Friday, May 28, 2004

D.C. officials served two emergency medical workers with termination papers after they reported to work out of uniform — a stern warning to others planning a “uniform strike” during this weekend’s National World War II Memorial Reunion.

“It’s not our policy to publicly discuss personnel matters,” said Alan Etter, spokesman for the D.C. fire department. But “certain actions were reviewed, and the appropriate corrective measures were taken.”

Kenneth Lyons, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3721, which represents the city’s medics, said he was aware of the terminations, but he could not comment because the medics were appealing the decisions.

The termination orders Thursday came the same day Chief Adrian H. Thompson 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.”

Instead of wearing their regulation blue, button-up shirts, the medics want to hold a symbolic protest by arriving for work in blue T-shirts bearing the name of their union and the acronym “DCEMS” — for District of Columbia Emergency Medical Services.

However, agency officials said that if medics arrive without uniforms, they will not be allowed to staff ambulances on a day when an estimated 150,000 visitors — many of them elderly — are expected to attend the dedication of the newest monument on the Mall.

“Each action will be evaluated on an individual basis, and if someone refuses a direct order they could be subject to disciplinary action,” Mr. Etter said.

He said termination could be among the possibilities.

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

Other medics decided to use the tactic to protest an order Chief Thompson issued last week altering the command structure of the department, putting civilian medics under the supervision of uniformed fire department officers at the engine houses to which they are assigned.

Mr. Lyons objected to the order, which takes effect tomorrow, saying fire officials lack enough understanding of emergency medical care to supervise medics. He said yesterday that he encouraged medics to wear the union T-shirts but that they should change if so ordered.

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 it 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 Wednesday to address the medics’ issues.

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