- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few is serving his last six weeks on the job acting in the advisory role of a consultant, leaving the department without a boss or a clear-cut chain of command.
Chief Few's duties and responsibilities are being carried out by Assistant Chief of Operations Adrian Thompson, fire department sources say.
Chief Few, who is still nominally in charge of the department, has made no public appearances since Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced May 29 that the fire chief had submitted his resignation more than a week earlier, effective July 31.
While an interim chief has not been named, for the last three months a steady stream of special orders, general orders and memos have been issued over the signature of Chief Thompson.
D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the informal arrangement has led to "chaos" within the fire department.
"No one is in charge," said Mrs. Patterson, the Ward 3 Democrat whose committee oversees the department. "We need an interim fire chief, we need clarity and we need a chain of command."
Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety, said an interim chief likely will be named this week after she meets with Mr. Williams and City Administrator John A. Koskinen.
But even that might not settle the issue of who is running the department for the next month.
"Chief Few is the still the chief until July 31," Mrs. Kellems said.
After Chief Few's departure, a nationwide search for a permanent fire chief will begin.
Mrs. Kellems would not say whether Chief Thompson would be named interim chief, but the department's No. 2 man has been its representative at several official functions, including a Spokane, Wash., biotechnology firm's June 4donation of equipment to help detect biohazards.
Fire department spokeswoman Lisa Bass said Chief Few plans to attend a Thursday groundbreaking ceremony for the renovation of Engine 20 in Northwest's Tenleytown. Yet the special order issued June 11 reassigning Engine 20's apparatus during the renovation was signed by Chief Thompson.
Chief Few and Chief Thompson declined to comment for this story, but Miss Bass said signing orders "is a normal part of [Chief Thompsons] job as an operations chief."
Department sources, including a former administrative staff member, said it is "highly unusual" for an assistant chief to sign orders while a chief is on the job.
Signing orders "shows [the chief] has looked at everything and is OK with it," the employee said.
Mrs. Kellems said the department is making some progress in addressing at least one critical need. She said 18 new pumper trucks and two ladder trucks have been ordered to bolster a fleet that is aging and in disrepair.
The pumpers are the first ordered during Chief Few's 23-month tenure in the District.
The first 12 pumpers are scheduled to be delivered in February.
Mrs. Kellems said plans are being finalized to order 10 more pumpers, a heavy rescue unit, a mass-casualty unit and a rapid-response hazardous materials unit.
Miss Bass said most of the procurement orders were signed by Chief Few and some by Chief Thompson but she said it is "irrelevant" who signed the documents.
"The bottom line is it was done under Chief Few's direction," she said.
Some firefighters said the lack of leadership in the department has caused several administrative duties to be neglected.
The assistant chief of services position, formerly held by Gary L. Garland, has been filled on a rotating basis since his resignation went into effect May 26.
No one has been named to fill the position of assistant chief of emergency medical services.
Marcus R. Anderson, the current head of EMS, resigned the same day as Chief Few did, effective June 28.
The Washington Times first reported March 13 that Chief Few's top three appointees had inflated professional and academic credentials on their resumes. Of the three, only Deputy Chief Bruce A. Cowan, the city's fire marshal, remains on the job.
Meanwhile, the department has between 70 and 80 vacancies for firefighters and a training class of 30 recruits that was supposed to start has been postponed.
A promotional register listing the results of the 2000 promotional exam, administered in April after the D.C. inspector general concluded the first test two years ago had been compromised, was issued over the signature of Chief Thompson on May 24.
Yet no promotions have been made from the list to address a chronic shortage of officers.
Another promotional exam, the 2002 test, was supposed to be administered July 29, but without promoting from the 2000 register, it will be impossible to determine who is eligible to take that test.
Mrs. Kellems said "financial machinations" were behind the decision to hold the recruit class and the department is "working through the process of making the promotions."
Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, said he is concerned because federal authorities continue to issue warnings about the threat of terrorist activity in the city.
With Independence Day next month, he said, the department needs to know who is in charge.
"At this stage of the game, there's no decisions being made and the department's at a standstill," Lt. Sneed said. "You can't move forward if you're stuck in the past, and that's where we are with Ronnie Few."


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