- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday introduced emergency legislation that would allow the city’s fire chief to bypass procedures for demoting officers and removing employees who demonstrate gross misconduct.

The legislation would allow Chief Adrian H. Thompson of the D.C. Fire and EMS Department to demote his assistants, deputies and battalion chiefs to a rank as low as captain and place firefighters on enforced leave while investigations are taking place.

“This is something the chief has been asking for,” said Alan Etter, a department spokesman.

The legislation is intended to instill a sense of urgency within the department’s first responders. Right now, firefighters are placed on administrative leave — leave without pay — or on administrative duty pending the results of investigations.

Enforced leave requires firefighters to use their accumulated leave, then be placed on a no-pay status. According to the legislation, their leave and back pay is restored if found not guilty.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the judiciary committee that oversees the fire department, said he supports the legislation.

“I think we need to do everything we can to improve discipline in the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department,” he said.

The additional powers come after a June 16 report by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General detailing the inadequate emergency response to the fatal beating of journalist David E. Rosenbaum.

Mr. Rosenbaum, 63, was robbed and hit in the head on Jan. 6 while walking after dinner on Gramercy Street in Northwest. He died two days later. The report cited “apathy, indifference and complacency” on the part of first responders.

“It would be irresponsible for the [city] council to sit back and say we’re not going to do anything when this has been brought to our attention,” Mr. Mendelson said.

Lt. Ray Sneed, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, said the chief is using fear because he has failed to exercise leadership.

“It’s not a physical emergency, it’s a political emergency for Chief Thompson,” he said.

Lt. Sneed said that the increased power will create a hardship for firefighters because investigations can drag on for months while firefighters go without their paychecks and health insurance before ever getting an opportunity to answer a charge against them.

“I think it’s a disaster to give Chief Thompson and his administration the power to discipline people at will based on his own observations,” he said.

The inspector general’s findings were much different than those in the original fire department investigation in January, which cleared everyone involved of wrongdoing.

“Clearly the incident on Gramercy Street has illuminated certain issues that need to be dealt with,” Mr. Etter said when asked whether giving Chief Thompson increased powers was appropriate in light of the department’s investigative failures.

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