- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 13, 2001

Leaders of the city's firefighters and medics unions yesterday testified before the D.C. Council that Chief Ronnie Few has failed to act on chronic public-safety and emergency-service problems.
Lt. Raymond Sneed, head of the D.C. Firefighters Association, told council members at the Judiciary Committee oversight hearing that ongoing problems with firefighters' radios, the department's computerized dispatch system and staff shortages continue to compromise firefighters' safety daily.
"We're still taking chances day in and day out when we go out to do our job," Lt. Sneed said. "It isn't a matter of if, it's a matter of when something [wrong] is going to happen."
Lt. Sneed said long delays in dispatching emergency vehicles have become "a daily occurrence."
He also discussed in detail several incidents in which department personnel were unable to rely on their radios, including one this week in which "dead zones" were discovered outside council members' offices in the newly renovated John Wilson Building.
Lt. Sneed and Kenneth Lyons, head of the American Federation of Government Employees union Local 3721, which represents the city's medics, testified that the department does not have the equipment or the personnel to defend against a terrorist attack.
"For the fire chief to appear before this committee or any committee and tell you we are prepared to handle a terrorist incident when we can't handle the day-to-day incidents is misleading," Lt. Sneed said.
"To assume that we can handle a situation involving mass casualties, given the current situation of [emergency medical services], is absurd," Mr. Lyons said.
Both union leaders complained of a lack of communication and consultation on the part of department officials in fixing the chronic communication problems and in formulating a citywide emergency plan.
"We are the ones who have to do the work," Lt. Sneed said.
"I think if our input is there, the finished product will be better for all of us."
Council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, said it is a mistake for the department hierarchy not to consult with its own employees.
"It's a mistake in my view that should cost them their jobs, because it can cost lives," she said.
At the conclusion of his testimony, Lt. Sneed said the union has a no-confidence vote in Chief Few pending at its Oct. 22 meeting.
Mr. Lyons said a similar vote of no confidence already had been passed by his union against the department's medical director, Dr. Fernando Daniels.
Chief Few, who assumed command of the fire department last year, and Dr. Daniels will testify before the committee next week.


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