- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The District's police and fire unions are asking the city’s inspector general to investigate the destruction of personnel files found burning inside trash bins and a car at the D.C. fire training academy.

In a letter sent to Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby on Tuesday, union leaders describe how firefighters were called to the academy in Southwest at 5 p.m. Friday to extinguish fires in three large trash bins. While extinguishing the blaze, firefighters realized that at least a portion of the papers in the trash bins were personnel files for employees of the police and fire departments and contained private information such as medical records and Social Security numbers.

“The documents were completely unsecure and subject to being blown about by the wind, with no measures being taken to prevent unauthorized access or release,” wrote Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Kristopher Baumann and D.C. Firefighters Association President Edward Smith.

The responding firefighters expressed their concerns to Deputy Fire Chief Michael Willis and took several pictures and videos to document the incident before leaving the scene. Some of the documents shown in the photos appear to be training academy documents from 1997.

At 11 p.m., firefighters were called back to the training academy to extinguish a fire in an abandoned car that was located next to the trash bins that earlier had been ablaze.

“In an apparent effort to assuage their concerns, they were told all of the documents on the ground had been picked up and placed in the car,” the union leaders wrote.

The car was one that is used for training purposes on the academy grounds, Mr. Smith said in an interview.

“Obviously that is not the proper way to dispose of records,” he said.

In addition to looking into whether the fires were an improper destruction of personnel records, the union leaders are asking the inspector general to determine whether the fire destroyed potential evidence.

“This is the type of material that is commonly subpoenaed in court cases and they are burning it in Dumpsters,” Mr. Baumann said in an interview.

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police Department said she would look into how the department regularly disposes of personnel records but referred other questions to the fire department.

The District’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services spokesman, Lon Walls, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.