 911 call logs from Sept. 21 show the first call coming from Deputy Lyons at 11:25 p.m., a second call coming at the same time from a citizen, and a third call from a citizen logged in at 11:27 p.m. The Sheriff’s Office timeline differs from residents’ recollections that 911 calls were placed by neighbors as early as 11:15 p.m.
At approximately 11:31 p.m. one fire truck from the Dahlgren Naval Base arrived on the scene. Four minutes later, at 11:35 p.m., 7 minutes after the 911 dispatch sent out the call, Engine 21 out of Company 2 in Dahlgren arrived with four fire fighters. At the same time, one fire truck arrived from Bel Alton Fire Department in Charles County, Md. By 11:35 p.m., as evidenced by Deputy Lyon’s dashtop video camera, the Durham’s home was “fully involved” with flames, debris falling and thick black billows of smoke. At 11:44 p.m. an ambulance arrived from Company 2. Durham reported that “No EMT ever came over and checked my children.”
The Durhams, their two children and one of their dogs were able to escape the flames. The family lost three pets to the fire that night, one dog, one cat and one ferret.
In response to the residents’ concerns, KG Fire and Rescue Chief David Moody invited them to a town hall meeting at KG Fire Station #1 on Nov. 4 at 6 p.m. to review the incident and to watch a videotape made from KG Deputy Timothy Lyons’ dashtop camera.
According to Moody, the fire truck from the base at Dahlgren arrived first on the scene because they are able to use B Gate to quickly access Route 301. As to the 7 minute arrival time from Company 2 located on Route 206, Moody noted that there were two paid firefighters on duty at Company 2 at the time. It took three volunteers 3 minutes to arrive at the station and 4 minutes for Engine 21 to drive to Lisa Lane.
As to residents’ reports of misconduct on behalf of the firefighters on scene, Moody stated that he believes the misconduct was performed by firefighters from Bel Alton, one of the mutual aid companies that responded to the scene. Moody further noted that a review of the video shows that there was not an effective on-scene incident commander. According to Standards of Procedures, King George should have assumed on-scene incident command.
Moody later stated in response to questions by this reporter that there is currently no personnel assigned to act as incident commander or county-wide shift commander. According to Standards of Procedure, the senior fire officer on scene from King George will act as incident commander. Neither the fire chief nor the two deputy fire chiefs are required to be on call in order to act as incident commander in the case of “fully involved” fires. According to Moody there are between eight and 12 “fully involved” incidents per year.
The lack of an effective on-scene commander contributed to chaotic events at the fire, such as fire trucks running over water hoses, water hoses being disconnected from hydrants, ladder trucks not being utilized, and failure of communication between King George units and mutual aid units. According to Moody, the communication failure is due to the fact that King George uses VHF radio frequencies that are not compatible with the UHF radio frequencies used by Charles County.
Moody informed the 15-plus residents at the meeting that he is looking at all issues that have come to light and putting procedures in place to correct problems with mutual aid agreements and the lack of training between mutual aid and KG, as well as issues relating to reliance on the Dahlgren base and other mutual aid companies.
According to the King George County’s website, “The county provides 24 hr/7 day week personnel coverage to supplement the volunteers.” Further, according to Moody, “we are a volunteer system supplemented by paid staff. …We couldn’t do our job with just paid personnel.” According to Moody, the county employs 24 full-time paid personnel, which includes the chief, two deputy chiefs, one captain, two lieutenants, and 18 firefighter/EMTs. The department also employs 10 part-time people.
The county has three fire stations and a budget of $2,013,996 to support the paid staff. Moody also oversees an additional budget of $359,264, which includes funding for volunteers, equipment and maintenance.
There are a total of 65 active volunteer firefighters, which includes senior firefighters, probationary firefighters and junior firefighters (16-18 year olds). However, according to Moody, “We need more volunteers and we need more paid staff.” Moody also noted: “There is no way to predict how many volunteers will show up.”
King George Supervisors John LoBuglio and James Mullins were present at the meeting. LoBuglio called the event “The Perfect Storm” and noted “with all that went wrong, we’re glad no human lives were lost.” Mullins responded, “Maybe in the future we can budget for a few more people.”
— Kathy Flanagan