Getting Blogged Down

After 22 years at Broadcast House and a total of almost 35 years in radio and TV, I have done hundreds of stories about firefighting and EMS. After each one, there always seems to be something more I want to add, but just can’t get it into the story.

Now I can.

I will be writing regularly on fire and EMS issues in this blog. As the people I work with have long known, I would rather hang around with firefighters, medics and EMTs than radio and TV folks. Two reasons: The stories are always better and they actually do something, rather than reporting on what other people do.

I am sure I will, on occasion, throw in a few of my own war stories. Ancient history now. I was a volunteer firefighter in Oxon Hill, Maryland from 1974 to 1980. I was also a dispatcher for Prince George’s Fire and was in the County’s first Cardiac Rescue Technician class.

But more important, I want to hear your stories and opinions. We also want to see your pictures and videos taken at fire and EMS scenes in the region.

Now the news.

My impression of last week — a very busy week for DC Fire & EMS — is that we have seen this new fire chief more in three days, than we saw the old one during his entire tenure. Yes, that is a bit of an exaggeration. But Dennis Rubin sure is out there taking charge. I can’t remember the last time I was standing a few feet from a big city fire chief watching him personally radio for the third alarm. That was the scene on R Street in front of the Georgetown Library on Monday.

Of course, this came just minutes after Chief Rubin, in the wake of the David Rosenbaum incident of January 6, 2006, ordered the firing of one firefighter and banned the other from public contact for his entire career.

Looking at The Watch Desk I see this clearly is not sitting well with many.

The union is claiming a violation of the “Department’s disciplinary rules and its collective bargaining agreement”, because the Chief increased the penalty of the trial board. While the information wasn’t available to cover this at length in our initial report by Gary Nurenberg, we did later talk to Chief Rubin about Local 36 President Dan Dugan’s concerns. Chief Rubin says he is doing this under the authority of the Mayor and believes that apparently supersedes the contract.

In a press release, Local 36 leadership wrote, “Chief Rubin thus has broken the law – and has broken faith with the rank and file – in his first official act as Chief.” I suppose this means the honeymoon is over.

I think I understand Chief Rubin’s response to my question on Monday asking why the second firefighter from Engine 20, found guilty by the trial board, wasn’t fired. The Chief said the second firefighter was operating under the orders of the first, who was in charge of patient care. What I am not clear on, and don’t really understand, is the purpose of exiling an employee for the rest of his career. I think there is still a question to be answered as to how this serves the taxpayers and the firefighter.

I can say that through this lengthy investigation and trial board, quite a number of people, many who I have great respect for, spoke very highly of the firefighter who was assigned to Ambulance 18 that night. They are quite relieved to learn this young firefighter was found not guilty by the trial board and will not be punished by Chief Rubin.

I was standing next to Adrian Fenty late Monday afternoon at the library fire and pointed over to the corner of Wisconsin and R, Northwest. The Mayor agreed the day had come full circle. Sitting on a wall, taking in the whole scene, was David Rosenbaum’s son, Daniel.

And finally, it isn’t quite the start that Chief Lamont Ewell had in Oakland, but Dennis Rubin has had, as he told me, “A baptism under fire”. From Saturday though Monday, Chief Rubin, just a week on the job, had to handle a child killed in a fire where the fire trucks were sent to the wrong address, the destruction of two historic buildings and the firing of a firefighter.

Some of you may know that in 1991, Lamont Ewell, formerly a top ranking fire official in Prince George’s County, took the fire chief’s job in Oakland, California. About ten days later, he found himself facing a deadly wildfire that caused one of the largest fire losses in US history. I remember seeing a made for TV movie about the fire. Ewell was a central character in the film.

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