- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

Interim D.C. fire Chief Adrian Thompson yesterday issued and then rescinded a special order redeploying 40 firefighters and paramedics from administrative positions to station houses and ambulances.
The order, which was aimed at resolving personnel shortages and overtime costs, came less than 24 hours after Chief Thompson met with a group of neighborhood leaders from upper Northwest and promised them improvements in the delivery of emergency services.
"Chief Thompson said the redeployment will not occur, at least for the time being," said fire department spokesman Alan Etter, adding that no reason was given for rescinding the order.
The reassignments were scheduled to become effective Wednesday and run through October, when the next fiscal year begins. They mostly would have affected personnel in the department's training academy and fire prevention unit.
The 1,900-member department is short about 100 firefighters, and a new recruit class scheduled for last month was delayed until October for fiscal reasons. The redeployment was expected to improve ambulance response times by providing more firefighters who also are trained as emergency medical technicians to man the units.
Ambulance response times were a key component of the meeting Thursday night, during which community leaders recounted a series of incidents in which ambulances took more than a half hour to respond to calls to Northwest neighborhoods.
Residents blamed the delays on a June decision to shift apparatus during a two-year renovation of Tenleytown's Engine Co. 20 that has left all of Ward 3 without a paramedic ambulance in its first-due area.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Ann Renshaw asked Chief Thompson why the department needed half an hour to dispatch an ambulance to a pipe-bomb incident on Wisconsin Avenue on July 12 when an ambulance from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad responded in seven minutes.
She also asked why later that day an elderly Chevy Chase man was forced to wait 40 minutes for an ambulance after slipping and injuring his head in the lobby of his apartment building. Mrs. Renshaw said the ambulance driver who eventually arrived needed written directions to Sibley Hospital.
Chief Thompson, who was named interim fire chief June 28 and is a candidate to lead the department on a permanent basis, promised the incidents would be investigated. Chief Ronnie Few is scheduled to leave the department on Wednesday after a turbulent 23-month tenure.
When asked for assurances similar incidents would not occur, Chief Thompson said, "It's almost impossible to assure you of that," adding the city has too few ambulances and is hard-pressed for paramedics to staff existing units.
Paramedics union President Kenneth Lyons said ambulance problems are not unique to Northwest. "It's only now that resources are getting thin that it's affecting an area that was seen to have adequate coverage," he said.
Some at the meeting said it was a good start, but others were upset that Chief Thompson couldn't provide more definitive answers.
"I'm not satisfied with, 'It's being studied, it's under investigation,'" ANC Commissioner Tad DiBiase told the chief. "I think the fire department needs to be bold and needs to move quickly before there's a serious problem."
As the meeting ended, Chief Thompson shook hands with each of the community leaders, quietly assuring one, "We're going to do better."
"I'm just as concerned as they are about the service," Chief Thompson said. "We will change. I guarantee you that. In terms of service delivery, we will change."
"It's a start," Mrs. Renshaw said. "But we are counting on the chief to look into these incidents and report back."

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