- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The District’s fire chief said Monday that budget cuts prevented his department from following 2007 recommendations to dispatch engines with additional water to fires in areas of the city with low water pressure — a claim one D.C. Council member promptly disputed.

Chief Dennis L. Rubin said Monday that he has assigned two water-supply trucks to respond on initial dispatches to three areas of the District with known water-flow problems.

The tactic was initially part of recommendations made to the fire department by an independent panel reviewing an October 2007 four-alarm fire in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Northwest. The recommendation, however, was to staff six such trucks.

Chief Rubin said Monday that because of budget cuts made by the D.C. Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, which has oversight of the fire department, he only has the funds to staff two of the six water trucks and with drivers only, instead of full four-person crews.

“We would have been able to staff six water-supply engines on a 24-hour basis,” Chief Rubin said. “But as we’ve had the cuts recommended and passed by [the] council through the public safety committee, that has caused us to react in a way to keep the basic system open.”

Informed of the comments, council member Phil Mendelson said Chief Rubin has dragged his feet on implementing the recommendations and used politics to cover his mistakes while scapegoating the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority.

“This is once again the chief politicizing his troubles,” Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the public safety committee. “He’s busy blaming everyone and not taking responsibility himself.”

Chief Rubin’s comments were made after a press conference in which city officials discussed progress made in the department since a July 29 fire that destroyed the Chain Bridge Road house of former D.C. school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, D.C. WASA Chairman William M. Walker and Attorney General Peter J. Nickles backed Chief Rubin, saying the fire department has responded successfully to more than 140 major fires since the April 2007 fire at the Georgetown Library, including another fire on Chain Bridge Road in Northwest Washington on Saturday night.

“There have been a number of other fires which got absolutely no attention.” Mr. Fenty said. “These men and women work very hard, and without them this city could not function.”

Mr. Fenty said two reports would be released Monday, one detailing the fire department’s response to the fire at the Cafritz home and another about the investigation into what started the blaze.

Neither of the reports had been issued by Monday evening.

Mr. Nickles said earlier in the day that the cause is undetermined and that the report points to linseed-oil-soaked towels in a plastic trash bag as a possible source of the fire. He said it was possible for the paper towels to have spontaneously combusted.

Mr. Fenty announced other developments, including new map data on hydrant flow being made available to the fire department, additional training on water flow for fire supervisors and other staff, and regular coordination between D.C. WASA and the fire department to discuss “high-level issues.”

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