D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few yesterday rescinded an order he had issued Friday that would have transferred 157 officers in a massive reorganization of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
According to the transfer list dated Nov. 9, 53 captains, 11 lieutenants, 74 sergeants and 19 firefighters were to report to different units beginning Sunday. Included among the transfers were the captains of the city’s hazardous-materials unit, three specialized rescue companies and the companies responsible for responding to emergencies at the White House and the Capitol.
In response to inquiries from The Washington Times, fire department spokesman Alan Etter said yesterday the order had been rescinded.
“These transfers will not occur,” Mr. Etter said.
He said Chief Few had been considering the transfer process for some time and wants to come up with “a better way of doing it.” Mr. Etter said he could not be certain the chief even saw the transfer list, which was distributed over the signature of Adrian Thompson, assistant chief of fire operations.
The move was widely criticized within the department, whose members said too many officers were being transferred to positions where they would not have enough experience as the department remains in a state of high alert.
Some firefighters said the transfers would negate the benefits of officers who had developed relationships with their communities and who had knowledge of their response areas. They said special-operations units, including hazardous materials and the city’s technical rescue companies, would be hardest hit.
“Once a department invests that much time and training, they need to keep you within that special-operations division,” said Fire Capt. Larry Schultz.
Capt. Schultz, a 16-year veteran who has worked at Rescue Co. 3 for 21/2 years, is a specialist in collapse rescue and has been writing the urban search-and-rescue component of the District’s comprehensive emergency-response plan.
He was scheduled to be assigned to a ladder truck Sunday.
“You can’t tell me how taking my experience and putting it on a ladder benefits the fire department at all,” Capt. Schultz said.
The transfer plan was first scheduled for July, but several department sources said Peter LaPorte, director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, expressed concern about the plan because the city was facing the protests of International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in September.
Those meetings were canceled in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Mr. LaPorte yesterday declined to comment on whether now is a more appropriate time for the transfers.
Mr. Etter said he could not comment on whether city officials prevailed upon Chief Few to shelve the transfer orders.
“I’m not against career development and moving people around, but just a wholesale transfer of all captains at this time is not a good thing,” said 3rd Battalion Chief John Thumann, president of the Chief Officers Association.
“Realistically, these people who are coming into these specialized units won’t even know how to work the equipment on these trucks,” he said. “They’re very good captains, they’re very good people.”
Mr. Etter said the department within the next few weeks would begin a promotion process and many personnel will be transferred automatically.
“Chief Few wants to move away from making transfers at the administrative level,” he said. “He wants to move toward a system where transfers are kept at the battalion level.”
Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, called the chief’s reversal a “face-saving move,” adding that the department will be more careful whom it assigns to what unit from now on.
“On this transfer list, everyone was a number. I think the next time around, now that the scuttle is out, they’ll go back and look at everyone’s records,” Lt. Sneed said.