- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Interim D.C. Fire Chief Eugene Jones is making no bones about his desire to keep his job into the next administration.

Asked Wednesday if he would like to continue serving under Muriel Bowser when she takes office next year, Chief Jones unabashedly replied, “Yes.”

The chief, who has been in the position since July, has been credited during his short time on the job with turning around morale in the beleaguered department, which Wednesday unveiled six new fire trucks and three ambulances.

The additions are part of a larger investment of $34 million set aside for apparatus purchases that Mayor Vincent C. Gray said he believes will ensure the department is “ready to go” when his administration hands over the reins to Ms. Bowser in less than two months.

Gathered in a parking lot outside RFK Stadium, Mr. Gray, Chief Jones and other fire department leaders stood before a backdrop of fire trucks with lights flashing to tout the progress the department has made by investing in new equipment, apparatus and infrastructure.

“We have overcome a number of years of disinvestment,” Mr. Gray said.

PHOTOS: D.C. mayor, fire chief display new fire trucks and ambulances

More than $34 million has been allotted in the city’s capital budget to pay for new fire trucks and ambulances through the end of fiscal 2016. The agency announced it purchased 30 new ambulances last year after a summer heat wave took a brutal toll on the city’s ambulance fleet, resulting in a series of malfunctions and break downs that at one point required nearly three-fourths of city’s ambulances to be pulled off the street for repairs.

On Wednesday, Mr. Gray said an additional three ambulances had been acquired with another 16 ambulances set to be refurbished by the end of the fiscal year.

The mayor, who lost the Democratic primary to Ms. Bowser in April, emphasized that he hopes his successor will not allow the agency to “back slide” as it had in prior years when trucks and ambulances went without replacement.

The city currently owns 90 ambulances, but only 59 are functional, Deputy Fire Chief David Foust said. Despite both a growing city population and growing demand for EMS services, Chief Foust said he believes that if the city were able to get up to 90 working ambulances, through either replacement or refurbishment, officials would be fully equipped to handle call volume.

In addition to the three ambulances and six new pumper trucks on display, the department expects to receive four new pumper trucks and five new ladder trucks by the end of the fiscal year.

Who will lead the department, and how priorities may differ under Ms. Bowser’s administration remains unclear. Ms. Bowser announced Wednesday night her appointment of Judith Sandalow, executive director of the Children’s Law Center, and Karma Cottman, executive director of the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, as a co-chairwomen of her transition team’s public safety committee. Neither woman appears to have had any experience in the fire and emergency medical services fields, according to biographies listed on their organization’s websites.

SEE ALSO: D.C. fire dysfunction recedes under interim chief

In the past, Ms. Bowser has said she would like to have a leader with extensive knowledge of EMS, which comprises the bulk of the department’s calls for service.

One person who offered a vote of confidence for Chief Jones, who served 27 years in Prince George’s County and retired from the department as its chief, was his current boss.

“I think it’s obvious he’s done a good job,” Mr. Gray said.

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

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