- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

“D.C. fire officials are trying to verify that CPR certification cards issued at the training academy are legitimate amid charges that more than 100 cards were given to providers and instructors who never took the course.” So read the lead in a front-page story in Friday’s editions of The Washington Times, which reported that the D.C. Inspector General is investigating the matter — and investigate it must.

In a city whose lifeline is the hundreds of thousands of commuters and tourists who move in and about each and every day, it is imperative that such simple lifesaving techniques as CPR are second-nature to first-responders. In fact, the department handled 115,000 emergency calls in 2005. The fact that scores of instructors and recipients “never took the course” but received certifications cards saying they had is a frightening prospect. That the fraud could be long-standing and “widespread,” as sources told reporter Matthew Cella, is cause for alarm.

Instructors in CPR are required to take and pass a 16-hour course. An eight-hour course is mandatory for all D.C. firefighters and emergency medical technicians. These are the very first-responders who not only tend to emergencies at all federal and local government buildings, but also to those occurring in private residences and commercial properties.

Alan Etter, the fire department’s spokesman, said his agency is aware of the investigation and is “cooperating fully.” It’s good to know that the department is forthcoming. However, those words are hardly reassuring.

As Mr. Cella reported: “As many as a half-dozen instructors may have been involved in giving the cards to emergency medical technicians (EMTs), instructors and members of the public who did not complete course requirements ?The worst-case scenarios include the American Heart Association revoking the department’s training-site status and every one of the fire department’s 1,900 members having to retake the course…Sources said that the probe has been going on for about two months and is focusing on CPR cards issued in the last two years.”

A half-dozen instructors. The possibility of losing training status. The bureaucratic nightmare of retraining 1,900 first-responders. The potential for lost lives.

Where was the oversight? Where was D.C. Council Judiciary Chairman Phil Mendelson, who supports a “holistic approach” to public safety (and those are Mr. Mendelson’s words)?

Tough oversight of the fire department and emergency medical services too often are behind the eight ball. While we agree with Mr. Mendelson that separating emergency medical services from the fire department won’t ensure improved service delivery, his lack of oversight and dependence on various third-party panels have only added to the problem. Indeed, much of the oversight the Judiciary Committee that has carried out in the last several years has stemmed from high-profile news stories instead of judicious legislative oversight. Those stories included the unfortunate death of David Rosenbaum, the father of Dan Rosenbaum, a photographer here at The Times. Mr. Rosenbaum was killed in January of this year, yet the probe by the Inspector General “is focusing on CPR cards issued in the last two years.”

No one in City Hall — not Mr. Mendelson, not the mayor, indeed no one responsible for making sure that first-responders are certified to do what we expect them to do in an emergency of any magnitude — can offer any defense on this one. And we level exceptional grievance against Mr. Mendelson, the Judiciary Committee chair who is campaigning for re-election on his “oversight” record. This critical first-responder issue is a matter of life or death.

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