- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2007

Suspicious powder at the State Department? Serial arsonist on the loose? Apartment fire displaces a dozen residents? For six years, Alan Etter was the face of the D.C. fire department, going on TV and radio to tell area residents about the hard news of the big city.

Now the well-spoken man in the starched white uniform shirt is out of a job, a result of the change in mayoral administrations. Mr. Etter was one of several D.C. workers whose employment expired Jan. 2 at the end of Anthony A. Williams’ term as mayor.

“There were some tough times when Alan was there, and he was always available and he always answered the questions,” said Dave Statter, longtime reporter for WUSA-TV (Channel 9).

Mr. Etter, 44 and a single father of two, was a volunteer firefighter outside Richmond while in college and afterward, then spent 20 years as a journalist. He was a radio anchor and reporter in the District for nearly 10 years before joining the D.C. fire department in January 2001.

“The great thing about Alan was that he knew our job and he knew the fire department’s job, so he was a great liaison,” Mr. Statter said. “And he was always available.”

In addition to answering questions about daily fire and medical calls, Mr. Etter represented the department nationally after the September 11 attack on the Pentagon, the anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill and the two-year investigation into a serial arsonist who struck the District, Maryland and Virginia.

The public also liked Mr. Etter for facing the tough questions.

When the city’s inspector general defined the fire-and-rescue response to the emergency call for journalist David E. Rosenbaum as an “unacceptable chain of failure,” fire officials sent Alan Etter to talk to reporters.

Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County fire department, knew Mr. Etter from his reporting days and worried that promoting his department would become more difficult when Mr. Etter started working for the District.

“While the D.C. fire department had public information officers, they never really went out of the way to provide stories,” Mr. Brady said. “They were more or less reactive.”

His fears proved true because of Mr. Etter’s tireless work framing stories and providing photographs to reporters.

“Alan, I think, put the D.C. fire department back on the map,” Mr. Brady said. “He was easily accessible, full-time availability — daytime, nighttime, weekends, holidays — Alan was at the scene of every hot spot.”

Amy McVey, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in upper Northwest whose husband is a D.C. firefighter, said she’s sorry to see Mr. Etter go.

“He was always there,” Mrs. McVey said. “If there was fire department news, there was Alan Etter.”

Lt. Dan Dugan, the new president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, remembers being at emergency scenes and getting cell phone calls from Mr. Etter.

“Every time we went on an incident, he would hit us up on the cell phone saying, ‘Give me the details so I can get them out,’ ” Lt. Dugan said. “He was very efficient. He made the department look good.”

John Mullen, who runs the unofficial D.C. fire department Web site www.dcfd.com, said Mr. Etter had provided hundreds of stories and photographs over his six years at the job.

“He brought to light what the fire department does out there,” Mr. Mullen said. “He was very, very well respected by the rank and file of the fire department.”

Mr. Etter said yesterday that he appreciated the support.

“I think it’s gratifying to know so many people are concerned about me,” he said.

As for his future, Mr. Etter said he’s still weighing his options.

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