- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

The next chief of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department will face the challenge of rebuilding morale, re-establishing training, renovating stations and requisitioning new gear for the agency's 1,900-plus staffers.

The department's fire-suppression fleet is exhausted, its new radio system is dangerously inadequate, training is in chaos and the resume scandal involving outgoing Chief Ronnie Few and his three top aides has sent morale to a new low.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced Wednesday that he had accepted Chief Few's resignation, which becomes effective July 31.

Deputy Mayor Margret Nedelkoff Kellems yesterday said finding a replacement for Chief Few will be a lengthy process.

"He's the chief," Mrs. Kellems said. "The search will be in two phases. They will start immediately trying to identify an interim" chief.

Then the interim chief and Chief Few will start working together, she said.

After Chief Few's last day, a nationwide search for a permanent successor will begin, she said.

Assistant Chief Adrian Thompson, who is in charge of fire operations, is expected to serve as the interim chief. He has been acting as an interim chief during the past two months while Chief Few has been embroiled in an investigation of his resume and those of his three top appointees.

Chief Thompson also is widely considered to be a front-runner for the permanent post. Others who could be considered include Deputy Chiefs Beatrice Rudder, Jimmy Martin, Pete Miller and Mike Smith.

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday that whoever is selected will be thoroughly scrutinized before and during the council's confirmation hearings.

Meanwhile, city firefighters yesterday dedicated a memorial to the last two D.C. firefighters who died in the line of duty three years ago.

About 100 members of the department, most in dress uniform, joined politicians and community members at the corner of Banneker Drive and Cherry Road NE, about 100 yards from where a fatal 1999 house fire occurred, to honor firefighters Louis J. Matthews and Anthony Phillips Sr.

An 8-foot memorial in the shape of the old telephone box alarm that stood on city streets for decades was placed in front of a playground dedicated to the fallen firefighters.

"The idea these guys could pass into history without getting the acknowledgment they deserve troubled me," said firefighter Lawrence Chapman, chairman of the D.C. Firefighters Association Memorial Committee.

Mr. Chapman conceived the idea of the box-alarm memorial, which was erected by the D.C. Firefighters Association.

Sgt. Joseph Morgan, who bears scars from where he was burned over 60 percent of his body in fighting the Cherry Road fire, said it "warmed my heart deeply" to see the tribute being paid to his comrades.

Mr. Matthews' son, Nicholas, turned 5 yesterday and attended the ceremony with his mother, Angela Barrett. She remembered Mr. Matthews as "a good father" and said she was "pleased so many people still remember him."

Chief Few was conspicuously absent from yesterday's ceremony.

He has been under fire since The Washington Times first reported March 13 that his three top appointees 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 claimed they held the rank of chief in their previous jobs at the East Point, Ga., Fire Department, but their personnel records show they never rose above the rank of lieutenant. All three also said they attended universities that have no record of their attendance.

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 a "1998 Fire Chief of the Year" award from the International Association of Fire Fighters, which does not bestow such awards.

All four chiefs were disciplined by City Administrator John Koskinen on April 26. Chief Garland's resignation was effective Sunday, and Chief Anderson's resignation will be effective next month.

Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams, said Mrs. Kellems and the interim chief will decide who will fill the positions of ex-Chief Garland and Chief Anderson.

Among the department's major issues that will need to be addressed by the next chief:

•Division of labor. Though the fire-suppression and emergency medical services (EMS) divisions operate under one chief, they are represented by two different unions, are paid according to two different pay scales and are assigned two different missions. EMS workers complain they receive less attention and less of the department's resources because fire officials have emerged through the ranks of the fire-suppression division.

•Radio system. In January 2001, the fire department began using a $5.3 million emergency radio system that cannot reliably reach firefighters in more than four dozen locations around the city, including police and FBI headquarters, Union Station, the MCI Center and the State Department.

Fire officials have said the problems stem from the fact that the city needs 19 antenna towers to relay radio signals but have only four. The additional towers for the 800-megahertz Motorola system were eliminated to cut costs.

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