- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few has quietly flip-flopped his stance on accepting help from a volunteer fire and rescue company in Montgomery County, penning a unique agreement that provides extra medical service for neighborhoods in upper Northwest.
Chief Few publicly said in March that he wants to end the decades-old aid from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad, but two months later — on May 1 — he signed a memorandum of understanding that does just the opposite.
The deal improves the level of emergency medical care for residents in Northwest neighborhoods like Chevy Chase, Tenleytown, North Cleveland Park and Foxhall Crescent, who can circumvent the Districts 911 center and call the volunteer squad directly for ambulance service.
Normally, D.C. dispatchers must give approval for fire and rescue vehicles from other jurisdictions to enter the city.
D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous represents Ward 7, which is east of the Anacostia River and does not have an extra layer of ambulance service.
"There is just something wrong with that from a public policy standpoint," said Mr. Chavous, a Democrat. "It does not look right for us to have our most affluent citizens health care needs being supplemented by Montgomery County, particularly at a time when the most needy citizens health care needs are not being met through the closure of D.C. General."
Chief Few signed the agreement with the volunteer squad just a few days after services began shutting down at the citys only public hospital. As the shuttering of the facility continues, ambulances are taking longer to get to calls, have longer distances to go to get to hospitals and have to wait longer to unload patients at emergency rooms. The department began shifting ambulances to the eastern part of the city in response, leaving a potential gap in service in upper Northwest.
"The timing, it stinks," Mr. Chavous said. "It also makes me justifiably paranoid about what really is going on."
The volunteer squads coverage area in the District almost exactly matches the boundaries of Ward 3, represented on the D.C. Council by Kathy Patterson, a Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the fire department.
Kenneth Lyons, the head of the union for medics in the fire department, suspects Mrs. Patterson gave her support to a recently-passed bill in exchange for the chiefs policy reversal.
The deal "appears to be a quid pro quo," said Mr. Lyons, a department paramedic and AFGE Local 3721 chairman.
Mrs. Patterson did not return several messages The Times left with two of her aides.
The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad has a national reputation for its high-tech equipment and personnel with advanced training. The nonprofit organization has seven ambulances, two heavy-rescue units — outfitted with the "Jaws of Life" and other equipment — and other vehicles.
It provide services to the Bethesda and Chevy Chase areas of Montgomery County and upper Northwest in the District at no cost, relying on donations to cover their budget.
The new agreement increases the level of medical care for residents in upper Northwest. Formerly, the squad could only send Basic Life Support (BLS) medic units, but it now can use Advanced Life Support (ALS) ambulances, which have better-trained personnel.
The deal is unlike any other agreements between the D.C. fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and surrounding agencies.
The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, the main department with paid personnel, cannot send an ambulance or fire truck unless D.C. dispatchers ask.
The countys agreement with other neighbors is more seamless — units routinely respond to incidents across the border, said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for Montgomery Countys service.
Prince Georges County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department sends ambulances into the District "out of professional courtesy" two or three times a week if D.C. dispatchers request it, said Capt. Chauncey Bowers, a spokesman for Prince Georges department.
"We do not have a formal, written agreement to cover mutual aid with D.C.," he said.
Mr. Chavous said the unique nature of the agreement with the volunteer squad is "troubling."
"Were going through this extraordinary relationship to help one area on the one hand, and then on the other hand, were not taking those same extraordinary measures to help where theres the most need," he said.
The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department made no public announcement about the policy reversal. A letter from the chief of the volunteer squad to Chief Few was sent to only three council members: Mrs. Patterson, Harold Brazil and Phil Mendelson, both at-large Democrats.
The Times obtained a copy of the letter and the memorandum of understanding.
Residents and civic leaders in Northwest intensely lobbied Chief Few to approve the deal, according to Anne Renshaw, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 3.
"We dont give up on issues that are important to us," she told The Washington Times.
Fire department spokeswoman Denise Reed said Chief Few "just decided that the citizens up there had gotten used to having the service of Chevy Chase [Bethesda Rescue Squad]."
Chief Few "met with some of the citizens, some of them called, and he decided its something that they wanted, and he agreed to it."
Chief Few and city administration officials have been lobbying the D.C. Council to pass a bill that would allow the fire department to merge its civilian Emergency Medical Services division with the sworn firefighting side, making agency personnel "dual-role, cross-trained."
Some council members expressed reservations about the bills financial impact. Its not clear if Mrs. Patterson ever took a public position on the bill.
Miss Reed denied the agreement had anything to do with the closing of D.C. General Hospital, and she said Mrs. Patterson has supported the "dual-role, cross-training" legislation.

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