- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2001

According to an internal report titled the "Front Burner," ambulances are too slow responding to emergency calls, building inspections are piling up and the rates of deaths and injuries to civilians and firefighters are too high. Reporter John Drake, who broke this bad news on May 22, has given us two days of updates, including interesting comments from the chief himself. Suffice it to say, Chief Few did not dispute the facts and is again in the hot seat and for good reasons.
Last year ambulance response times were down nearly four full minutes, 15:42 in 1999 vs. 19:37 in 2000. This year the timing stands at 16:42. The ideal goal, indeed the industry standard, is for 90 percent of ambulance runs to reach their patients in eight to 10 minutes. So, as you can see, Chief Fews department falls way short by any reasonable measure. Moreover, this life-and-death matter could worsen as long as confusion reigns now that the citys public hospital has curtailed emergency and in-patient services. That means not only do ambulance personnel have to check with hospitals before transporting patients, but the chief must raise the bar on dispatchers as well.
Yet, the chief skirted the real issues. Chief Few, Mr. Drake reported May 24, "took umbrage at the reports in The Washington Times, saying that "obody can turn the fire department around in a few months" and that his predecessor, Tom Tippett, left behind "a dispatch center thats ruined. Its been tough." The chief deserves no sympathy, however, because he was fully aware of what was in store.
Chief Few accepted the job while under grand jury investigation in Augusta, Ga., for improprieties involving a professional firefighters association as well as allegations of personnel favoritism and racial divisiveness. And, while he has denied wrongdoing and the grand jury has not indicted him or anyone else, the troubles from back home have not gone away. The grand jury has not finished its probe and a Georgia merchandiser recently filed suit against Chief Few, saying he defrauded the company by not paying $23,000 in bills from a firefighters conference he helped organize in 2000 prior to his becoming D.C. fire chief.
For his part, Chief Few can do little about the grand jury goings-on in Georgia. What happens in the District, though, is under his control. "He said the department will soon hire 55 paramedics and get five new ambulances," Mr. Drake reported, and he is confident the pace of building inspections will "speed up" once training is completed. As for fire-related deaths and injuries, which are on pace to outstrip last year, Chief Few had no comment and that, the loss of life or limb, is reason enough to put him in the hot seat.


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