- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few's three top aides, whose resumes are being investigated for fabrications, have not met performance goals set by the mayor's office and the fire department, according to monthly internal department reports.
Assistant Chief Marcus R. Anderson oversees the emergency medical services (EMS) division, whose response times this year have fallen to the lowest levels since Chief Few took charge of the department in 2000.
Assistant Chief Gary L. Garland supervises the department's fleet of vehicles, of which about 20 percent is obsolete by National Fire Protection Agency standards.
Deputy Chief Bruce A. Cowan, as the city's fire marshal, is responsible for inspecting buildings for fire code violations. His division is on pace to miss by 45 percent its goal of conducting 14,363 inspections this year.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams last week said Chief Few's performance will be evaluated monthly after The Washington Times first reported on March 13 that the chief's three top aides lied about educational and professional credentials in their resumes. City Administrator John Koskinen has investigated the matter and is expected to release a report this week.
According to monthly reports prepared for the mayor and obtained by The Times under the District's Freedom of Information Act, the fire department's performance in key areas has declined, and some standards for measuring performance have been lowered.
Chief Anderson, 43, took charge of the EMS division in August and earns a $98,670 annual salary. The monthly "Front Burner" reports show that the percentage of advanced life-support assistance arriving within eight minutes from the time a 911 call is received fell from 50.2 percent in fiscal 2001 to 41.6 percent in October through December, the first quarter of fiscal 2002.
The industry standard is 90 percent. The D.C. fire department's goal for this fiscal year is 80 percent.
In January, fire officials changed the response-time standard from when a 911 call is received ("call-to-scene") to when a dispatcher alerts an emergency crew ("dispatch-to-scene").
In a written response to questions from The Times, fire officials said the standard was changed to match that used by surrounding jurisdictions. "We discovered that achieving that measure was dependent upon performance from outside agencies," the statement reads. "The dispatch-to-scene measure is solely our responsibility."
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments measures emergency response times using the dispatch-to-scene standard. But Chief Few told the D.C. Council last year his department would use the more rigorous call-to-scene standard as its benchmark.
"We believe it more accurately reflects what is important to citizens," Chief Few said in an Oct. 16 press release. "The citizens want to know how long it will take for us to get on the scene after they call 911."
David Cone of the National Association of Emergency Medical Service Physicians said the call-to-scene standard is the more accurate measure of performance because a patient in cardiac arrest can suffer brain damage in eight minutes if deprived of oxygen.
Dr. Cone said the dispatch-to-scene standard is mostly used in jurisdictions where separate agencies dispatch 911 calls and respond to emergencies.
In the District, 911 calls are taken by police operators who then route calls to a fire/EMS dispatcher.
Under the dispatch-to-scene standard, the fire department responds to critical medical calls within eight minutes 76 percent of the time. Statistics show that more than half of the District's critical medical calls require more than two minutes to dispatch.
Last month's "Front Burner" report includes a new, lower standard for measuring how long it takes the department to respond to an emergency.
Previously, the standard measured the call-to-scene response time for advanced life-support for 90 percent of the department's critical medical calls, which was about 15 minutes.
The new standard measures the average dispatch-to-scene response time for critical and noncritical calls by the first responding unit, which in many cases is a fire engine with no ability to administer advanced life support. The new response time is just over five minutes.
Kenneth Lyons, president of the District paramedics' union, said he has a problem with the dispatch-to-scene standard if it includes nonmedical responders.
"They are looking at the numbers in terms of making themselves look good, but they aren't thinking of the people who require their service," he said.
Chief Garland, 39, took charge of fleet services January 2001 and receives a $105,244 annual salary. According to the latest monthly report, issued March 21, a new fire engine hasn't been purchased since at least October 2000.
The fire department has 33 frontline fire engines and 11 reserve engines, but 10 are out of service. The department is supposed to have 16 engines in reserve.
The National Fire Protection Agency recommends that frontline engines be replaced after seven years of use and reserve engines be replaced after 11 years of use. Firefighters said the average age of their frontline engines is between 4 and 5 years and that some reserve engines are more than 15 years old.
The fire department has 33 frontline ambulances and nine reserve units. Mr. Lyons said that, after figuring in replacements and reserves, the department's purchase of 22 ambulances in fiscal 2001 resulted in a net gain of about five vehicles. EMS workers said the average age of the frontline ambulances is about 2 years and that the reserve units is about 3 years.
Last year's goals were to have 95 percent of the fleet up-to-date and to buy four fire engines last year and six this year. The department bought just one "brush truck" a type of pickup truck that carries a limited amount of water last fiscal year.
Fire officials said the initial goal for fleet maintenance had been set too high and that the new goal would be to keep 90 percent of the fleet up-to-date. "Limited funding for FY 01 and 02 caused the 01 and 02 orders to be combined to take advantage of volume purchase discounts," the department's response reads. "The FY 01-02 orders have not been placed yet."
Chief Cowan, 50, took charge of the fire marshal's office last April, collecting an $89,438 annual salary. The latest monthly report shows that his office has completed 3,243 inspections this fiscal year as of last month far short of its 5,980-inspection goal.
Meanwhile, from October through February, there have been 314 structure fires in the city, putting in on pace to see more than 750 fires this fiscal year. The District had 552 fires last fiscal year.
Fire officials, whose goal is to have only 488 fires this year, said the seasonal numbers are likely to taper off as the year progresses.
"There is always an increase in the number of structure fires during the cold weather season," the department's response reads, attributing the increase to the use of space heaters and furnaces. "We anticipate that the number of structure fires will decline from this point on."
The District had 365 structure fires by the end of last April.
The monthly report notes projected decreases in the number of civilian deaths in fires and in firefighter injuries.
But Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the District firefighters' union, who publicly called for Chief Few's resignation yesterday, said he believes how the figures are kept is misleading. "I just think they seem like the way in which the numbers were captured wasn't to provide better service to the community but to provide better figures to coincide with [the departments] performance standard," he said.
Lt. Sneed said the performance figures reflect his concerns for the department more than the resumes of Chief Few and his top appointees.
"I never questioned the resumes of the chief and his upper management when he brought them from Georgia," he said. "However, I did question their management styles and their performance. My criticism was based on what they were doing out on the streets."
Chiefs Anderson, Garland and Cowan are friends of Chief Few and served under him when he was fire chief at East Point, Ga., in the 1990s.
Chief Few did not receive a merit bonus this year because his department did not meet performance standards set by the mayor's office.

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