- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2014

The man set to take over as the District’s interim fire chief next month says he will continue the controversial practice of detailing firefighters to high-crime areas as a means to deter criminal activity.

Assistant Chief Eugene Jones said he has no problem with “soft posting” firefighters and will continue the strategy when he takes over for retiring Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe on July 2.

“It is an important strategy that is beneficial to the citizens,” Chief Jones said.

The practice has been criticized by firefighter and police unions, who say that placing unarmed firefighters in areas with high crime puts them harm’s way.

“It’s just dangerous. You wouldn’t have bunch of cops running into a fire,” said Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Delroy Burton.

The firefighters’ union points to an incident over the weekend in which gunshots sent a group of police and firefighters scrambling, as evidence that simply stationing a group of firefighters in an area will not stop crime.

Police and firefighters responded to the Carver-Langston neighborhood in Northeast around 4 a.m. Saturday for reports of a vehicle that had rammed several mailboxes. While on the scene, a police officer went to confront the suspected driver, and the man pulled out a handgun and opened fire, according to charging documents. Police later arrested Brian Anderson of Riverdale and charged him with assault with intent to kill.

No one was injured by the gunfire, but Dabney Hudson of the D.C. Firefighters Association said firefighters took cover in a nearby apartment or underneath trucks to dodge the bullets. Nine .40-caliber shells were recovered from the scene, court documents state.

The crew on the scene had been detailed to a soft posting position in the neighborhood earlier that night but was able to return to their firehouse, Trinidad’s “House of Pain,” before the call for the incident, Mr. Hudson said.

The fire department has continued to defend the practice, saying this incident was in no way related to soft posting.

“Anyone who asserts that this incident is an example of how soft posting should be stopped are either ill-advised, misinformed or not interested in facts,” department spokesman Tim Wilson said.

The union still hopes get a word in edgewise with Chief Jones. D.C. Firefighters Association president Ed Smith said it’s at the top of his list to discuss when he is able to hash out concerns withe the interim chief.

“We’ve always done community events and it’s import for us to be out in the community,” Mr. Smith said, describing previous assignments in which firetrucks were detailed to community events or swimming pools. “This is a designated high-crime area. It’s putting the members at risk.”

Among the concerns, not just with safety, is getting an explanation as to why the department has chosen to selectively detail firefighters.

Rumors have swirled over the reasoning for soft posting since the practice began in December, especially since it has been limited to just two fire trucks from the same firehouse in the Trinidad neighborhood.

Story Continues →