- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Four D.C. fire inspectors assigned to fire engines in a cost-cutting move last year will be returned to the fire-prevention division to conduct nightclub inspections throughout the District.
The announcement yesterday by acting D.C. Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson came in the wake of two incidents in which more than 100 people were killed and dozens more injured in nightclubs in Chicago and in West Warwick, R.I.
Also yesterday, the D.C. Council Judiciary Committee voted on Chief Thompson's nomination to be the District's permanent fire chief.
The five-member committee approved Chief Thompson's nomination and forwarded it to the full council for a vote next month. However, several council members raised questions about Chief Thompson's leadership skills, citing, in part, concerns about the chief's decision to reassign fire inspectors last year when the department was asked to trim $7 million from its projected fiscal year 2003 budget of $123 million.
"These terrible tragedies underscore what can happen if you're really not vigilant," said council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat. "And I want a commitment from this fire chief that he's really going to be vigilant."
At least 97 persons were killed Thursday night when a pyrotechnics display used by the rock band Great White caused a fire that gutted the Station Concert Club in West Warwick.
The fire came four days after 21 persons were trampled to death in an illegally operated Chicago nightclub where security guards had used pepper spray to break up a fight. About 500 patrons rushed to emergency exits, some of which were locked.
Deputy Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, the District's fire marshal, said the reassignments were not a "knee-jerk reaction" to the Rhode Island fire.
"The reality is we've been trying to transfer people back to the office as we hire more firefighters and cut down on overtime," Chief Ellerbe said.
He said the four firefighters will return to fire prevention in the next two weeks and will inspect nightclubs to make sure they are within occupancy limits and exit doors are clear. He said inspectors also would perform regular building inspections during the day, as they had before they were detailed to station duty.
Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, said he opposed reassigning the fire inspectors in the first place and was doubtful of the chief's promises that inspections could be conducted in addition to station duties.
"The whole thing is crisis management," Lt. Sneed said. "If we were doing the inspections in the first place, why are they returning fire inspectors to fire prevention to do the job?"
Voting for Chief Thompson yesterday were Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and Judiciary Committee chairman; Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat; Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat; and Mr. Brazil. Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, voted present.
Chief Thompson did not attend the committee meeting.


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