- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2001

D.C. Fire, Emergency Dept. trained and getting better

I would like to respond to the many distortions in the Aug. 28 Metro story "Report criticizes 'hazmat' training." First, let me address the assessment of an internal report that the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department is "woefully" underprepared for a major hazardous materials incident. The report, generated in May of this year, was primarily based on opinion rather than facts and was released without full official departmental review and approval. It does not fully reflect the department's preparedness for hazmat training.
The allegation that training is inadequate is incorrect. All members of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department receive First Responder hazmat training, and members who are emergency medical technicians receive annual refresher training during re-certification. It is true that many are not trained to contain hazardous materials. That training is reserved for specialized units, which carry specialized equipment. Most members have had specialized training. Additional training is scheduled for September.
Further, you report that the department "could not handle a chemical or biological-weapons attack." To the contrary, many staff members, both command and operational, have received COBRA (chemical, ordinance, biological and radiological) training through the Department of Justice. Additional staff members have received NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) training through the Department of Defense. Other members have been trained by military specialty units, and have been provided with the necessary equipment to handle these types of incidents. The department's ability to effectively and safely address hazmat issues has indeed improved.
Furthermore, the departments of Health, Defense and Justice have assisted with providing updates to our equipment cache, which is state-of-the-art. We have had military-style antidote kits for more than a year. Consequently, a sufficient stockpile is stored in the city. To correct the article, biological antidote kits do not exist. Treatment for such incidents would be hospital-based. Unlike Fairfax County, the District's Department of Health protocols allow only specially trained medics to administer these types of medication.
It is true that firefighters and medics have not held drills for working in large crowds. However, we have participated in five chemical mass casualty drills in the last year and a half. Despite past budgetary restraints affecting our Special Operations Unit, the department has and continues to provide fire and emergency medical services for the many major events that take place in the District, including major protests, events on the Mall and the presidential inaugural ceremonies. To improve services, we have already increased the unit staff and plan to add more staff in October.
Since my arrival in August of last year, I have worked diligently to reverse the 30 years of neglect that resulted in a very broken department. Division by division, I am identifying the shortfalls and taking corrective measures. We did not arrive here overnight. And, regardless of how we got to this state, I have the responsibility of setting this department on the right course. I am doing just that.

D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department

Congestion pricing is next step in travel deregulation

In his Aug. 14 letter to the editor ("Flight pricing scheme is 'academic parlor game,'"), Air Transport Association official Edward A. Merlis dismisses a proposal to use congestion pricing at airports, contained in Dorothy Robyn's Aug. 2 Commentary column ("Flight delay repair that won't fly"), as an "academic parlor game." Market-based pricing of congested runways, he says, would make air fares prohibitive for average travelers, limit the supply of air transportation and serve as an excuse not to expand airport capacity the "only appropriate response" to flight delays. Mr. Merlis' stand reflects where he sits; his economic arguments are specious. That he makes them in the name of preserving the benefits of airline deregulation is more than a little ironic, considering that most ATA member airlines staunchly opposed it and got religion only after deregulation was a fait accompli.
I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Merlis' contention, however, that, by unleashing competition, deregulation has been good for travelers and air carriers alike: Its preponderant and predictable effect has been to bring inexpensive travel within the reach of people of modest means and set off an explosion of air travel, as his statistics reflect.
What Mr. Merlis fails to recognize is that congestion pricing of airports is the logical extension indeed, the unfinished chapter of airline deregulation, not its antithesis. Airports charge landing fees based on the weight of the aircraft, even though it takes a congested airport about the same amount of time to land a 50-seat regional as a 400-seat jumbo jet. Because these low, weight-based fees ignore the delay costs that peak users impose on others, 30-seat planes routinely fly to LaGuardia Airport, and airlines quite rationally schedule frequent flights on small planes at peak periods. We have no hesitation in other markets about letting price rise to equate supply and demand of scarce goods. Why should scarce runway capacity be any different? Suppose we charged for oil paintings by the pound? You'd have more than congestion you'd have riots at the art dealers with Van Gogh paintings for sale.
In fact, at the very time the federal government was undertaking to deregulate the airlines, as chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, I urged the Federal Aviation Administration to prepare for the predictable increase in demand for infrastructure air-traffic control and airports and to price it correctly, by pointing out the folly of weight-based landing fees: What if we priced everything that comes out of a cow at a uniform price per pound, I asked.
The clue to the airlines' resistance to congestion pricing of airports is Mr. Merlis' acknowledgement that "peak-period flights already are priced substantially higher than off-peak flights." This same admission explains why, contrary to the airline industry's urgent claims, passengers will not be harmed by efficient pricing.
The FAA long ago imposed administrative quotas on the number of peak-hour takeoffs and landings ("slots") at certain chronically congested airports. Airlines lucky enough to hold slots are able to charge higher average fares because passengers will pay a premium for flights at those times and places. This means that the airlines already capture the scarcity value of those slots what economists call "scarcity rents." Efficient congestion-based charges or the proceeds from slot auctions at times of excessive congestion will merely extract those rents from the carriers, rather than raise fares. Small wonder that the favored airlines oppose them.
There are two other sides of this coin. First, efficient congestion pricing would make most passengers better off because their total travel costs air fares plus delay costs would drop significantly. In a recent update of their earlier Brookings Institution study, Stephen A. Morrison and Clifford Winston calculate that congestion pricing would generate about $7 billion in annual net benefits, largely from reduced passenger delays.
Second, economy-minded passengers will likewise benefit, just as they have from deregulation itself, from the availability of a lower-priced, less convenient option. The airports would and should be required to use the revenues from elevated landing charges at times and places of congestion to expand capacity, as in any other competitive industry, and should correspondingly reduce landing fees when and where capacity is ample.
Mr. Merlis' political observation that Congress would be likely to exempt favorite groups has merit. But this is not new: Congress already protects these groups through the slot process at LaGuardia and other access-restricted airports. Thus, even a modified congestion pricing scheme that preserved some or all of these protections would be more efficient than the current, administrative process. Moreover, by putting an explicit price on scarce airport capacity, congestion pricing will make transparent the cost of such protections. That, in turn, will improve Congress' ability to decide whether such preferences are well- or ill-advised.
In sum, congested runways and flight delays are clarion calls to complete the deregulation process by extending to airport infrastructure the same market incentives that drive the air services industry. As I told the FAA in 1978, "The allocation of scarce airport space is an economic problem just like any other economic problem…. And it will never be made intelligently until the users who are responsible for … those costs on a marginal basis pay ." Nothing could do more to expand the benefits of airline deregulation for the traveling public.

Robert Julius Thorne Professor of Political Economy, Emeritus
Cornell University
Ithaca, N.Y.

Alfred E. Kahn was chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board from 1977 to 1978.

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