The Gazette reports that a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been awarded to Prince George’s County. The $3.5 million in federal funding will be used to add two dozen firefighters to the current force.
“We’re very excited about this,” said Andrew Pantelis, president of the Prince George’s County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association union. “Every additional firefighter we can hire will help.”
Prince George’s County has the largest combination force in the country, balancing a mix of about 660 paid firefighters and more than 1,000 volunteers. County emergency services receive about 155,000 emergency calls per year, according to the department.
Two years ago, County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) reduced overtime spending in the fire/EMS department. Last year, as the county faced deficits, a hiring freeze was placed on the department and volunteers were asked to take on additional work.
With turnover and retirements, the career force has shrunk by more than 60 officers in the past year, according to budget documents. This brought complaints from unions that not enough workers are on-hand, and warnings from volunteers that they cannot sustain the pace for much longer.
In the new budget year that began July 1, the county has agreed to hire about 70 firefighters, and training for the first batch is set to begin later this summer.