- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 25, 2006

On June 15, The Office of the Inspector General released a report outlining the ineffective response by the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, the Metropolitan Police Department and Howard University Hospital to an incident involving veteran journalist David E. Rosenbaum. In January, Mr. Rosenbaum was mugged and beaten near his home in Northwest Washington. Because medical response personnel failed to properly assess his condition, the blow he suffered to his head went untreated for several hours and he died the following day.

Conflicting incident reports from MPD and FEMS prompted City Administrator Robert C. Bobb to request the OIG’s review, a 90-page assessment of the breakdown in protocol, communication and competence for emergency response. Those first responders to the scene did not notice Mr. Rosenbaum’s severe head trauma and attributed his incoherence and vomiting to intoxication. Subsequently, he was “classified as a low priority patient” and, instead of being brought to nearby Sibley Memorial Hospital, he was carted to Howard, where he was not properly triaged and was left untreated in a hallway for more than an hour.

The botched response, which the report called “an unacceptable chain of failure in the provisions of emergency medical and other services,” has led to a push for the dismissal or resignation of Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson by Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp and council member Adrian M. Fenty, both seeking the Democratic nomination for D.C. mayor.

Chief Thompson was appointed in 2002 when his predecessor, Ronnie Few, resigned after reports surfaced that he and three of his appointees had exaggerated their resumes. Chief Thompson, a lifelong Washingtonian who began his career in the fire department in 1970 and climbed the ranks the hard way, has been criticized in the past for the city’s lackluster emergency response services as well as the Fire Cadet Program, which was temporarily suspended when several applicants lied about residency to gain acceptance to the federally funded program which targeted disadvantaged youths.

All of that said, no one has made a compelling case that ousting Chief Thompson at this time will do much to improve the situation. With less than seven months remaining until the end of Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ term, it would be nearly impossible to find a new fire chief, and there is no guarantee that the person’s job will be secure once Mr. Williams leaves office. Miss Cropp and Mr. Fenty’s anger seems misplaced, as the real problem lies with workers who disregard protocol. But by making noise about Chief Thompson, they attempt to show voters how assertive and proactive they can be. In reality, their proposal would merely leave the city without a fire chief.

Since Mr. Williams has expressed no intention of dismissing Chief Thompson, appointing a new fire chief will be a job for the new mayor, who will take office in January.

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