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A small group of D.C. firefighters has been given the unusual assignment of sitting in their trucks at specific intersections in the city in an effort to deter crime.
Since last Friday, an engine company and a truck company from the Trinidad section of Northeast D.C. have been ordered out of their firehouse in the overnight hours and take up what is called a "soft post" on the street.
According to an internal document obtained by FOX 5, the order to deploy out from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. didn't come from the fire chief or the police chief. Instead, the directive came from Paul Quander, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, who told supervisors he wanted written verification the firefighters had carried out the order and the "soft postings" as they are called would continue until further notice.
The firehouse on Florida Avenue, NE, is one of the busiest, if not the busiest in the city. It is called “House of Pain” and it is where Engine 10 and Truck 13 are stationed.
But instead of being in the firehouse resting up between calls on Monday morning at 1 a.m., Truck 13 was sitting in the 1500 block of Levis Street, NE, with its engine idling.
The driver and the firefighters were under orders to sit there unless dispatched to an emergency.
Tim Wilson, a spokesperson for the fire department confirmed the assignment, saying, “These units were 'soft posted' as part of a crime deterrent initiative in the Trinidad area that has proven to be an effective tool in the past.”
But Ed Smith, the President of the Firefighters Union, and Kris Baumann, with the Fraternal Order of Police, think otherwise.
Smith in a statement saying, "Not only are my members not trained as police officers they are not properly equipped to handle police matters, yet could be called upon to become involved in various situations that place's them in harm's way!”
With Baumann adding, "I don't think it's a deterrent. I think it's another public relations ploy, gimmick, whatever you want to call it. You've got a mayor who is under criminal investigation, who has a terrible record with first responders, the fire department’s a mess, the police department is a mess, and this is more show. There is no substance here.”
Baumann also wonders if this is being done because the police department doesn't have the resources for adequate patrols.
Tommy Wells, a candidate for mayor and the chairman of the council’s public safety committee, wasn't sure what to make of the plan.
"Well, I would need to know more about this instance,” said Wells. “What they are being asked to do. But let me say our firefighters are called on to do the most extraordinary things every single day. They haven’t had a pay increase in six or seven years, yet they continue to show up for work, and if they are asked to do something for the city, be in crime prevention, I know that they would do it.”
This so called "soft posting" has been tried before. In the summer of 2011, the deputy mayor told reporters the police picked as many as 14 locations throughout the city.
We reached out to D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier to see if she asked the deputy mayor for help, but a spokesperson declined to say, instead telling FOX 5 the police department does not discuss tactics and operations.
Multiple sources tell FOX 5 that Engine 10 and Truck 13 were the only companies in the city asked to spend the overnight hours out on the street.