- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2001

D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few yesterday took umbrage at reports in The Washington Times about the worsening performance in his department since he took the helm nearly a year ago.
"Nobody can turn the fire department around in a few months," Chief Few said, adding that he is making progress.
"I think that man can do a whole lot of things, but he cant do that," he told The Times yesterday in a telephone interview he initiated.
The Times reported Tuesday that internal documents show the departments performance is worsening in several areas, including ambulance response times, building inspections and fire-related injuries to firefighters and civilians.
Ambulances are taking longer to reach patients even though the chief privately lowered one goal that measures their progress, deviating from the industry standard.
The public goal for Advanced Life Support (ALS) units, commonly referred to as ambulances, is to reach critical calls within eight minutes 90 percent of the time. But the internal "Front Burner" performance report shows that this standard was dropped to 70 percent for the current fiscal year, and goes to 80 percent for fiscal year 2002.
Despite the lower bar, the ambulances met their mark only 46 percent of the time during the first half of this fiscal year — Oct. 1 through March 31 — according to the most current data.
The chairman of the D.C. Councils Judiciary Committee, which oversees the fire department, wants the chief to return the standard to 90 percent.
Chief Few did not specifically address that issue yesterday. Instead, he spent most of the 20-minute telephone interview talking about the work of former Interim Chief Thomas N. Tippett, a popular former firefighter and union head.
Mr. Tippett resigned last year after four months as chief because the D.C. financial control board refused to fund a key safety measure — putting a fifth firefighter on ladder trucks.
Chief Few described that as "fifth man [stuff]," saying "All Ive been doing is changing around his [stuff]. He left me hanging. He left me with a dispatch center thats ruined. Its been tough."
Chief Few attributed longer ambulance response times to adjustments for the shutdown of services at D.C. General Hospital.
"It will fluctuate when you change your operation and close a hospital," he said. "We all had to make some arrangements. Were back where we were."
He said the department will soon hire 55 paramedics and get five new ambulances, adding that paramedics are in high demand by fire and rescue agencies across the nation.
Internal documents obtained by The Times show the departments current pace for building inspections — 5,015 from October through March — will fall far short of last years 22,983 inspections, as well as this years goal of 24,325.
Chief Few is confident building inspections will speed up. He said they slowed down because he closed the unit and sent inspectors, along with all other department personnel, to diversity and customer service training.
The chief pointed out that the internal report shows residential and commercial structure fires are down from last year.
At the same time, though, the rates of fire-related injuries to firefighters and civilians, and civilian deaths and injuries, are far outstripping the years targets. Chief Few did not comment on those figures.
The chief said his community-oriented initiatives have not begun because he wants to make sure department personnel have proper customer service training before interacting with the public on a more regular basis.


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