Fire Chief: Department `Making Progress' on Its Shortcomings

Article excerpt

Byline: Jabeen Bhatti

D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few defended his department's record yesterday, saying the problems with communication radios, staff shortages and emergency-response times are being addressed.

"Under my watch, we will fix this system," Chief Few told D.C. Council members at a hearing on the issue. "We will make sure firefighters are safe. And we are making progress in delivering better services to citizens."

He said that despite initial problems with the radios, the kinks in the system are being worked out and that a request for more equipment has been made to the federal government. Staff shortages, he said, are being aggressively addressed with new hiring policies. As for emergency-response times, Chief Few said there is no danger to public safety.

"We are doing a much better job than in the past," he said.

Chief Few, who has been on the job just over one year, has come under increasing fire from his employees. Yesterday, he ended the hearing with an outburst against the "poor system" he inherited and an upcoming vote of no-confidence by his firefighters.

"The only chiefs that get votes of no-confidence are those who try to generate change," he said. "My record stands for itself. I can take a vote of no-confidence myself [in my staff]."

The chief's response comes after criticism on Friday by leaders of the city's firefighters and medics unions, who accused the fire chief of failing to act on chronic public-safety and emergency-service problems and of failing to work effectively with the unions.

Lt. Raymond Sneed, head of the D.C. Firefighters Association, told council members at an oversight hearing by the D.C. Council Judiciary Committee that ongoing problems involving firefighters' radios, the department's computerized dispatch system and staff shortages continue to compromise firefighters' safety. …