Tensions high as career and volunteer firefighters feud in Prince George's County

- Some volunteer firefighters are feuding with career firefighters in Prince George's County and there is so much animosity between them that they have gotten into altercations at the scene of emergency calls.

The latest battle took place over the holiday weekend with a burning home as the backdrop and involved a volunteer firefighter from the Hyattsville station. It is the second altercation between a volunteer firefighter and career firefighter so far this year.

“We take this very seriously,” said Prince George’s County Fire and EMS spokesperson Mark Brady. “We are not taking this lightly whatsoever. Anytime you have violence in the workplace that violates several rules, standard operating procedures and the workplace violence policy, is of the utmost concern to everybody in the Fire and EMS department. Not only did they break rules, it makes the entire fire service look bad.”

“We don't want to be portrayed like that,” said William Cunningham, president of the Prince George’s County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association. “But here recently with the tension of everything that is going on, this is what is happening. Unfortunately, until everybody has a seat at the table and can put their input on both sides, I feel that this is going to be more of an embarrassment for Prince George's County, the fire service than it is anything else.”

When asked if he feels like this could get worse, Cunningham told us, “Yes, I do.”

There are about 800 career firefighters in Prince George’s County and nearly double that number for volunteer firefighters, making it one of the largest departments in the country.

We are told the rivalry between the two groups dates back more than four decades.

Despite both groups responding to more than 150,000 calls peacefully, there are incidents like what happened on Sunday in Berwyn Heights. A career firefighter reportedly attacked a volunteer firefighter while they were both responding to a house fire. The department said it is too early to tell if this incident is due to tensions between the two groups.

“We acknowledge that with a large system as we have in Prince George’s County, as busy as we are, there are still some underlying tensions between career or paid firefighters and the volunteers,” said Brady.

Why is it happening?

“It's the nature of the business,” Brady told us. “To be honest with you, I have been in this fire department for over 42 years and I cannot stand here today and explain to you why tensions continue between the two groups.”

“I'd call it a battle of pride,” said Cunningham. “Right now with some things that are going, we feel like we are being left behind.”

The volunteer firefighters blame unfair disciplinary actions, access to mandatory training and the volunteer department's top brass was removed from the chain of command.

The career firefighters said it is a mystery to them on what is fueling this feud.

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