- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

Mayor Adrian Fenty has nominated Dennis L. Rubin to run the D.C. Fire Department. Chief Rubin began his firefighting career in his native Washington in the 1970s and now, after serving in Fairfax, Norfolk, Arizona, Alabama and Atlanta, where he recently left as fire chief, this Redskins fan will return to his hometown to replace interim Chief Brian K. Lee.

Thus far, the D.C. powers-that-be are pleased with Chief Rubin. Mr. Fenty and Council member Phil Mendelson, chairman of Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, are confident in the chief’s 30-plus years of experience in fire and rescue. The Washington Times reported that Lt. Daniel Dugan, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, called Chief Rubin “very qualified” but had hoped the position would have been offered to Chief Lee, who the union called “the obvious choice.” Chief Rubin has been criticized in Atlanta for his handling of an alleged drinking and driving incident involving one of his top aides and for showing favoritism in his hiring and promoting practices.

On a more positive note, Chief Rubin would like to implement in the District some of the programs he developed in Atlanta, including one which hires high schoolers as part-time employees and often leads to careers in the department. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has credited Chief Rubin with “overhaul[ing] inspections of public venues throughout Atlanta” as dozens of buildings were previously in violation of that city’s fire code. We look forward to such beefed-up enforcement policies.

Another (rather ambitious) initiative of Chief Rubin’s would have firefighters check the smoke detectors of every house in the city, repairing, replacing or installing them as needed. The policies of the D.C. fire chief should be as strident toward fire prevention as they are toward firefighting. Along those lines, Chief Rubin appears to be on the right track. In this post-September 11 world, it also is vital that the District’s fire chief is up to date on methods of preventing and containing biochemical and other hazardous materials. The chief — and the mayor and Mr. Mendelson — must also understand the importance of communicating with city and federal agencies.

During his mayoral campaign, Mr. Fenty stated that a goal would be to separate the Fire Department from the Emergency Medical Services division. Fortunately, both he and Chief Rubin have shelved those plans for the time being (and we hope the mayor finally scraps it once and for all). In the meantime, Chief Rubin needs to convince lawmakers of his obvious qualifications during confirmation, process. The mayor’s nominee should not sail through confirmation though. Council members owe it to the public to ask tough questions to assure that Chief Dennis Rubin can run the Fire Department and improve public safety in the nation’s capital.

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