- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2012

A bedbug infestation at a Northwest Washington fire station left firefighters sleeping in their personal vehicles or in the firetrucks to avoid being bitten by the bugs in their bunkrooms, a report on the conditions at D.C. firehouses found.

The 180-page report by the Office of the Inspector General details a wide swath of problematic conditions at D.C. fire stations across the city, including a lack of working smoke detectors, leaking roofs, flooded basements, rodent infestations and inoperable heating or cooling systems. Among the findings, 19 stations had significant rodent problems with one reporting that dead mice had been found in a refrigerator, seven did not have functional heating systems in living quarters, 27 did not have fire extinguishers, and 22 reported that the monitor that displays call information either was not working or was unreliable.

Complicating matters is the fact that the department has no formal policy for reporting and overseeing repairs.

The report says the inspection team “is concerned that this lack of policies and procedures specific to the needs” of the department may delay repairs to the buildings.

At Engine Company 31 at 4930 Connecticut Ave. NW, employees told inspectors that bedbugs had festered in the wooden floors of the bunkrooms for six months. The report, which was issued to D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe on Nov. 29, recommends the department invest in regular deep cleaning of facilities to decrease bedbug and other pest problems. The inspector general’s office estimates that the cost of the deep cleaning would be $100,000 annually.

A fire department spokesman was not familiar with the report and unable to comment Thursday on its findings.

Problems detailed in the report were noted during inspections of 32 fire stations and the department’s fireboat facility. Since the four months of inspections ended in January, the department has taken action to abate some of the problems, the report notes. A new pest control company has taken responsibility for rodent extermination in firehouses. A $4.8 million renovation of Engine Company 29 on MacArthur Boulevard Northwest, meant to address issues with leaks in the building’s foundation that have left serious water damage in the basement, began in October.

To prevent serious damage to fire stations in the future, the report recommends a regular inspection schedule to look for things such as leaking windows and roofs.

In response to questions about inspection schedules, department officials wrote in October that several areas of maintenance, including roofs and bay doors for the trucks and ambulances, are now undergoing preventative maintenance and the department is working on prioritizing repairs.

The report notes that several of the serious problems have been ongoing for years. Leaks in the roof of Engine Company 21 at 1763 Lanier Place NW have forced firefighters to use trash cans to collect dripping water in their bunkroom for more than two years, according to one complaint cited in the report.

The Department of General Services has taken over repairs and procurement requests for the fire department. Fire officials wrote that the two agencies communicate daily about repair requests. However, the report notes that obtaining approval for requests can take several weeks to several months.

“Because of this delay, needed repairs to [department] facilities are not completed in a timely manner,” the report states.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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