- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

D.C. fire officials said yesterday that they expect to resume their troubled cadet program within 60 days, even as an investigation continues into whether applicants who were promised jobs lied about their D.C. residency.

The president of the D.C. Firefighters Association said the program should not be salvaged unless it stops using federal money that limits the applicant pool.

“There is no way you can turn this program around using the restrictions that are in place because it identifies the wrong kids,” said Lt. Ray Sneed, the union’s president.

Lt. Sneed said he is primarily concerned about the use of federal money, which requires the program to target at-risk candidates. Though Lt. Sneed said he supports a cadet program “100 percent,” he said it should be for youths who have earned — not squandered — the public trust necessary to be a firefighter.

Lt. Sneed made the statements in response to a recent report in The Washington Times about a former cadet who is the primary suspect in the September 2003 slaying of two elderly women in a Suitland flower shop.

The suspect, Adam I. Neal, 23, was in custody for a parole violation in Fairfax County when investigators linked him to the killings through DNA obtained at the crime scene. City fire officials said Neal left the department in April 2003.

Court records in the District, Maryland and Virginia indicate that Neal has a lengthy criminal record but do not show arrests or convictions in the 20 months between his 18th birthday and the start of his cadet class.

The program became the focus of public attention in recent weeks when D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, started questioning whether its selection process excluded some applicants.

D.C. Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson also suspended the Jan. 30 start date of the program’s latest class to investigate whether applicants lied about their residency. Officials said yesterday that the investigation is ongoing.

Lt. Sneed said such problems could have been avoided had the department followed the original guidelines, which were in effect until 1995 and used D.C. money to recruit directly from city high schools.

“Had we used the original … language instituted by the council, it would have eliminated the possibility that any Maryland residents could be admitted in the program,” he said.

Under the original program, students were recruited in their junior year and worked 10 hours a week through their senior year while maintaining at least a 2.0 grade point average.

After graduation, the cadet would be elevated from a DS-1, the lowest grade on the District’s pay scale, to a DS-4 and work in various capacities within the fire department before entering the fire academy the following year.

The class that is waiting to begin training has 27 cadets and will cost about $642,537, according to city records.

The program is funded by two federal grants for underprivileged youth.

Funds from the Youth Opportunity grant are used to recruit 10 youths from specific areas, typically neighborhoods with high rates of poverty and unemployment.

Funds from the Workforce Investment Act are used to recruit 17 low-income youth who are school dropouts, deficient in basic literacy skills, runaways or foster children, criminal offenders, parents or pregnant, or in need of help completing an educational program or securing and holding a job.

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