Do the up and coming fire service personnel have what it takes to move the service forward?

You are a current employee/member of the fire service. As you view the activities within the organizations that make up the department, behind the scenes outside of the view of the public and the media, do you see the service being advanced? Do you see decline and with that decline you are not sure about your future, your pension and your benefits? Are you giving the current leaders a pass as you fight or protest forces and activities that have no bearing on your progress? Are you looking the other way as you sense you are being failed by the leaders you follow or elect?

It is easy to oppose some policy or procedures about chain of command, the placement of units in service or influencing the promotional process, including the appointment of executive chief officers. But what is the state of our retirement benefits, are we covered if we get occupational illnesses or are we on track to improve our staffing posture?

You were handed a service that was respected and benefits were accrued well beyond other industries. Reflect on the real issues and where we are headed as a service in the next five years. How have we done in the last five years?

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Career in Review Series


I’m going all the way back reviewing (for myself) my entire career on my blog. I have books of all my material but I want it in the digital format so I and my family can look back on any device. (I get it that I’m really the only one who will be looking at this stuff) So in 1983 my life changed when I got hired into the Prince George’s County Fire Department (PGFD). I had a sense I was on an upward spiral that I could only dream of at the time would turn out to be a fantastic career. My last posts started with shots of me as the Fire Chief and Interim Chief but I really wanted to capture my entire blessed career in a few posts. Being in retirement (again) I get to reminisce in a better state of mind. Looking back on my recruit era I see from the pictures and the hiring letter I received from PGFD I was on an adventure of a lifetime. Having never volunteered as a fire fighter I was learning a new language (Haligan Bar, hydrant wrench, pike pole, etc.) as well as a new culture. The fire service culture is quite unique. I could say a lot about the culture but I would be getting off track so I will mention that another day. In 1983 it was hard to imagine that there were very few African American fire fighters in Prince George’s County Fire Department (PGFD). Growing up in Washington DC I saw African American Fire Fighters all the time so I was a little taken aback when I was in recruit class and went into the stations.

The pictures show me in my dress uniform, at the Maryland Fire Rescue Institute and us preparing for a live burn. The bottom right picture was of our first structure fire burn. That day was incredible because it was vastly different from fighting fires in the burn building at the academy.

I have to say my instructors did a great job preparing me for the field. Al Gompers, Steve Allen, Darrell Odom, (just name a few instructors as my memory fails me) were well prepared to teach me and my fellow classmates. I am thankful to my instructors for introducing me to fire and emergency medical basics as well as the culture of the Department. Clearly my career demonstrated I had a great foundation. My memory of what it was like being a recruit is a little faded and thus I wish I had the internet back then to capture my career as well as my thoughts. If you are a recruit fire fighter and you are reading this or even if you are a veteran, do yourself a favor a keep a digital diary of your thoughts as well as your milestones throughout the rest of your career. You will be glad you did in the years to come. Even if I say so myself, I was one brave kid who struggled and even valiantly met the challenges of being a recruit fire fighter.

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My Career in Review

I have not posted in about two years. Much has occurred since then and I have been pretty pleased with my Fire Service career. I also ran my company for a year (Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants) after leaving Prince George’s County Government and was appointed by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley as a State Fire Prevention Commissioner. I even found time to volunteer as the Executive Director of the “Alliance” which had as its aim to give services to volunteer companies of PGFD. I faced many challenges during the tenure of my career of thirty years and yet I have nothing but the fondest memories. I was honored to work in two different Fire Departments and spent some time leading both as the Chief Fire Official.

I realize no one can know how proud my family and I are of how hard we worked to reach my dreams but I wanted to document a career spanning over thirty years for when my children want to look back or those who had a hand in my success wanted to reminisce. The two photos are of me as Interim Chief of the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and the Prince George’s County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. I truly enjoyed leading these great organizations with highly trained and dedicated men and women who served with distinction. I will highlight each position I held in successive stories. I thank my family most of all for their loving support of me as I worked many hours with no vacations and almost no time off. I loved working for the men and women of the two Departments and serving the citizens of the two jurisdictions.

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Volunteer Fire and EMS providers of Prince George’s County, Maryland have a unique opportunity to form a “trade organization” that will enable them to better position themselves in the future. The recent election of Pete Mellits as President of the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association paves the way for volunteers to abandon the road to certain obsolescence for the greatness that they once had and are deserving of. President Pete Mellits fortunately is a charter member of the Alliance and he fully understands the need for volunteers to join the “Alliance.” The volunteers have lost great influence and millions of dollars because previous volunteer leaders sold their birthright for the elixir of prestige (the crack of volunteers in the County). While the previous leaders got hit after hit, when they came to themselves they find the volunteer service in jeopardy.

The “Alliance”, as it is called, is an organization that has been established to help organize the volunteers to seek solutions for their health and well being and to position themselves better at the bargaining table. Right now only Montgomery County Volunteers have successfully bargained for better treatment in the State of Maryland. The Alliance has completed most of the steps to bring power and influence to a group of dedicated individuals and their private fire and rescue corporations. The Alliance has demonstrated it has the power to chart the direction for the volunteers who were struggling under some very poor leadership. Now the volunteers need to realize that they cannot achieve their true potential through the Association alone. The Association does not have the position power, the vision or the mission to serve the needs of the volunteers today. The Association is not set up for bargaining and maintaining the rights of the volunteers. The Association is a social organization that has met the need for volunteers to get information and share information on how the corporations are doing.

The Association can highlight the needs of the volunteers but it is not a part of the fire service in a tangible way. Unlike the watered down version of the Fire Commission, (a once powerful organization) the Commission is a Charter organization of County Government. The Association is only recognized to speak on volunteer issues to those who may listen. This Alliance has been organized to create a liaison between the Volunteer First Responders and local governing bodies, to collect and evaluate data on all deleterious conditions incumbent in all areas where volunteers exist. To compile information concerning the injustices within the Fire and Emergency Medical Services, and implement action to address them. To promote relations of its Volunteer members throughout the Fire and Emergency Medical Services. To ensure that Volunteers are retained and recruited as First Responders, where ever they reside. To facilitate in motivating our Volunteer First Responders to seek advancement within the Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

“The Prince George’s County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association works closely with the Prince George’s County Fire Department administration to continue an excellent working relationship between career and volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel.” While the working relationship the Association seeks to establish and maintain dwindles everyday, the Association also has no power to carry out its stated mission. In fact whenever a substantial paid crew is added to the volunteer station, the volunteers are either run out of the station or leave because of these “working relationships.” The Association is not structured to address the volunteer’s “condition of employment” because it is not a Trade Organization. The volunteers are clearly an “instrumentality of the County Government” but they have no rights.

Volunteers have an opportunity to invest in change. Change is what is needed. The Alliance is a group of volunteers, run by volunteers with the aim of improving conditions for the volunteers. If you are a volunteer (any town USA) do you have any rights in your jurisdiction? Who is bargaining for your health and safety? What is your service worth? It is not that the citizens don’t want fire fighters to earn a good living and have good benefits. They contract with paid fire fighters year after year. (And the benefits are great.) The fact is the volunteers never ask for anything but equipment to do their jobs. That’s fair. You want equipment and you get that. Is there anything else you need? Never mind I suspect you have no bargaining power either.

If you need preparedness training or would like to have a preparedness discussion for your employees or community checkout my website (Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants) and contact me via email at for a free consultation.

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Volunteer Fire Fighters and Politics – Power without Pursuasion

Some of the most powerful people in Prince George’s County came from the Fire/EMS Department, growing from among the ranks of the volunteers. Volunteers have produced mayors, council members and well connected community leaders. Today volunteers struggle just to ride on calls. The Mayor of the most powerful city in Prince George’s County (Mayor Moe) and former Mayor Robinson of the same city are shining examples of what volunteers are capable of. Former Councilman Jim Estepp who ruled the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department for fourteen years was a volunteer who climbed the proverbial ladder to achieve the rank of Fire Chief. Later he became the County’s first Public Safety Director, a feat accomplished by few Fire Chief’s in the United States.

Where did that political savvy go? Clearly volunteers are a part of the community so it is easy to deduce that volunteers should achieve at the same level of any member of society. It should also be clear that volunteer fire fighters are different from the average citizen. Not that volunteers are better people but they are exposed to situations that allow them to operate and develop at a high level. Today even though the number of volunteers are shrinking due to a loss of identity among its leaders, they still have the same experiences as did the volunteers of the past. Even with superior numbers compared to police and paid fire fighters and at one point even rivaled the number of teachers, the volunteers find that they are a group with power but no persuasion in politics.

In trying to understand why they lack persuasion with the power that they are capable of generating, I have carried on a number of conversations with various volunteer leaders in the County. I even had a chance to speak with and listen to the Executive Director of the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association in Montgomery County, Maryland. I saw that volunteers in Prince George’s County lack vision for the future. In Montgomery County, which is adjacent to Prince George’s County in Maryland, the volunteers decided to be more organized ten years ago. Their efforts to tame the desire for independence among their companies paid off dramatically. The volunteers in Montgomery County are far more respected in their jurisdiction that their counterparts in Prince George’s County.

It may have never really been a goal of the volunteers in Prince George’s County to be a political force. It is partly understandable since volunteers are focused on serving others and sacrificing their lives for the good of the community. Unfortunately, the political savvy of those who have gone before the volunteers of today did not rub off. The way of the volunteer is being threatened by time and competition. While paid employees of most jurisdictions are “unionized” and command a lion’s share of the resources, the volunteers out maneuver each other for the scraps left over after all the negotiations are done.

Volunteer leaders of today need to contact those politically savvy mayors and other elected officials to gain an understanding of how to find their way back to being a relevant, powerful and persuasive force so they can thrive in the future. If you need preparedness training or would like to have a preparedness discussion for your employees or community checkout my website (Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants) and contact me via email at for a free consultation.

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Are Volunteer Fire and Emergency Medical Responders Becoming Obselete in Prince George’s County, Maryland?

When I was hired in 1983 in the Prince George’s County Fire Department before graduating from recruit school I pulled up to the Fire Station to work for the first time. I saw the sign of the front of the Fire Station. It read “Accokeek Volunteer Fire Department.” I had no idea what a volunteer fire fighter was. Due to the danger involved in fighting fires I could not conceive of a person volunteering to do the job I was hired to do. I asked the guys I was working with if people in the station were “volunteers” or if the sign had not been changed for some reason? I had a rude awakening. There were people crazy enough to fight fires for free.

During my career I saw the ranks of the volunteers swell to more than 2000 people. At the end of my career I see those volunteers on the verge of extinction. In the metropolitan area of Washington D.C. volunteers have all but evaporated in many jurisdictions. Most of the reasons for the decline of the volunteers in those jurisdictions are not clear but in my jurisdiction it is clear. The volunteers have forgotten how to ensure their success. Volunteer leaders were powerful and in charge in the early 70s, 80s and 90s. They stuck together and they watched out for each other. Now its every man and company for themselves. In the past if you messed with one company the other companies would rally to their aid. Citizens in the community would get involved and support their volunteers. As the volunteers locked their doors and engaged less with the public the community fire station became a distant structure. Children coming to the station became a liability and community events for those future fire and emergency medical providers were no longer offered. The children and youth of the County were not seen as the lifeblood of the volunteer systems. Volunteers were recruited from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

Volunteer leaders turned their attention away from the public for admiration and sought attention and accolades from the administration. The adoring public’s adoration was not as good and appointments to meaningless positions and titles consumed those who were ambitious. Jealousy and selfish ambition became the agenda. As paid personnel moved in and increased in number, volunteers competed to get more paid staffing and abandoned the tried and true principles of recruitment and retention. As the demographics changed the volunteers perspective changed toward the community. The community went from “us to them.” Now almost half the fire stations have little to no volunteers. Volunteers have been strangled by legislation and funds are being diverted all because volunteers forgot how to preserve their position in a changing society. As a major service provider they do not have a contract protecting their interests even though a similar sized jurisdiction (Montgomery County Volunteers) figured out ten years ago a contract with Montgomery County was needed.

Its easy to blame the “Administration, the Union or the County Fire Chief” but the blame lies squarely on the volunteer leadership. Volunteer organizations have not kept pace with a changing society, shrinking budgets and sound management principles. A few volunteers have begun to recognize that it takes a strong alliance among themselves to revive a proud history to make it relevant for today’s environment. As volunteers struggle to determine if they need another organization to represent them they miss the point. They need to negotiate for resources because they have lost their place in society. The benevolent public now questions the volunteer’s role in the future of the service. Elected officials wonder and debate the role of the volunteer. The volunteer leadership has been stripped of their role in determining their future because they requested a paid representative to speak for them. Volunteers signaled to the administration that paid leadership is better than volunteer leadership. It seems that the Administration agreed and gave the volunteers what they wanted, paid leadership.

As the volunteers watch their role diminish from primary provider to supplemental force they better wake up, smell the coffee and read the writing on the wall. If you can’t negotiate for your survival you will be seeking revival. Why be revived when you can ensure you are not deprived of organizational sustaining resources? The problem of the volunteer are not outside forces. The problem is the lack of capability to fight for your place in society. Only volunteers can decide if they will become obsolete.

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Time for Volunteers to Negotiate for Benefits and Protections

Volunteer Fire Fighters have proven that they work to seek the good of the citizens they serve, however, not everyone appreciates volunteers or support them for what they do. As jurisdictions seek to “improve” life safety conditions the first casualty is the volunteer service. Even though volunteers are worth their weight in gold they are treated like tin in a growing number of jurisdictions. How is it that an investment and the crown jewel of any society be treated so shabbily? In this Country Volunteers represent 70% of the service but are being fed peanuts by local jurisdictions while paid fire fighters are given lucrative contracts, sometimes at the demise of the volunteer system. How can citizens who receive life saving care day in and day out neglect the only lifeline that has proven to be reliable for many years at a very low cost?

The question is not the cost of supporting volunteer fire fighters but what is the cost of neglecting them? After watching the Congress of the United States flirt with the future of the citizens of this Country, millions of Americans were left scratching their heads on the logic of their law makers. At the same time citizens need to assess how they neglect their heroic volunteers. Volunteer fire fighters have no idea how to complain or bring attention to their plight as their ranks shrink due to lack of support. The good guys are bewildered that an adoring public has seem to forgotten their sacrifice and their needs as they struggle to serve. As the signs of inattention and neglect mount the good guys are at a lost for words and energy to rally citizens to their cause.

Unlike the military which is funded by taxes, the volunteers can’t survive on thanks for faithful service alone. Most Volunteer Fire Fighters are mostly funded through donations. Maryland appropriates some money to the volunteers for capital items like fire apparatus while some county governments have drastically reduced their contributions to volunteer operations. Those reductions have never been studied to ascertain the impact on volunteer operations. Some jurisdictions have seen drastic reductions in volunteer operations due to budget cuts. Citizens wait longer and longer for service and pay premium dollars for paid fire fighters when adjustments to volunteer budgets is much more effective in the long run. Its time for volunteers to obtain contracts with jurisdictions so at a minimum elected officials can make intelligent decisions about how they will ensure volunteer services are funded. Citizens may decide Volunteer Fire Fighters are a relic of the past. Benign neglect is not a way to make decisions about people who have dedicated their lives to helping others. In the next emergency you face don’t stand there wondering how long it will take for the service to arrive when you can ensure the service will be timely. Without cuts to the paid service, for pennies on the dollar, as a citizen you can ensure your volunteer service will be there when you need it.

Don’t forget about emergency medical services. Training for emergency medical technicians in some Maryland Counties are at critically low levels. Imagine a provider that has more capability than a nurse, that can provide free service, not being available because the low cost of training is not provided to volunteer emergency medical providers. Maryland is extremely proud of its medical system but the appropriations for volunteers to receive the training has slowed to a trickle. Administrators decry the high failure rates of those seeking to obtain training to become Emergency Medical Technicians but they provide very little training money to volunteers to ensure their success. It’s sad to pathetic that those same administrators have done little to improve volunteer’s ability to obtain needed training. How pathetic that a once vibrant system for volunteer emergency medical service providers are almost extinct in some Maryland Counties. Many Counties in Maryland either have a dwindling volunteer medical provider base or medical providers that have very little training to treat the needs of their citizens they respond to. Ask yourself, what am I doing to make sure the volunteers in my jurisdiction are supported? God forbid you participate in the destruction of the volunteer service in your jurisdiction for political gain. Give these heroic, selfless servants a contract for their protection. Elected officials owe it to volunteers to treat them on the same level as paid personnel. Are volunteers second class citizens in your jurisdiction? Do you negotiate with all County employees except volunteer fire and emergency medical providers. Volunteers do the same work but for free. How is that worthy of second class treatment? If you need preparedness training or would like to have a preparedness discussion for your employees or community checkout my website (Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants) and contact me via email at for a free consultation.

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