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When You Need the Rescue Squad

Potomac’s heavy rescue equipment slated for reserve service.

How much rescuing does the County, and Potomac, need? A recent decision by the Fire and Rescue Commission will result in a decrease in the number of heavy rescue squads in the county.

Heavy Rescue squads are trucks equipped with “extrication” equipment, such as the jaws of life, equipment that can easily cut through a car’s chassis and air bags that could lift up a train car, said Steve Miller, deputy chief of Cabin John Station.

Such a equipment is needed in 2.7 percent of traffic accidents, according to the report prepared by the “Rescue Squad Work Group.”

They respond to car accidents, structure fires or any situation where people might be trapped. There are currently nine “heavy rescue” squads in the county.

The new policy will mean that there will be 14 extrication-capable units in the county, six of which will be “Heavy Rescue.”

According to the report, the rescue squads should be placed at stations 3 (Rockville), 15 (Burtonsville), 29 (Germantown), 40 (Sandy Spring) and Rescue companies 1 (B-CC) and 2 (Wheaton).

The “rescue engines” which are not heavy rescue, will be able to respond to most traffic accidents where people are trapped, but will not have the equipment necessary for the more advanced operations.

Volunteers at the Cabin John Volunteer Fire Department, which serves most of Potomac, raised $350,000 to buy a heavy rescue squad three years ago. That truck has been operating out of Station 30 on Falls Road in Potomac; when it goes out on a call, three firefighters, each of whom has emergency medical training go along.

Station 30’s heavy rescue unit is one of the three units which will placed into a reserve status, but not until an alternative can be provided.

“They’re not going to change anything until Cabin John or the County provides them with a rescue engine,” said Ronald Ogens, a Potomac resident, and the chair of the Operations Committee of the Fire and Rescue Commission. “It may be some time before they do that.”

Tight County budgets make the purchase of new equipment soon unlikely.

Currently, the heavy rescue squad is cross-staffed with the pumper truck at station 30. “It’s not ideal,” said Miller.

The truck at station 30 would be shifted into a supplemental role, used only when there is sufficient personnel to staff the other equipment at the station.

This concerns Miller.

“If we get a wreck on River Road, we would have to wait for a rescue squad from downtown Bethesda or downtown Rockville,” he said.

Ogens explains that the commission must look at staffing and equipment from a county-wide perspective. Heavy rescue squads must be staffed by four people in order to function properly. Creating one full-time position requires the county to hire 4.3 firefighters in order to ensure that the equipment is staffed at all times.

Starting firefighters are paid in the low 30s said Ogens.

“But it doesn’t take long to get up into the 50s.”

“We need a station 30. We need to serve that area, but it isn’t one of the busiest stations,” Ogens said.

Once the unit it no longer staffed by county personnel, the department will likely have to sell the squad, Miller said. While they will make an attempt to staff it, he doubts they will have enough qualified volunteers to do so.

“We can’t afford to keep it as a reserve,” Miller said. “I think the people of Potomac are being given a big disservice.”