Six fire stations in Prince George's County have alarmingly high "failure to respond" rates -- instances when emergency calls go unanswered and must be redispatched to the next-closest emergency response team.
Two stations -- one in Riverdale Heights, the other in Capitol Heights -- fail to respond to nearly one-third of the emergency calls they receive, according to a CountyStat report.
County officials have asked Fire Chief Marc Bashoor to study the issue and determine ways to reduce the percentage of missed calls at the stations, also located in Boulevard Heights, Bowie, Forestville and West Lanham.
|The percentage of calls a station fails to respond to within one minute:|
|Station||Total calls for service*||Failure to respond|
|Capitol Heights||950||30.2 percent|
|Riverdale Heights||653||31.1 percent|
|Boulevard Heights||1,235||22.1 percent|
|West Lanham||1,774||7.7 percent|
|*Fiscal year 2011|
Analysts point to a variety of potential influences, from the location of the station to the equipment available, but fire department spokesman Mark Brady said the chief reason is understaffing.
Each station is staffed by a large number of volunteer firefighters -- the decision was made under a previous fire chief to pull some career firefighters away from those locations, Brady said -- and the stations sometimes struggle to have enough bodies to respond promptly to calls.
A station is deemed to have failed to respond if a call goes unanswered for more than one minute, he said.
"At times they do okay with their staffing to respond to calls, but at other times it's a challenge," Brady said.
The station with the worst failure-to-respond rate, Riverdale Heights, is staffed entirely by volunteer firefighters. The station fails to answer calls within one minute 31.1 percent of the time, according to the report.
A Capitol Heights station that fails to respond to 30.2 percent of calls has four career firefighters on staff during the day, but none on nights and weekends.
John Alter, chairman of the Prince George's County Fire Commission, declined to comment on the report, which he said he had yet to see.
Career firefighters were moved away from those fire stations because there are other stations nearby that can handle missed calls, according to Brady. Ideally the department would have 1,200 or more career firefighters, but the department staffs about 800.
Bashoor, who is working on a response to county analysts' request for ways to reduce the poor rates, said the poor data is also attributable to somewhat unrealistic goals set by county officials.
"The original numbers used were based on past budget submission targets, that would be nice, but are not achievable based on the national and local recession budget constraints," Bashoor wrote in an email. "Those numbers are not consistent with our realities or any metric that we will be using in years out."