- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

Poor planning for renovating Engine Co. 20 in Tenleytown has caused vehicle reassignments within the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department that has left much of upper Northwest without emergency medical coverage, community activists and fire department sources say.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Fire Chief Ronnie Few were among those who attended a groundbreaking ceremony yesterday for renovation of the 100-year-old fire station, a plan in the works for two years.
Two days after firefighters vacated the station, a special order was issued reassigning the company's fire engine, ladder truck and ambulance out of their service area.
The department "didn't give one single thought" to developing a plan to house the crew and provide emergency response coverage to the community in which it is based, said a firefighter.
"There was no preparation, just an order to go," the firefighter said. "It would be one thing if it was a day or two but 14 months. It's just wrong and it shows a total lack of planning."
Chief Few said he didn't think the planning in advance of the renovation was poor, but refused further comment, saying he "wanted to go out on a good note."
Chief Few has resigned but will head the D.C. department until July 31.
Mr. Williams said he believed the coverage issues had been worked out, but added: "Clearly there's going to be some disruption when you undertake a project like this."
D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, said Chief Few assured her three weeks ago that no apparatus would be moved out of Ward 3. But Ambulance 20, a basic life-support transport vehicle, has been moved to Woodley Park's Engine Co. 21 in Ward 4, nearly three miles away.
To accommodate the placement of Engine Co. 20's firetruck and ladder truck at Engine Co. 31, Medic Unit 31 has been moved 2 miles from 4300 Wisconsin Ave. NW to Engine Co. 29 at 4930 MacArthur Blvd. NW in Ward 2.
Medic Unit 31 was the only ambulance providing advanced life-support care in upper Northwest. Ambulance 20's backup Ambulance 22 at 5760 Georgia Ave. NW goes out of service at 9 p.m.
"Ward 3 is not adequately covered," Mrs. Patterson said. The council's Judiciary Committee chairman said she had pursued the issue with Mr. Williams.
Margaret Nedelkoff Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said the city is close to a deal with the Naval District Washington complex on Nebraska Avenue in Northwest that would return Engine 20's equipment to its first-due area.
She said the Navy has donated space and will assist in the construction of temporary headquarters in a non-secure area so firefighters can enter and leave the complex easily.
Mrs. Kellems said the site could be available for use in less than a month.
But Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Anne Renshaw said the Naval District Washington site was one of six she submitted four months ago in a Feb. 8 letter to Chief Few.
"We told the chief there were places up here for the temporary reassignment of these apparatus," Mrs. Renshaw said. "We've been on this issue since December saying: 'Please take a look at this. Do some planning.'"
She said fire department officials have assured her the neighborhood will be "protected."
"I say and others say we are not because response times have changed," Mrs. Renshaw said.
She said the presence of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad has been a "godsend" for the community. A mutual-aid agreement allows the that crew to respond to basic life-support calls in upper Northwest.
But Mrs. Renshaw said it is dangerous for the department to become "absolutely reliant on BCC."
She described an April 17 incident, confirmed by fire department sources, in which a woman fell face-first onto a sidewalk at Upton Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW. Truck 12 stationed at Engine 20 responded to find the woman bleeding heavily from her nose.
Firefighters called for an ambulance but were told none was available to transport the woman to a hospital.
When firefighters resorted to calling the BCC squad, they were told nothing was available there, either. They ultimately strapped the woman to a backboard and transported her to Sibley Hospital aboard the ladder truck.
"We've got to do better for the citizens over here," Mrs. Renshaw said.


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