- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

D.C. Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson yesterday defended a plan that will cut overtime costs by shutting down firehouses in 12-hour shifts and dispersing crews when their trucks need routine repairs.

“Vehicles need maintenance,” Chief Thompson said. “You’ve got to maintain them.”

But the fire chief declined to engage critics who say the order is a thinly veiled attempt to institute rotating firehouse closures.

The president of the firefighters union said the change has resulted solely from an attempt to cut costs because the department had overspent its budget for the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The fire department can save money by closing engine companies and using the firefighters in the closed company to fill vacancies created by firefighters who are sick, on vacation or suspended without having to pay overtime.

Fire officials agreed that the plan would save the department money but said it was implemented to get the most from its work force.

They said that rotating closures are a last resort and that there are no plans at this time to take such a step, even though it hasn’t been ruled out.

“Our goal is to finish this year on budget,” said Alan Etter, a spokesman for the fire department.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that a budget shortfall had prompted fire officials to postpone refresher classes for 157 emergency medical technicians whose certifications were set to expire before October.

The $175,000 needed to pay overtime for those attending the classes was restored by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, and the classes are expected to resume Monday.

During summer, fire officials say, the fleet maintenance division usually pays more attention to the city’s ambulance fleet, but last month the department took possession of nine new ambulances, freeing up time to work on fire apparatus.

Officials also said that the safety risks associated with the temporary closures are minimal, given that engine companies are routinely placed out of service when their crews are sent to the training academy for drills or even when they are responding to incidents.

Mr. Etter said a company would not be placed out of service for 12 hours if it has an engine with a tire that needs to be changed but “only for extended repair work.”

Engine 8, stationed at 1520 C St. in Southeast, was placed out of service yesterday for preventive maintenance.

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