Firefighters douse flames last December at a home along the Potomac River.

Firefighters douse flames at a home along the Potomac River.

The volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services in St. Mary’s provide fire and ambulance service to the community day and night for no pay. Auxiliaries at the fire departments and rescue squads help raise funds and support.

Fire departments

There are seven volunteer fire departments in St. Mary’s, using about 1,000 volunteers within their ranks. In addition to fighting all kinds of fires — including house fires, vehicle fires, chimney fires and commercial building fires — fire department personnel extricate people from car accidents and handle floods, water rescues, hazardous material spills, gas leaks and searches for people. Fire departments also perform other functions, such as standing by at community events, fire prevention activities at schools and open houses throughout the year.

To respond on emergency calls, fire departments require new members to be 16 years old, in good physical health and of good moral character. Some fire departments have a cadet program that allows for a teenager to begin training at age 14.

All operational members must complete an in-house, pre-basic fire course that covers such topics as the department’s organization and structure, location of small tools on the fire trucks, how to use the Hurst tool “jaws of life,” how to efficiently use the self-contained breathing apparatus and how to follow basic safety precautions on fire scenes.

Within the probationary period, which varies from department to department, firefighters must complete the 102-hour Firefighter 1 course offered by the University of Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, which includes instruction on proper use of hose lines, ropes and knots, search and ventilation. After that, firefighters can take a Firefighter II course, and then a Fire Officer Course that teaches incident command in emergencies.

Firefighters and their command staffs are required to maintain annual recertification as established by current state standards. All training is free of charge to the member.

The fire departments receive funding from the county’s fire tax. Fundraising efforts such as breakfasts, dinners, bingos and hall rentals all are important parts of fundraising for each department.

It is not necessary to be an operational member to serve with one of the county’s fire departments or rescue squads. Administrative membership is important as well, and vital duties include clerical work, maintenance to the buildings, general cleanup and fundraising.

To find specific programs in a community, contact any fire department or rescue squad directly. More information on volunteering also is available by sending email to the St. Mary’s emergency services recruiter at emergency.services@stmarysmd.com, or by calling 301-475-4200, ext. *2114.

Firehouse locations

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

Leonardtown Volunteer Fire Department — Lawrence Avenue, Leonardtown, 301- 475-8996;

Mechanicsville Volunteer Fire Department — Hills Club Road, Mechanicsville, 301-884-4709;

Bay District Volunteer Fire Department — Company 3 at South Shangri-La Drive, Lexington Park, 301-737-0654; Company 9 at Chancellor’s Run Road in California, 301-863-8790;

Ridge Volunteer Fire Department — Route 5, Ridge, 301-872-5571;

Seventh District Volunteer Fire Department — Route 242, Avenue, 301-769-3600;

Second District Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad — Drayden Road, ValleyLee, 301-994-0751;

Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department — Route 235, Hollywood, 301-373-2900.

Rescue squads

There are six independent rescue squads strategically located throughout St. Mary’s County, and one that is combined with its community’s fire department. In addition, there is a countywide Advanced Life Support Unit that responds to life-threatening emergencies.

The rescue squads’ minimum requirements for volunteers include being 16 years of age, in good physical health and of good moral character. Some squads have a cadet program for younger teenagers, beginning at 14 years of age.

Trained members include emergency medical technicians, who can perform basic life support measures such as bandaging wounds and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and can become certified IV technicians. Emergency medical technicians receive 165 hours of training, followed by the successful completion of written and practical examinations monitored by the state of Maryland. Most rescue squads require members to become EMTs or first responders. Training is free of charge to the member. An in-house, pre-basic course and CPR certification are minimum requirements to begin riding as an observer on the ambulances. Some rescue squad members that have driver-only status must have minimum CPR training, which most squads provide free of charge.

Medics come from all walks of life — health care providers, nurses, engineers, pilots and paid medics from other counties who also volunteer. ALS members have to complete 72 hours of continuing education every two years, plus duty requirements and local training, to stay current and certified. The initial training alone takes almost three years before a new member can function as an independent ALS provider. The ALS units run about 5,200 calls a year.

With the county’s population expanding, the requests for service from its residents and visitors have also increased. Responding to calls during weekdays has its challenges, as most volunteers have jobs during those hours. Vigorous recruitment efforts are continuing throughout the county.

The rescue squads receive a portion of their operating expenses from the county government through revenues from an emergency medical services tax, and the additional funding needed comes from fundraising and donations.

Rescue squad locations

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

Leonardtown Volunteer Rescue Squad — Lawrence Avenue, Leonardtown, 301-475-8509;

Mechanicsville Volunteer Rescue Squad — Old Flora Comer Road, Mechanicsville, 301-884-2900;

Lexington Park Volunteer Rescue Squad — FDR Boulevard, 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 — Colton’s Point Road (Route 242), Avenue, 301-769-2287;

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

Hollywood Volunteer Rescue Squad — Route 235, Hollywood, 301-373-3131.