- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2001

The D.C. Firefighters Association yesterday voted no confidence in fire Chief Ronnie Few, accusing him of jeopardizing firefighters' safety, embarrassing the department and misleading residents about the city's emergency preparedness.
"Chief Few has intentionally misled the members of the D.C. City Council and the citizens of the District concerning the readiness of the D.C. Fire and EMS [Emergency Medical Services] Department to handle normal, day-to-day operations, which have been expanded to include the potential for incidents of terrorism here," read the no-confidence motion.
About 450 of the union's 1,250 members jammed the meeting hall at Bladensburg Road NE and voted by a show of hands after 40 minutes of debate to approve the motion, originally brought by the union membership on Sept. 22. The vote has symbolic, but no authoritative, value.
"It wasn't a unanimous vote, but the vote was overwhelming," said Lt. Raymond Sneed, the union's president, who noted that 300 other union members were on active duty during the vote. "I think it was a classic example of the frustration the firefighters are feeling."
The two-page motion lists a broad spectrum of grievances.
It cites the chief's characterization of a recent "boot drive" by off-duty department personnel to raise money for the families of fallen New York firefighters as a violation of the city's panhandling laws, as well as the widely reported case of a pregnant employee who aborted her child after she was told by a supervisor her employment would be terminated if she kept the baby. It also lists ongoing problems with firefighters' personal radios, which have proven unreliable in several locations around the city.
"Safety is an issue that affects everybody in the department, and a majority of the people felt their safety was at risk," Lt. Sneed said. "We're not saying, 'Get rid of the chief.' What we're saying is, the level of leadership is not sufficient."
The debate spilled outside the hall, where one 24-year veteran of the department who voted for the motion said Chief Few was the worst chief he had seen in his tenure. A firefighter who voted against the motion said the chief had not had enough time to address departmental problems he inherited from previous administrations.
"Give the man some time to do his job," the firefighter said.
Lisa Bass, the fire department's director of communications, said the chief plans to "continue to make necessary changes to improve the department for the benefit of citizens" in spite of the vote.
"The chief has said on the record he wants to continue to work with the unions to improve the department," she said.
Margaret Nedelkoff Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety, said the city takes the union's concerns "very seriously," and that Chief Few continues to have the confidence of Mayor Anthony A. Williams.
"He has the full support of this administration," she said of the chief.
Lt. Sneed said the no-confidence vote is important to point out to the mayor and the D.C. Council the opinions of firefighters on the front lines. "If you stand by and you remain quiet," he said, "everyone naturally assumes the chief is doing a good job."
Council member Kathy Patterson, who heard firsthand from the union and the chief about the radio problems during Judiciary Committee oversight hearings last week, said yesterday she regrets the "breakdown in communications" that led to the no-confidence vote.
"I have and will continue to urge Chief Few as well as the union leadership to put the public interest first and seek fast and comprehensive solutions to existing problems in the Fire-EMS department," said Mrs. Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat.
Chief Few assumed control of the department and its nearly 2,000 employees in July 2000 after serving as fire chief of the 330-member Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department in Georgia.

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