Fire and rescue squads

Volunteers protect residents' lives, property

Thursday, March 26, 2009

One of the strongest volunteer traditions in St. Mary's County is the volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services. These volunteers provide fire and ambulance services to the St. Mary's County community day and night for no pay.

Rescue squads

There are six emergency medical services, or ambulance companies, in St. Mary's County, one emergency medical service that is combined with the fire department, and the countywide Advanced Life Support Unit.

Trained personnel include emergency medical technicians, who can perform basic life support measures such as bandaging wounds and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and are certified IV technicians and automatic external defibrillator operators. Paramedics can administer additional medications and perform some life-saving invasive procedures.

EMTs have completed a 120-hour course and passed rigorous written and practical tests monitored by the state. Paramedics have taken additional advanced classroom instruction and acquired wide-ranging field experience, in addition to passing numerous written and skills demonstration tests and completing supervised rotations at a hospital.

Paramedics belong to the Advanced Life Support Unit. Members are still volunteers, but the operating expenses are paid by the county government.

Most basic life-support emergency medical services require members to become at least an EMT-basic or first responder. However, members of the Advanced Life Support Unit are required to be an EMT-paramedic. Some departments have a driver-only membership, which requires only CPR certification.

Responding to calls during the weekdays is a continuing problem for all of the squads, since most of their members have full-time jobs. However, some volunteers are allowed to respond to calls from work.

The rescue squads receive a portion of their operating expenses from the county government through revenues from an emergency medical services tax, but the bulk of their money comes from fund-raisers and donations.

With the county's population expanding, the emergency medical services continue a serious recruiting effort. The Ambulance and Rescue Squad Association shows a recruitment video in the high schools, and all of the emergency medical services are actively looking for more members.

At a minimum, most emergency medical services require applicants to be 16 years old, in good physical health and have good moral character. Most squads offer some kind of ride-along or observer program for prospective applicants to ride with the ambulance crew for a shift and see if it's something they would enjoy, and a few offer cadet programs for younger teenagers.

Fire departments

There are seven fire departments in St. Mary's County, using about 600 volunteers. In addition to fighting all kinds of fires, including house fires, vehicle fires, chimney fires and commercial building fires, fire department volunteers also extricate people in car accidents and handle floods, water rescues, hazardous-material spills, gas leaks and searches for missing people. Fire department volunteers also perform some community functions, such as teaching fire prevention classes at local schools, and many put up Christmas decorations at local shopping centers.

In order to respond to a call, most fire departments require new members to complete a pre-basic course, taught at the station, which covers topics such as the department's organization and structure, the location of small tools on the trucks, how to use the Hurst tool (the Jaws of Life), how to don the self-contained breathing apparatus and basic safety on fire scenes.

Within the probationary period, which varies from department to department, firefighters must complete the 96-hour Firefighter I course, which includes learning about hoses, streams and nozzles, hazardous materials and hydraulics. After that, firefighters can take the Firefighter II course, and then the Fire Officers courses that teach incident command. Firefighters also are required to take some training every year. Advanced training is offered annually throughout the region.

The fire departments receive money from the county's fire tax, but for many departments, that doesn't cover the cost of operations. Fire departments are stepping up their recruiting efforts, by working with the local high schools and creating programs for young people. Every department has junior members who are 16 or 17 years old, and many have cadet programs for younger teens.

I want to help, but …

All of the emergency medical services and fire departments have membership categories or fund-raising organizations for people who want to help, but not necessarily by riding on an ambulance or fire truck. The squads and departments need people to help with clerical and administrative work, maintenance on the buildings and vehicles, general cleanup and fundraising. To find out specific programs, contact the closest squad or department. For information about joining an emergency medical service or fire department, contact St. Mary's Department of Public Safety's emergency services coordinator at 301-475-4200, ext. 2113, or contact the squad or department in your area directly.

Rescue squad locations

If there is an emergency, do not call the numbers below. Call 911.

Leonardtown Volunteer Rescue Squad

Lawrence Avenue, Leonardtown,


Mechanicsville Volunteer Rescue Squad

Flora Corner Road, Mechanicsville,


Lexington Park Volunteer Rescue Squad

Great Mills Road, Lexington Park, 301-862-3331. Substation 38, Buck Hewitt Road, California, 301-863-9118.

Ridge Volunteer Rescue Squad

Route 235, Ridge, 301-872-5970.

Seventh District Volunteer Rescue Squad on Colton's Point Road (Route 242), Avenue, 301-769-2287.

Second District Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad on Drayden Road, Valley Lee, 301-994-0751.

Hollywood Volunteer Rescue Squad

Route 235, Hollywood, 301-373-3131.

Firehouse locations

If there is an emergency, do not call the numbers below. Call 911.

Leonardtown Volunteer Fire Department on Lawrence Avenue, Leonardtown, 301-475-8996.

Mechanicsville Volunteer Fire Department on Hills Club Road, Mechanicsville, 301-884-4709. Station 22 on Therese Circle, Golden Beach, 301-290-0930.

Bay District Volunteer Fire Department

South Coral Drive, Lexington Park, 301-737-0654. Station 9 on Chancellor's Run Road in California, 301-863-8790.

Ridge Volunteer Fire Department

Route 5, Ridge, 301-872-5571.

Seventh District Volunteer Fire Department on Route 242, Avenue, 301-769-3600.

Second District Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad on Drayden Road, Valley Lee, 301-994-0751.

Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department

Route 235, Hollywood, 301-373-2900.