- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is expected to name interim Fire Chief Adrian Thompson today as permanent head of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, which has been plagued by questions about its preparedness, equipment and firefighter training.
Chief Thompson, a career D.C. firefighter who has been in charge of the department on an interim basis for the last five months, has the support of the firefighters union and is expected to face little opposition during the confirmation process before the D.C. Council.
A native Washingtonian and 32-year veteran of the department, Chief Thompson, 53, worked his way up through the ranks and was appointed to the department's No. 2 position as operations chief in April 2001.
He studied electrical technology at North Carolina A&T; State University from 1967 to 1969, but did not earn a degree. In 1969, he enlisted in the Navy during the Vietnam War.
Throughout the search for a permanent chief, Mr. Williams has repeatedly expressed his satisfaction with Chief Thompson and indicated he hoped that the next fire chief would come from within the department. Last month, city officials told an executive search firm in Bellevue, Wa., that a national search had been put "on hold."
Chief Thompson was named interim chief June 28 after former Chief Ronnie Few resigned. Chief Few, whose official last day on the job was July 31, left after reports surfaced questioning his credentials and those of his three top appointees. Chief Few currently is a finalist for fire chief in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Sources say the most crucial factor in selecting Chief Thompson was the endorsement of the D.C. Firefighters Association.
The union president, Lt. Raymond Sneed, said Chief Thompson has the "institutional knowledge" to lead the 1,920-member department. Since being appointed on interim chief, Chief Thompson has made difficult personnel decisions in assembling a leadership team, has worked with labor and has restored morale among firefighters, Lt. Sneed said.
"After taking on the interim position, he has shown that he has the ability to lead this department," Lt. Sneed said. Still, in grading Chief Thompson's performance in the last five months, Lt. Sneed said there is room for improvement.
"Taking what he had to work with, I'll give him a B," he said.
The Washington Times reported yesterday that upgrades to the department's radio system are far behind schedule. Since the $5.1 million system was implemented in January 2001, firefighters have complained that the radios fail in emergency situations.
But the two most immediate challenges for Chief Thompson will be to close a multimillion-dollar budget gap and rebuild the department's Emergency Medical Services Division.
The fire department was asked to reduce its $130 million fiscal year 2003 budget by $7 million as part of an overall $323 million city shortfall. And while Chief Thompson has the support of the union, Lt. Sneed made it clear he won't support any plans that involve closing station houses or consolidating companies two of the most lucrative options.
Kenneth Lyons, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3721, which represents the city's medics, said Chief Thompson is the wrong choice for the job.
"We need a manager, not someone who's here because he's a homegrown guy," Mr. Lyons said. "Given what he's done, I've seen nothing that would indicate that Chief Thompson has the management skills to take us to the next step."
Another challenge Chief Thompson faces, which was a main priority of Chief Few and remains unfulfilled, is unifying the uniformed firefighting division and the EMS division.
The EMS division is in the throes of a crisis in recruitment and retention of personnel that has led to soaring overtime costs and escalating ambulance-response times. A recent review by the city's inspector general's office found the EMS division to be undermanned, unmotivated and lacking in training.
Hostility lingers between firefighters and medics, who work different schedules and are represented by different unions, and plans to cross-train medics as firefighters have languished amid battles over how to integrate the medics into the firefighters' more lucrative benefits plan.


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