- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Districtwide shuffle to fill in gaps left by out-of-service ladder trucks adversely affected the response to a Friday blaze that injured five firefighters, one critically, in Northeast, according to union leaders.

Three of the District’s 16 ladder trucks were out of service at the time of the fire, reported shortly after 12:30 a.m., International Association of Firefighters Local 36 President Edward Smith said.

Unavailable ladder trucks 10, 11 and 16 had set off a chain of maneuvers to cover areas of the District. As a result, the pair of ladder companies sent to Friday’s fire were dispatched from farther locations than the company best poised to respond, the union said.

Normally, Truck 17 would have responded from 0.7 miles away, at 49th and East Capitol streets in Northeast, according to Local 36 Second Vice President Dabney S. Hudson. However, the company had been sent to a fire several miles away, at the 1300 Block of Congress Street in Southeast to cover for two closer companies that were sent to another fire.

Truck 13, which would normally be the second ladder truck called to the Deanwood blaze, set out from its location more than three miles away on Florida Avenue, according to Mr. Hudson. Truck 4, which normally would not have responded at all, traveled more than five miles from its base on New Jersey Avenue, he said.

Mr. Smith said it is unclear whether anything would have turned out differently at the Deanwood fire — ladder crews may have been able to ventilate the structure or remove security bars from the windows sooner, he noted — but it highlights the burden created by absent trucks.

“It’s a huge safety problem for our members and [D.C.] citizens and visitors,” he said.

Pete Piringer, a spokesman for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services, said response times to the Deanwood incident were within the acceptable range and there was no gap in service.

“We were very busy at that time,” he said, arguing there was no direct correlation between the out-of-service trucks and response time.

An investigation into the origin of the fire and resulting injuries is still pending, Mr. Piringer said.

Union leaders said the District’s aging ladder trucks frequently go out of service, while limited reserve trucks are often in disrepair or tied up on other calls. The problem did not happen overnight, but needs to be addressed in the fiscal 2012 budget before the fire department gets further behind, Mr. Smith said.

“There should be more money identified to purchase apparatus,” he said.

Mr. Piringer said asking for additional funding during a tough budget year might not be fiscally responsible, although it is “a work in progress.”

The firefighters injured at Deanwood were Sgt. Ramon Hounshell and Firefighters Charles Ryan and Warren Deavers, all of Rescue Squad 3-Anacostia, Robert Alverado, of Truck Company 13, and Theodore Douglas, of Truck Company 4.

They were taken to the Washington Hospital Center Burn Unit with varying degrees of burns; one was treated and released, and another was released Sunday for outpatient care. Firefighter Ryan, who suffered life-threatening injuries, is showing progress at the hospital.

“We’re getting good reports from all of them,” Mr. Piringer said.

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