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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Remembering Fire Fighter Thomas L. Graves, Jr.

By: Mark E. Brady, Chief Spokesperson, 240-508-7930

Shortly after three o’clock on the afternoon of April 16, 1980, Prince George’s County Fire Department units were alerted to respond to a gas leak in a residential apartment complex in the Glenn Dale community of Prince George’s County.

Fire Fighter Thomas L. Graves, Jr.
On arrival, crews began conducting a search of the building to assure all residents had evacuated, and commenced ventilation of the building. Fire Fighter Thomas L. Graves, Jr., 31, Driver of the first-arriving Ladder Truck from the Glenn Dale Station, was working in the front of the building clearing windows in an effort to assist crews who were operating inside the structure. Without warning, a massive and catastrophic natural gas explosion occurred, collapsing two floors of the building as well as a large portion of the brick façade from the building into the area immediately in front of the structure. As the building collapsed, Fire Fighter Graves was trapped beneath several tons of brick and rubble.

As a volunteer fire fighter/EMT at Branchville Fire/EMS Station 11, I was the driver on Ambulance 119, which was dispatched as part of the initial alarm. On that call, I was accompanied by fellow Branchville Volunteers Elizabeth Jackson and Brenda Bearden (Jackson and Bearden both went on to become career firefighters with PGFD and have since retired). As our unit approached the scene, we heard the incident commander radio that an explosion had occurred. He immediately ordered all personnel on the scene to abandon their current assignments and report to the front of the building to assist in the rescue of a firefighter trapped under debris. In the same breath, he requested a second alarm.

The personnel on-scene frantically dug in the brick pile in an attempt to rescue Graves. On arrival, the crew of Ambulance 119 immediately joined the efforts to free the release the trapped fire fighter. Once rescuers reached Graves, it was clear that he had suffered massive and life-threatening injuries. Tommy was quickly loaded on our cot and rushed to Ambulance 119 for transport. Jackson and Bearden commenced CPR as I drove the ambulance out of the complex and onto Good Luck Road. En-route to nearby Doctors Hospital, I recall switching to an alternate radio channel to report our destination to the personnel responding on Medic 1. Medic 1, which was not yet on the scene, concurred with our efforts and advised that they would rendezvous with us at Doctors Hospital in the event that the fire fighter required transport to the trauma center. On arrival, we transferred care of Graves to the waiting Emergency Room staff. Jackson, Bearden and I remained at the hospital as a steady stream of firefighters and officials arrived. I remember Sergeant Jim Miller was the first to come through the doors behind us as the Emergency Room staff focused their efforts on saving Fire Fighter Graves. They worked until everything they could do had been done and there was nothing else they could do.

Sadly, Thomas L. Graves, Jr. succumbed to his injuries in the line of duty on the afternoon of April 16, 1980. He was the first career firefighter killed in the Line of Duty in Prince George’s County, leaving behind a wife and 16-month-old son. Sergeant Miller debriefed the crew of Ambulance 119 and we departed Doctors Hospital, headed back to Branchville. I recall the brief trip home was filled with conversations about what we had just been part of. I suspect that Elizabeth and Brenda, who have since retired from the Fire/EMS Department, both remember that afternoon just as vividly as I do.

On this, the 31st Anniversary of the Line-of-Duty Death of Fire Fighter Thomas L. Graves, Jr., we ask that everyone take a moment and remember Tommy as one of our fallen heroes.

Below is a copy of a Washington Post article from April 19, 1980.


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