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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

PG SENTINEL NEWSPAPER - Eugene A. Jones


Beltsville resident confirmed as new fire chief
Eugene A. Jones seeks new volunteers, improvements for departments

Published on: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 – Prince George’s Sentinel Newspaper

By Nancy Royden

There is more than one way to fight a fire, and the new fire chief in Prince George’s County said it could be done without water, hoses and equipment.

“I love being able to help people. You’re helping people all the time and in all situations. You get paid and you have an impact on people’s lives,” said Eugene A. Jones, 48, the newly confirmed fire chief of the Prince George’s Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department. “I spent a lot of time in prevention. You can stop a lot of things.”

Jones said he caught the fire-fighting bug several years ago when he went to church and found out about an open position with the county’s fire department. He said the pay was better than what he was earning working in an input and output section for a computer firm, so his interest was definitely piqued.

On July 14 in the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro, Jones received unanimous confirmation by county council members to become chief. He had been acting fire chief since February and manages a $112 million budget and a department of 825 unformed and civilian personnel, said Mark E. Brady, chief spokesperson for the fire/EMS department.

Jones is a 1978 graduate of Theodore Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C.

Since graduation from the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Training Academy in Cheltenham in 1984, Jones has worked in several different areas for the agency.
His first assignment was working near Washington, D.C. as a firefighter at the station in Mount Rainier.

Jones said most of his career has been spent as a firefighter with the department was spent with the Oxon Hill Volunteer Fire Department.

After working in Oxon Hill, Jones did fire prevention work and said it is now called the Office of the Fire Marshal. Over the years, he returned to Oxon Hill and was a captain there.

Brady said Jones led the department’s peer mediation team for 10 years, and Prince George’s firefighters were among the first in the nation to establish the program which trains firefighters to provide peer mediation services to their colleagues.

During Jones’ tenure, he was assistant to fire chiefs A.D. Bell and Ronald Siarnicki.

His experience also includes being battalion chief of the county’s most southern battalion in Upper Marlboro and being an equal opportunity and disciplinary coordinator.

“He has received numerous awards, including the Fire Chief’s Special Achievement Award for his service to the citizens of Prince George’s County and his continued commitment to community service. This is the highest honor bestowed upon a firefighter,” Brady said.

As a battalion chief, Jones supervised the day-to-day operations of more than 50 personnel. He was also executive assistant to the public safety/homeland security deputy chief administrative officer, Brady said.

After 24 years with the department, Jones retired with the rank of major in 2007, and was subsequently contacted by Johnson to discuss the possibility that he could become the chief of the department.

Jones said the fire/EMS department certainly has financial concerns, and he and others are trying their best to keep the departments functioning as best they can.
“It has been interesting. There have been a lot of challenges, especially with the budget,” he said.

Jones said building inspections are vital to protecting property. This is one area the department is expanding. Community outreach personnel are being trained to be inspectors as well.

County Executive Jack Johnson said Jones has been an excellent asset to the department.

“Chief Jones has a comprehensive background in fire/rescue service and emergency preparedness and an impressive record of professional achievement,” Johnson said. “Prince George’s County is fortunate to have such a competent and dedicated individual as our fire chief.”

Jones said getting through the tough economic times would take sacrifice from everyone in the department.

“I like helping employees think about how what they do affects the bottom line,” he said. “My biggest thing is to recruit volunteers. We have one of the lowest numbers of volunteers in the area. Training is free. Equipment is free. You get to live your dreams.”

CODE ORANGE AIR QUALITY FORECAST

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) has issued a "CODE ORANGE" Air Quality forecast for Tuesday August 4, and Wednesday August 5, 2009. Air quality is expected to be unhealthy for sensitive groups in the Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas.”

Children and adults who experience difficulty breathing should limit prolonged or strenuous outdoor activities.

DC EXAMINER ARTICLE: Prince George's cutting back on fire service due to budget woes

Prince George's cutting back on fire service due to budget woes

By: Alan Suderman Examiner Staff WriterAugust 4, 2009

Budget woes in Prince George's County are forcing the county's fire department to make service cuts and rely more on volunteer firefighters to do the work of professionals.

Fire Chief Eugene Jones said the moves will cut overtime pay while reducing the amount of unnecessary overlap between nearby fire stations.

"We can no longer continue to operate as we have in the past," Jones said. "Financial challenges will affect many facets of our organization and require alterations to the manner by which we prepare to calls for service."

Fire officials said the county has had the second highest number of staff stations of any local government in the region.

Jones said the Chillum fire station will no longer offer fire service and its career firefighters will move to nearby stations. Instead, the station will house a paramedic unit.

Two other stations -- one in Capitol Heights the other in Riverdale Heights -- no longer will have professional firefighters but will remain open "based on volunteer participation," county officials said.

Fire department spokesman Mark Brady said the budget cuts may affect how quickly fire officials are able to respond to emergencies.

"We're always going to show up," he said. "Response times could be longer in some areas."
The county cut the fire department's budget by $2 million in the current fiscal year to about $110 million.

Brady said the department has been trying to use volunteers to fill gaps in staffing since April in an effort to cut costs. He added that the department, which is already "short staffed," may have to consider more cuts if the county's finances don't improve. There is currently no plan to hire new recruits to replace retiring firefighters, Brady said.

"Certainly, additional actions could be taken," he said.

Calls to the firefighters union were not returned, but Assistant Chief Antwan Jordan told WJLA-TV, Channel 7, that he is concerned that relying on volunteers could pose a serious threat to the community.

The county has about 750 sworn professional firefighters and 1,050 volunteers.

asuderman@washingtonexaminer.com