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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Forestville Strip Mall Explosion May 7, 2009

At 12:54 PM on Thursday, May 7, 2009, Prince George’s County Firefighter/Medics were dispatched on a call that no one is soon to forget. Firefighters were alerted to respond to the Penn-Mar Shopping Center, a large 1-story strip mall, in the 3400 Block of Donnell Drive in Forestville and arrived at 12:59 PM. First arriving crews initiated an investigation into a strong odor of natural gas inside the businesses. Firefighters evacuated 5 of the 6 stores that were in the area of the odor, a sixth store was vacant. Forty-five people were evacuated from the 5 stores and firefighters then started ventilation efforts and called for assistance of the Washington Gas Company. Firefighters discovered natural gas bubbling up from the ground on the exterior rear of the vacant store and minutes later reported that there was a fire on the interior. Within a minute, at about 1:20 PM, a massive explosion occurred. A MAYDAY call was sounded and additional resources including paramedics and a second alarm of firefighters were summoned to the scene.

Large plate glass windows blew shattered glass and other debris 60-70 feet into the front parking lot, the roof assembly appeared to have been lifted up and then fell back into place and the rear brick and block wall was completely blown out. Firefighters were in the direct line of the explosion and suffered burns and injuries from flying debris. Firefighters were wearing their personal protective gear which is believed to have minimized injuries. They quickly gathered themselves and checked on other crew members and civilians that may have been injured. A total of eight firefighters sustained a variety of injuries ranging from lacerations to second degree burns. Four Firefighters were transported to the Washington Hospital Center Burn Unit where two were treated and released and two were admitted for additional treatment. While initially transported with serious injuries, the firefighter’s conditions have been upgraded to “good.” Four other firefighters were transported to other area hospitals and were treated and released. One civilian, an employee of the Washington Gas Company was also treated and released from an area hospital. There were no injuries to any of the 45 evacuated civilians.

A small fire resulted from the explosion that was quickly contained and extinguished. The investigation so far has determined that the release of natural gas occurred in the vacant store and reached an ignition point that resulted in the explosion. The Fire/EMS Department’s Technical Rescue Team completed a through secondary post-blast search of the damaged stores confirming that everyone heeded the orders of first arriving firefighters to evacuate. Prince George's County Acting Fire Chief Eugene A. Jones arrived on the scene and surveyed the devastation and remarked, "As a Department we are thankful that the injuries our crews suffered are recoverable. As a community, we are fortunate that 45 lives were saved by firefighters doing their jobs. Overall, in consideration of the devastating destruction we are extremely fortunate that this was not a disaster."The exact cause of the release of natural gas and the source of ignition remain under investigation. The circumstances are said to be accidental and damage to the 6 stores is estimated at $2.5 million.

A drive-cam on-board Engine 826-District Heights captured video of the explosion.

Personnel admitted to Washington Hospital Center Burn Unit

Capt. Robert Rouse, Station 823-Forestville, 2nd degree burns to face and hands.

Volunteer Fire Fighter Greg Powell, Station 826-District Heights, injuries from flying debris

Treated and released from Washington Hospital Center Burn Unit

Fire Fighter Kelli Kivett, Station 823-Forestvile

Fire Fighter Rachel Edney, Station 805 –Capitol Heights

Transported to other area hospitals, treated and released

Lt. Richard Anderson, Station 826-District Heights

Capt. John Gatland, Station 805-Capitol Heights

Fire Fighter Curk Smart, Station 823-Forestville

Fire Fighter/Medic William Descutner, Station 805-Capitol Heights

Additional Media





The Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department bestowed the highest level award that can be awarded to a group of individuals that worked together for a common cause. On Thursday, May 28, 2009, Acting Fire Eugene A. Jones presented the Fire/EMS Departments Unit Citation to members of multiple agencies that worked together to bring closure to a serial arsonist.

During a six-month period between March and August of 2007, nine fires were set within the Springhill Lake apartment complex in Greenbelt, Maryland. Prince George’s County Fire Investigators, after conducting a full-fledged investigation, ascertained there was a link between the series of fires. This eventually led to the formation of a Serial Arson Task Force comprised of state, local and federal agencies. The ATF, Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office, Greenbelt City Police Department, Hyattsville City Police Department and personnel from Public Safety Communications were partners in the Springhill Lake Serial Arson Task Force with the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department.

While addressing the award recipients Chief Jones stated, “The professionalism and unrelenting commitment you displayed while serving as a member of the Serial Arson Task Force were outstanding. You worked diligently alongside your fellow task force members, in an effort to apprehend the person responsible for using fire as a weapon to terrorize a community, endanger the lives of the residents and firefighters and cause millions of dollars in property damage.” He concluded by saying, “Your actions, which assisted greatly in the apprehension and successful prosecution of the serial arsonist, are commendable and worthy of recognition.”
Jeremiah Christopher Jones, age 26, of Greenbelt, MD, was sentenced to 97 months in prison for setting nine fires that resulted in over $2 million in damages at the Springhill Lake apartment complex.

FIREHOUSE Magazine also has recognized this extremely talented group with a 2008 Community and Heroism Unit Citation. Many personnel among this group were also awarded a Unit Citation for their work in the DC Area Serial Arsonist Investigation in 2004.

This is a list of personnel recognized with the Fire/EMS Departments Unit Citation for their role in the Springhill Lake Serial Arson Task Force.

Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department: Angela M. Peden, Major Scott K. Hoglander, Battalion ChiefPaul A. Gomez, Captain Dale A. Ednock, Captain Shajahan K. Jagtiani, Lieutenant Yvette M. Virgins, LieutenantNolita K. Proctor, Lieutenant Brian G. Collins, LieutenantChristopher L. Lynge, Lieutenant James L. Sullivan, Fire InvestigatorWilliam A. Murray, Fire InvestigatorGeorge M. Grooms, Fire InvestigatorJohn D. Baione, Fire InvestigatorRobert S. Kaleda & Accelerant Detection Canine “Joy”Roxane Smalls, Special Hazards Inspector Roger A. Leak, Special Hazards InspectorDarryl R. Queen, Special Hazards InspectorMark E. Brady Chief Spokesperson/PIOCharles Fusco, Major and Volunteer Chief, Berwyn Heights Danny McCoy Volunteer Deputy Chief, Berwyn HeightsJohn Thompson, Captain, Berwyn Heights

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives:Theresa Stoop, Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Donald Toll,Special Agent (Arson Group Supervisor)Tom Daly, Special Agent Gregg Hine, Special Agent Terry Mortimer, Special Agent Patrick Hoffman, Special Agent Rachel Ehrlich-Ellis, Special AgentLisa Herb, Special Agent Eric Pena, Special Agent Shawn Morrow, Special Agent Ray Kuk, Forensic ChemistAmy Michaud, Forensic Chemist Matthew Farr, Forensic Biologist Alison Rees, Finger Print SpecialistChuck Kubilus, Finger Print SpecialistSonja Fladie, Investigative Assistant Robert Rutten, Captain, ATF Task Force Officer/Montgomery Co. FDGreg Der, Detective, ATF Task Force Officer/Howard Co. PD

Greenbelt City Police Department: James R. Craze, Chief of Police Tom Kemp, Captain Gerald Potts, Sergeant Christopher Bladzinski, Detective Mike Lanier, Detective Craig Rich, Forensic InvestigatorSteve Keller, Forensic InvestigatorJonathan Lowndes, Master Police Officer Tammy Harris, Master Police OfficerYoung Hur, Police Officer

Public Safety Communications: Charlynn F. Flaherty, Director Wayne McBride, Deputy DirectorJames White, Communications Specialist IIIJoel Gough, Communications Specialist IICraig Kelso, Communications Specialist IIDwayne Carter, Communications Specialist II

Hyattsville City Police Department: Douglas Holland,Chief of Police Chris Purvis, Detective

Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office: William Barnard, State Fire Marshal Joseph Flanagan, Chief Deputy State Fire MarshalMatthew Wrenn, Deputy State Fire MarshalBrian Quick, Deputy State Fire Marshal John Tennyson, Deputy State Fire MarshalTim Warner, Deputy State Fire MarshalMark Bilger, Deputy State Fire MarshalBruce Bouch, Deputy State Fire Marshal

Members Attain College Degrees

The Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department is pleased to acknowledge four of our members who recently graduated from schools of higher learning. While obtaining a college degree is not a requirement, it may enhance our personal sense of self-value. Additionally, having a college degree, in most instances, is the gateway to greater opportunity for advancement in our professional life.

Fire Fighter Battalion Chief Corey A. Smedley recently received a Master of Science in Management Degree from John Hopkins University. Upon receiving his degree, Smedley, a 14-year veteran of the Fire/EMS Department, stated, “I want to thank the Prince George's Fire/EMS Department for providing the foundation that has afforded me challenges and opportunities.” He currently works in the office of the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Homeland Security and Public Safety Director Vernon Herron. Smedley feels his successful completion of the two-year Masters program enables him to make better decisions, professionally. He stated, “An institution of higher learning afforded me the ability to understand theory, research empirical evidence and apply those variables into a practical solution that provides for stable decision making.”

Brian J. Frankel, Acting Fire Fighter/Medic Lieutenant assigned to the Fire/EMS Training Academy (FETA), received his Bachelors Degree in Fire Science from the University of Maryland-University College (UMUC). Frankel, who has been with the Department since November 1999, was hired as part of Career Recruit School (CRS) 30. After moving to his current assignment at the FETA in May of 2006, he began his studies at UMUC. Previously receiving his Associates in Applied Health Sciences from the Community College of the Air Force gave him a good start toward earning his Bachelors degree. As an active member of the fire service, Frankel was able to apply for tuition reimbursement through the Charles W. Riley Grant through the State of Maryland. He took courses online at night, while balancing life with his wife and their four children. During this time, he also studied for both the Technician’s exam (promoted in January 2008) and the Lieutenant’s test. While taking these courses and balancing various other responsibilities may seem difficult, he learned that self-discipline and a supportive wife made the experience manageable. In May 2009, Acting Fire Fighter/Medic Lieutenant Frankel graduated with honors.

When asked about balancing his time, Frankel stated, “Although it was difficult to balance family and professional life, the experience has better prepared me to meet and understand the challenges we all face. My hope is to continue and complete my Masters degree, which I hopefully will start in the fall.”

Frankel recommends all members of the Department pursue higher education. He stated, “Classes such as Fire Dynamics, Fire Investigations, Human Behavior in Fire and the various other required courses reinforce our current knowledge and allow us to better understand every aspect of the fire service. This not only benefits us and our Department, but also guarantees that we have marketability in the future.”

Acting Fire Fighter Battalion Chief Denice L. Dickens and Fire Fighter Battalion Chief Sayshan L. Conver-White celebrated together graduation from the College of Southern Maryland.

Acting Battalion Chief Dickens, a 21-year veteran, coordinates the activities of the Department’s Professional Standards Office. She was one of just four female recruits when she attended the Fire/EMS Training Academy, and the second female promoted to the rank of Fire Technician with less than two years on the job. Acting Battalion Chief Dickens, in an effort to enhance her abilities as an officer, began taking college level courses. In 2005, she began coursework that would enable her to complete her degree. She graduated this May with an Associates of Applied Science Degree in Fire Science Technology, and will continue her education with coursework in Criminalistics and Homeland Security. When asked what being a full-time employee and college student entails, she stated, “Taking any type of additional education puts a burden on you and your family, but it is well worth it. I applaud everyone who has obtained any additional education, because to juggle work, family and life it takes a special person with strong values and a stronger family.”

Battalion Chief Conver-White graduated in May 2009, with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Fire Science Technology. She graduated with an impressive 3.8 GPA. Conver-White began her fire service career in November 1991, as a volunteer firefighter in Howard County at the age of 16. She attended the University of Maryland-College Park in the Fall Semester 1993, at which time she joined the College Park Volunteer Fire Department. In June 1995, prior to completing her college classes, she was hired by the Fire/EMS Department as part of CRS 27. January 18, 2009, she was promoted to Battalion Chief, and currently serves as the Department’s Safety Officer.

Battalion Chief Conver-White will continue her education at UMUC, majoring in Fire Service Management with additional coursework in Homeland Security. She is happily married to Steven “Country” White, also a Battalion Chief with the Department. They have two young sons and reside in La Plata, Maryland.

Acting Fire Chief Eugene A. Jones was extremely pleased upon hearing of these accomplishments and stated, “Congratulations to all of our members who achieve higher levels of education. These educational accomplishments translate to being better prepared to perform their jobs and provide the very best service to fellow members and the citizens, residents and visitors of Prince George’s County.”

GAZETTE NEWSPAPER - June 4, 2009, Edition is Wall-to-Wall PGFD

The GAZETTE NEWSPAPER has numerous articles in their June 4, 2009, edition that cover the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department. [

Spring Hill Lake Unit Citation


Brandywine Fire/EMS Station


Hyattsville Fire/EMS Station


Tuxedo-Cheverly Fire/EMS Station


Capitol Heights Teen Rescues Family from Fire