- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The D.C. Council is considering legislation that would reserve up to 60 feet of curbside parking near fire stations citywide for the exclusive use of firefighters.

Council members Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat, and Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, introduced the Firehouse Parking Exception Amendment Act of 2007 on Jan. 9. The bill would allow transportation officials to designate parking areas along the curbside of a fire station for fire and emergency personnel only, making them off-limits to the public.

“We wanted to ensure that our firefighters and first responders who are protecting us have an opportunity to have a parking place when they come to work,” Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Brown said that the city’s 33 fire stations do not always have on-site parking like most police stations. He also did not rule out the possibility of expanding the bill to include groups like public school teachers.

In some crowded D.C. neighborhoods, like Columbia Heights in Northwest, teachers have had to leave their classrooms every few hours and move their cars to avoid being ticketed.

“If my son’s teacher was getting a ticket every day, that would be problematic,” said Mr. Brown, whose children attend D.C. public schools. “We want our teachers to come to work and not focus on running outside and moving their car. We’ll see how we isolate or expand [the bill] as we go through the hearing process.”

Although the bill would apply to firehouses citywide, it was specifically designed to address the parking situation at Engine 20 in the Tenleytown neighborhood of Northwest, where a lack of parking spaces forced some firefighters to park illegally and rack up parking fines.

Firefighters at Engine 20 moved into a renovated station at 4300 Wisconsin Ave. NW in October, but an addition to the building took space formerly used for parking.

Fire Capt. James Heckendorn hailed the bill as much-needed relief that would help firefighters do their jobs.

“We think it’s a great idea,” he said. “Not only is it going to help individual members, but it brings the community and the fire department together.”

Capt. Kenneth Crosswhite, who is stationed at Engine 20, said the parking problem was not unique to the firehouse in upper Northwest.

“A lot of our fire stations throughout the District are based in neighborhoods, and you have parking problems throughout,” he said. “Members are getting ticketed on a regular basis.”

Amy McVey, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in upper Northwest, led the charge to designate the block of Warren Street Northwest that is adjacent to Engine 20 as parking for emergency personnel. She said public transportation isn’t an option for firefighters.

“What people don’t understand is firemen have to carry around two sets of gear,” including hazardous material equipment, tools and heavy fire suits, she said.

No hearing has been scheduled on the bill, which was assigned to the Committee on Public Works and the Environment.

In 2001, council members voted to exempt themselves from most parking restrictions and fines.

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