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Sunday, August 28, 2011

PGFD - Prepared and Successful with Hurricane Irene Operations

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

The Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department started preparing for the arrival Hurricane Irene days in advance. Even while continuing to deal with the aftermath of a rare 5.9 earthquake just days earlier, Department leadership started to focus their attention to the impending storm.  Hurricane Irene's impact was forecast to start being felt in Prince George's County the afternoon of Saturday, August 27, 2011 with worsening conditions late in the evening into early Sunday morning.

Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor returned early from the International Association of Fire Chief’s Fire-Rescue International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, to help prepare Fire/EMS Department’s assets for what had been called the “storm of the century” by analyst’s on the Weather Channel.  

Chief Bashoor focused attention to the upcoming operations by addressing the Department by writing, 

“As Hurricane Irene churns towards Prince George's County, please take the opportunity now to prepare yourselves, your families, and those less able to care for themselves.

Folks in need will depend on us as first responders.  I want to ensure you've taken care of yourselves and your families now - so you'll be available to help out if called upon.  Whether it's cleaning out gutters, ditches, and drain pipes, or ensuring you have flashlights, batteries, sandbags, and at least a 3-day supply of food/water, or ensuring vehicles and generators are fully fueled and portable supply cans filled, please take those steps now. 

We should ourselves, and as a challenge to others, also take this opportunity to make sure all of our smoke alarm batteries are fresh and working.

Career and Volunteer Command staff should anticipate the need to work rotating shifts during the height of our potential response - while updated information will be forthcoming, plan now for that eventuality.  Station and Battalion Chiefs should similarly have plans for extra coverage and deployment if it is ordered or authorized.”

A Departmental Operations Center (DOC) was established at the Cranford-Graves Fire Services Building in Landover Hills and opened on Saturday, August 27, 2011, at 7:00 am. The DOC was to work independently from the County Emergency Operations Center other than a Fire/EMS Department liaison.  The DOC was to operate under a 12-hour operational period, under an ICS format, with Command, Operations, Logistics, Public Information and Planning Sections activated initially. Meetings were held in the DOC as well as teleconferences with command officer in the field.

Being as the storm event was occurring over the weekend, several support functions such logistics and the apparatus maintenance division were staffed and operational to ensure continuity in operations.

By starting to plan for the significant weather event days in advance the Fire/EMS Department provided dedicated staffing for; 30 engines, 5 ladder trucks, 3 heavy duty rescue squads, 24 ambulances, 11 paramedic units and 5 paramedic ambulances.  An additional 16 units were placed in service that would respond on incidents such as wires down, flooded conditions and investigations.  Two personnel inside utility type vehicles staffed these units.  There were about 25 personnel operating between the EOC and DOC.  There were Federal, State and County Declarations of an Emergency for the events involving Hurricane Irene.

During the storm it was predetermined that assignments would be reduced.  For example, a box alarm would normally receive 4 engines, 2 ladder trucks, 1 squad or additional ladder truck and a command officer.  During the storm, a box assignment would receive 2 engines and 2 special services plus a command officer.

Limited access highway crashes were reduced to fire/EMS units in the direction of approach.  Normally, fire/EMS units would respond from opposite directions to the reported crash location

Fire Chief Bashoor had pre-issued a directive that if sustained winds reached 50 mph that we would suspend responses.  Operating in such conditions greatly diminishes our ability to do our job safely.  The winds came close but never reached the level where we would stop responding on calls.

Throughout the day of the storm apparatus was staffed by nearly 400 personnel that included 250 volunteers and 150 career firefighters, EMT’s, paramedics and civilian personnel.  On Saturday the Department responded on 740 calls for service compared to a normal 24-hour shift average of 375.  The highest numbers of calls were in the 11 PM hours when 90 calls were handled.  The majority of incidents, as predicated, involved utility lines and poles, transformers, flooded conditions, fallen trees and activated fire alarms.  We never had to deal a significant incident.

Fortunately, there were no injuries or significant incidents that were a direct result of Hurricane Irene.  The DOC remained functional until early Sunday afternoon.  The County EOC closed later Sunday afternoon.

Fire/EMS Department Operations Center.

County Emergency Operations Center

County Council Member Eric Olson, Fire Chief Bashoor and Homeland Security Director Brian Moe at EOC.

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