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Amid misery of storm damage, D.C. firefighters fill private pool

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2012

With D.C. firefighters crisscrossing the city on emergency calls related to power outages, downed trees and heat-induced illnesses, one crew went out of service for about an hour Saturday afternoon on an unusual assignment: to fill a swimming pool for a private resident at a Northeast home.

"It's a highly unusual request even on a normal day," said D.C. Firefighters Association President Ed Smith, who confirmed the pool-filling. Several other officials with knowledge of the incident discussed it with The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about it publicly.

During the height of the response to Friday night's storm, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of ongoing power outages, declarations of emergencies in the District, Maryland and Virginia and water restrictions throughout much of the region, Engine 30 was tasked with filling an aboveground pool in the backyard of a Grant Park duplex.

It was unclear Monday who issued the order to fill the pool at the home, located in the 300 block of 55th Street in Northeast.

Lon Walls, a fire department spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment left at his office, on his cellphone or an emailed request asking about Saturday's incident in particular and the department's policy on filling swimming pools in general.

On Monday afternoon, the approximately 3-foot-high pool, which sat behind a chain-link fence in the backyard, was filled with water. Online advertisements for an aboveground pool that appears similar in make and model to the pool filled by firefighters describe it as having a 1,950-gallon capacity. It was unclear whether the owner of the pool was required to pay for the water used to fill it.

When questioned about firefighters' actions, a woman who answered the phone at the home where the pool was located asked, "How did you hear about that?" She declined to discuss the matter further.

From its department Twitter account, the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services department reported 1,553 emergency calls within a 24-hour period Saturday.

"Our run volume over the weekend was double or triple maybe even quadruple our normal run volume," Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith also confirmed the engine was placed out of service while it completed the task — an action that requires authorization and would likely indicate the crew did not embark on the assignment on its own.

"For the company to go out of service requires a high level of approval," he said.

Despite the heavy call volume, Engine Company 30, which in 2010 was ranked as the second-busiest firehouse in the country by the National Run Survey from Firehouse Magazine, was out of service from approximately 2-3 p.m., officials said.

A D.C. Water Department spokeswoman was unfamiliar with residents using either fire engines or fire hydrants to fill private swimming pools.

"Generally, they just use their system in place and would be billed through their meter," spokeswoman Pamela Mooring said.

In neighboring Prince George's and Montgomery counties, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission customers were asked to restrict water usage over the weekend. The same restrictions were not in place in the District at the time.

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