- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2004

D.C. medics are planning to report to work without their uniforms this weekend, daring their superiors to send them home during the dedication celebration of the National World War II Memorial.

The medics want to hold a symbolic protest called a “uniform strike,” in which they would show up for work in blue T-shirts that bear the name of their union and the acronym “DCEMS” instead of the usual blue, buttoned uniform shirts.

However, officials with D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services said if medics show up without uniforms, they will not be allowed to staff ambulances.

“If they show up for work in apparel that is anything other than the official fire department uniform, they will be asked to change,” said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire and EMS Department. “If they do not, they could be subject to disciplinary action.”

D.C. Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson yesterday issued a special order reminding employees that it is illegal to participate in “any form of work stoppage” and that anyone who did could be “subject to termination.”

Also, senior fire officials yesterday ordered medic supervisors to stock extra uniforms in case employees show up in other clothes.

The medics’ uniform strike is the latest volley in a dispute that began earlier this month over work conditions in the EMS division. Some medics had threatened to stage an illegal sickout this weekend when an estimated 150,000 visitors — many of them elderly — are expected to attend the dedication of the newest monument on the Mall.But the medics quickly backed off that threat.

However, that threat was renewed last week after Chief Thompson issued an order altering the command structure of the department, putting civilian medics under the supervision of uniformed fire officers at the engine houses to which they are assigned.

Kenneth Lyons, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3721, which represents the city’s medics, objected to the order, saying fire officials do not have the necessary understanding of emergency medical care to supervise medics.

Mr. Lyons said he did not endorse any work slowdown or sickout but that a uniform strike will not disrupt service.

“My members will be there,” Mr. Lyons said. “They will not deprive the citizens of their services. They will be ready to work.”

D.C. City Administrator Robert C. Bobb said Wednesday that he had met with Mr. Lyons, Chief Thompson and Lt. Ray Sneed, the head of the D.C. Firefighters Association, and that no labor protest would take place.

“With respect to whether there will be a sickout, we have been assured that will not happen,” Mr. Bobb said.

The idea for the uniform strike was conceived Wednesday, a day after two medics were sent home for reporting to work without uniforms.

Mr. Etter said the department has made contingency plans for any form of labor protest. Some of those plans include canceling days off for firefighters who are trained as emergency medical technicians and can staff ambulances.

“As the premier emergency medical response agency in the city, our job is to be prepared for anything that happens,” Mr. Etter said. “We would hope that people who have dedicated their lives and careers to saving lives would not endanger lives by seeking to forward a labor issue.”

Mr. Lyons has endorsed a bill that would establish an emergency medical services department separate from the fire department. D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, introduced the bill to the council last week. Similar legislation was introduced in 2001, but never came up for a vote.

Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee that oversees the fire department, will hold an oversight hearing June 2 to address EMS issues.

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