- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

The D.C. Council member who oversees the fire department yesterday said D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few's inability to buy new firetrucks shows that his department is mismanaged.
"The notion there is not any money for firetrucks is absurd," said council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "Every year, the council sent out a multiyear spending plan. If the chief is saying he can't get the money, [its] absurd."
Mrs. Patterson's comments came after The Washington Times reported yesterday that no new firetrucks have been ordered during Chief Few's 19-month tenure. The Times also reported the fire department is prepared to order six new pumper trucks, but has not been able to get authority from the city's Finance Department to spend the money.
Meanwhile, the fire department has bought two new sedans for Chief Few's use, ordered a third for his use and bought a $32,000 sport utility vehicle that has not been used in six months.
Chief Few has declined to comment.
Margret Nedelkoff Kellums, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said she talked with Chief Few yesterday. The six firetrucks that were supposed to have been ordered last year will be ordered immediately, she said.
Mrs. Kellums also said the fire department is ordering more trucks for this year and is preparing a list for ordering more equipment based on a special $6.6 million federal appropriation to prepare the city for terrorist attacks.
The deputy mayor said she was not aware that fire department funds had been tied up in the city's Finance Department, adding that she has begun working to get the Finance Department to free up those funds.
"We are going to solve the fleet problems," Mrs. Kellums said. "There is a fleet-replacement schedule, and we will continue to implement it."
"I will work diligently to see they have the capital funds and we spend the money," said Mrs. Kellums.
Usually, the fire chief would ensure that the Finance Department provides funds for purchasing new gear, city and fire department sources said.
Mrs. Patterson said she would not call for Chief Few's resignation because he "serves at the pleasure of the mayor" and the mayor remains confident in the chief.
"There are management and leadership problems in the department," said Mrs. Patterson. "Look at the truck and communications problems, which are potentially life-threatening situations."
The Washington Times first reported in August that the fire department's $5.3 million emergency radio system cannot properly broadcast to firefighters in more than four dozen locations, including landmarks like D.C. police headquarters, Union Station, the MCI Center, FBI headquarters, and the State Department.
City officials said the 800-megahertz Motorola system would be improved, but last month firefighters and paramedics told The Times the radios still do not work properly. What has changed is that an additional truck or engine company now is dispatched to an emergency scene to act as a communications unit. The additional personnel use a runner or employs its radios as a communications relay.
Emergency medical services personnel said the radios fail when they try to notify hospitals that they are transporting trauma patients and when they are seeking emergency approval to perform lifesaving treatments.
Paramedics and emergency-response technicians have resorted to using their personal cellular telephones to contact hospitals because the radios are not dependable.
Mrs. Kellums said there are still problems with the radio system and that the fire department is studying the system's problems. She said a new study is identifying the strength of the radio frequency throughout the city and where new antennas need to be installed.

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