- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

A Pennsylvania congressman who oversees fire-safety concerns yesterday demanded that District of Columbia financial control board Chairman Alice M. Rivlin allow funding for more city firefighters or else resign.

"I'm calling on Alice Rivlin to step down," said Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican. "Let her give up her fat salary and staff and give that money to the D.C. fire department."

"Too many firefighters have died," said Mr. Weldon, a former volunteer firefighter.

Mr. Weldon, co-chairman of the Congressional Fire and Emergency Services Caucus, made his comments outside a firehouse on New Jersey Avenue NE, where as many as 200 firefighters rallied in support for former interim Fire Chief Thomas N. Tippett.

Mr. Tippett, who was popular among firefighters and had served in the temporary post for five months, resigned abruptly Friday after the control board refused to fund a fifth firefighter on ladder trucks and an aide to battalion chiefs.

The extra positions, which would cost about $4 million a year, were recommended for safety reasons after investigations into the deaths of four firefighters over the last three years. Mr. Tippett, a 32-year veteran with the department, said he would not lead a department in which the lives of firefighters were placed at risk.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Rivlin said in a letter to Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, that the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department was projected to spend $5.3 million more than its $111.9 million budget. She said the fire department did not have a plan to cover the deficit or pay for additional manpower.

Mrs. Rivlin was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

Sources close to Mr. Tippett and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said the mayor twice before had offered the permanent fire chief position to Mr. Tippett, who declined unless the extra firefighters could be added.

Mr. Tippett first submitted a resignation on April 27. Mr. Williams refused to accept it and told Mr. Tippett that he would find a way to get the control board's approval, sources said.

"He said he could have the job if he wanted it and Tom stood firm," said a fire department official.

Raymond Sneed, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, Local 36, said Mr. Williams and D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp met with Mrs. Rivlin to discuss the staffing on Wednesday.

"The end result of the meeting was the control board refusing to permit the reprogramming of money in the current budget for the staffing increases," Mr. Sneed said.

Mr. Tippett was told during a meeting with the mayor on Friday that funding for the additional manpower would be halted, Mr. Sneed said, adding that Mr. Tippett again was offered the permanent job and quit.

"Fire Chief Tom Tippett is a man of integrity who, regardless of the issue, stood firm to his convictions and could not be swayed even by the enticement of a larger paycheck," Mr. Sneed said.

Peggy Armstrong, Mr. Williams spokeswoman, said the mayor has said the decision was made by Mr. Tippett and "it is time to move on."

Erik Christian, deputy mayor for public safety, on Friday said Battalion Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe was appointed interim chief until a permanent replacement is selected. Mr. Christian said other fire department officials have said they may retire over the funding for the positions.

Chief Ellerbe said he supports additional manpower, but that a good manager must be fiscally responsible.

Mr. Weldon yesterday said he will write to all members of the House and Senate to try to get the matter resolved and give additional funding to the fire department.

"I'm calling on the control board to change their position so Chief Tippett can return to the city honorably," Mr. Weldon said. "Chief Tippett has taken a strong, bold stand in favor of public safety."

Yesterday's rally also was addressed by Sgt. Joe Morgan, who received burns over 80 percent of his body during a May 30 fire in Northeast that killed fellow Firefighters Lewis J. Matthews and Anthony Phillips.

"How many firefighters does it take? How many firefighters have to be burned? How many children have to ask where are their fathers or ask where is their mother?" he said before the firefighters, who carried signs that read "Is my daddy worth $4 million" and "Alice is in wonderland."

"This a slap in the face of every resident who are protected in this city," Sgt. Morgan said.

Debbie Carter, the widow of Sgt. John Carter, said she felt the city has betrayed her and all firefighters. The recommendations for the aides and the extra firefighters on ladder trucks were first made as a result of the investigation of Sgt. Carter's death during a blaze on Oct. 24, 1997.

"This was my husband and you cannot place a dollar amount on someone's life," she said, holding up his photograph. "I feel the nation's capital has allowed my husband to die in vain."

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