- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

A Chevy Malibu collided with a D.C. firetruck in Northeast yesterday, leaving five persons injured and the fire department facing a critical shortage of emergency vehicles.
The truck's four firefighters were treated at the Washington Hospital Center, and the 87-year-old driver of the Chevy Malibu was treated at Howard University Hospital for mostly minor injuries.
But the 9:30 a.m. accident at South Dakota Avenue and Monroe Street NE totaled the 10-year-old firetruck and robbed the D.C. fire department of its last reserve pumper truck just minutes before Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced the resignation of Fire Chief Ronnie Few.
Word of the chief's resignation coming after a crash seems apt: Chief Few's 22-month tenure was marked by obsolete vehicles, dilapidated firehouses, faulty radios, poor training and low morale among the department's 1,900 workers.
"I think the problems that were here [before Chief Few arrived] are still here," said D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "The lack of safe apparatus and communication equipment are real problems.
"It is real obvious to me the needs are there, including the stability and the transparent leadership," said Mrs. Patterson, whose committee oversees the fire department.
In addition to its lack of up-to-date vehicles, the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department still has a malfunctioning radio system, inadequate cross-training, and firefighters and paramedics who operate under different pay scales, schedules and procedures all issues Chief Few vowed to address when he took charge in July 2000.
"I think it is worse than when he arrived. There have been no policies put in place that have made things better. No equipment purchased by him that made things better," said Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the D.C. Fire Fighters Association, Local 36. "He was able to survive for a while on things that were already in motion."
The mayor's "scorecard" shows that the fire department is failing to meet key performance goals for inspecting buildings for fire-code violations, creating paramedic engine companies and training paramedics to be able to also serve as firefighters.
Chief Few did not receive a performance bonus this year because his department did not meet its goals last year.
Also, the D.C. inspector general is investigating Chief Few's hiring of a friend as a contractor without divulging this affiliation in his financial-disclosure statement. The inspector general is also investigating errors on the chief's resume.
The Washington Times first reported March 13 that three of Chief Few's top aides lied about their professional and educational experience on their resumes.
Assistant Chiefs Gary L. Garland and Marcus R. Anderson, and Deputy Chief Bruce A. Cowan contended they had held the rank of chief in their previous jobs in the East Point, Ga., Fire Department, but their personnel records show they never rose above the rank of lieutenant. They also said they had attended universities that had no record of their enrollment or attendance.
The three firefighters are friends of Chief Few and worked under him when he headed the East Point Fire Department in the 1990s. Chief Few said he did not check the men's credentials because he knew them personally.
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 had won a "1998 Fire Chief of the Year" award from the International Association of Fire Fighters, which does not bestow such awards.
Chief Few originally said an office aide at the Augusta-Richmond County, Ga., Fire Department had placed the erroneous information in his resume, but later blamed Mr. Williams' office for the errors.
City Administrator John A. Koskinen said Chief Few and his three aides were disciplined April 26 for errors on their resumes. Since then, Chiefs Garland and Anderson have announced their resignations.
Mrs. Patterson said the accident yesterday "exacerbated" the fire department's problems.
The 1992 pumper truck should have been scheduled for replacement in the last two years.
The truck crashed into a car that ran a red light, police said.
It was being used beyond the seven years for such a vehicle because Engine Company 3's main-line truck was being serviced, and no other equipment was available.
Police Officer John C. Kennedy said the truck was traveling about 30 mph when its driver, who sustained a broken leg, slammed on the brakes to avoid the Chevy crossing Monroe Street and South Dakota Avenue. The truck slid 100 feet before it struck the car's bumper. The firefighter lost control when the car slid under the truck.
Until it is inspected by the police department, it is uncertain if the truck malfunctioned, but Officer Kennedy said its driver could have had better control had he been used to driving the truck.
"This was a reserve. He was not accustomed to driving it," Officer Kennedy said. "He could have better gauged it if he was used to handling it."
He said the driver of the car, who he said did not yield the right-of-way to the truck, will be charged.
Police and fire department officials did not provide the names of the people involved.
Chief Few is the fourth person to run the fire department during the first 2 years of the Williams administration.
The mayor forced out his first chief, Donald Edwards, in November 1999, after the chief failed to purchase needed equipment and hire new firefighters.
Mr. Williams then tapped Thomas Tippett, a 31-year department veteran, as interim chief.
But Chief Tippett resigned May 5, 2000, when the mayor would not support funding for a fifth man on the ladder trucks and battalion chief aides.
Battalion Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe, one of the lowest-ranking officials of the department, became the interim chief until Chief Few was hired in July 2000.
The priority at the time was to mold the fire suppression and EMS divisions into one unit. Today, the two divisions are still represented by different unions, and the employees have different pay scales, benefits and schedules.
Chief Few's main mandate was to institute a dual-role cross-training program, in which paramedics would become firefighters and respond with engine companies to fires and medical emergencies.
That program has yet to be implemented.


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