- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

Rank-and-file fire department workers say morale is at an all-time low under Chief Ronnie Few because of long-standing problems in the department and not the recent controversy over errors in his resume and those of his top appointees.
"When he came in here, I was willing to give him a chance," said one battalion chief who asked not to be identified. He said his confidence in the chief eroded about eight months ago because of lingering problems with firefighters' radios that go dead in certain areas around the city.
"Safety is a big thing to me, but he seems like he doesn't care about it," the battalion chief said, adding that it is unlikely Chief Few can regain his favor. "There's nothing he could do. He hasn't spoken up about pay raises, equipment hasn't been ordered, and the facilities are falling apart."
The D.C. Firefighters Association gave the chief a no-confidence vote in October, but one firefighter said the resume scandal has opened a serious credibility gap between the chief and the ranks. "It sets a clear pattern of deception and shows he got his job under false pretenses," the firefighter said.
Another department employee said he was "very optimistic" when Chief Few came to the District but has become frustrated by the chief's inability to follow through on several promises, including cross-training paramedics as firefighters.
"I think he's overwhelmed and depends on a poor staff," the employee said.
Meanwhile, one of the appointees at the heart of the resume scandal says he is not sure if he will resign after being disciplined for lying about his professional and educational achievements in his resume.
Deputy Chief Bruce A. Cowan, speaking from his home in Fayetteville, Ga., said he is taking a few weeks off to decide his future. "I'm not going to let that department continue to be destroyed because of me," Chief Cowan said.
However, he added that he probably has no other choice but to return to his job to support his wife and two children because it would be hard for him to find another job at another fire department. Chief Cowan said he is on annual leave and may return to work on May 13 or 20.
The Washington Times first reported on March 13 that Chief Cowan, Assistant Chief Gary L. Garland and Assistant Chief Marcus R. Anderson lied in their resumes about having held the rank of chief in their former jobs in East Point, Ga. Their resumes also said they attended universities that have no record of their enrollments.
The Washington Post reported April 12 that Chief Few's resume erroneously stated he had received a degree from Morris Brown College in Atlanta and received an award from an international firefighters group that does not bestow such awards.
City Administrator John Koskinen, who investigated the scandal for six weeks, has said the four chiefs have been disciplined for errors about their educational experience in their resumes but has not divulged their punishment, citing personnel concerns.
"Since 9/11, the department had some good publicity. We are continuously in the paper now; it's hurting the firemen in the District," Chief Cowan told The Times.
Several fire department personnel concurred with the chief, but cited problems other than the resume scandal as the cause.
One paramedic complained that the standard of care has declined, hiring and retention have not been priorities and there's been a lack of accountability among management during Chief Few's administration. Another said his frustration with the chief stems from an incident last year in which an emergency medical services (EMS) supervisor threatened a pregnant trainee with termination if she did not have an abortion.
But Chief Few continues to have his supporters.
Romeo Spaulding, a D.C. firefighter for 27 years and former president of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, said the chief has supporters but they aren't in a position to stand up for him.
"I think a lot of them are afraid to say anything because they will be fingered as not being a team player," he said.
He said problems such as a lack of up-to-date fire engines should be attributed to budget constraints and are the same problems that have plagued every fire chief since the 1960s. Chief Few's resume problems were cleared up during his confirmation hearing before the D.C. Council, he added.
"What I see going on is a political game," Mr. Spaulding said, adding that Chief Few has been undermined by a system that benefits white firefighters and discourages the kind of innovation the chief is trying to impose.
Chief Cowan, who would not say how he had been disciplined, said he has not talked to Chief Few since last week and did not know if the chief would resign.
"That's Chief Few's decision," he said. "I think Chief Few could bring that department back and have a progressive fire department. I think he is one of the top three fire chiefs in the country."
Nonetheless, opinion against Chief Few is overwhelming on three locally administered Web sites devoted to the operations of the D.C. Fire and EMS Department.
John Mullen, webmaster of www.dcfd.com and the son of retired D.C. firefighter Moon Mullen, says he gets up to 10 e-mails a day to post on his site's bulletin board. He says he posts news articles about the chief and weeds through the e-mails to keep the bulletin board constructive.
Another site, www.thewatchdesk.com, offers discussion pages that tackle Chief Few's resume, the qualifications of his senior staff and even the quality of the media coverage devoted to the department. Some comments include "Hope they go down in flames" and "Chief Few is in denial." The site even has a thread on a discussion board devoted to predicting the date and time of the chief's departure.
At www.dcfire.com, a banner with the words "Midnight Train to Georgia" and a blinking "vacancy" sign stand above headlines promoting the fire and EMS "crew of the week." Chief Few once headed fire departments in East Point and Augusta, Ga.
A poll on the site indicates 70 of 200 respondents believe Chief Few will be fired within two weeks. Another 40 believe he will be fired in one week, and 28 believe he will not be fired at all. Others said he will be fired in more than two weeks.
Jim Davis, the site's administrator, says he posts about three e-mails each day from a pool of about 20 that come mostly from D.C. firefighters. He says lately all anybody writes about is the chief, and while he would post positive comments, he has no reservations about posting the mostly negative rants.
"Everyone has an opinion, and everyone's opinion should be shared," Mr. Davis said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide