Celebratory Dinner Cited in Failed Response to Fatal Maryland Fire

Deputy uncertain of different outcome

West Lanham Deputy Fire Chief Scott Vasquez. (WUSA9)

Mike Valerio, WUSA9, with permission

NEW CARROLLTON, Md. (WUSA9) – The West Lanham Hills deputy fire chief said his volunteer fire fighters were at a long-awaited celebration during a fatal fire last month, as members of New Carrollton’s City Council asked if anything could have been done differently to save a woman’s life.

“Looking at what the timeframes were, I don’t know if a minute or two minutes would have changed the amount of fire that was coming out of that house,” Deputy Chief Scott Vasquez said during a council meeting Wednesday. “I’m here to tell you that we are saddened by what happened. Could the outcome have been different? I can’t tell you that for certain.”

The Jan. 18 fire on Inlet Street killed Anita Ellis, a beloved bus driver with the Prince George’s public school system. Three of the closest fire houses were without staff, leading a fourth and farther fire house to respond.

The first units arrived on scene within six minutes and 30 seconds, officials said, compared with the county’s initial response goal of five minutes and 20 seconds.

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In response to the tragedy, Vasquez announced West Lanham will be adding staffing around the clock at one of its two fire stations that did not respond to the Inlet Street fire.

“We are going to change the staffing model at Station 48, starting the first of March,” Vasquez said. “We will be moving a trailer to the station so that we can house these individuals.”

The deputy chief described the celebration that night as a dinner to honor department veterans with more than 50 years’ experience, and to honor fire fighters who have recently passed away.

“This is something every firehouse does,” Vasquez said. “This is something that naturally happens, and in our department, this has been the standard for 77 years.”

During his remarks to council members, the deputy chief said all county protocols were followed the night of the fire. The department notified authorities in advance that two fire houses would not be able to respond because of the gathering.

“But within a few hours, Station 48 was back and ran 20 ambulance calls,” Vasquez said. “We had a dinner that was portrayed as a big banquet or bash. But this in many ways was like a mental health break.”

Members of the council expressed broad support for the firefighters, a dozen of whom packed the council meeting to show their support for the department

“I know how difficult it is to work with nothing, so I want to say thank you,” Council Member Sarah Potter Robbins said.

“Hang in there, you all are doing a wonderful job,” Council Member Roy Peterson added. “Don’t listen to the negative stuff, you know all the lives you have saved and the things you have done.”

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