On Saturday, when a fire occurred at a home in the 2800 block of Chain Bridge Road, the DC Fire & EMS Department says it was ready. Along with a water supply company on the initial alarm, a water supply task force was sent and the firefighters began the process of putting large diameter hose on the street to more distant hydrants in case the eight-inch main on Chain Bridge Road again proved inadequate. Fire officials say the extra effort wasn’t needed in this case, but it helped prove the department is better prepared to handle fires in areas where water supply is an issue. The operation drew the praise of Mayor Adrian Fenty, who said Monday morning, “Even right in that same street we were well prepared to fight fires”.
The mayor lead a press conference to provide the city’s final reports on a July 29 fire on Chain Bridge Road. That blaze destroyed the home of former school board president Peggy Cooper Cafritz. During that incident firefighters struggled for the better part of two hours trying to provide an adequate water supply to fight the fire. The internal report by the city lists nine recommendations on how the DC Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) and the DC Fire & EMS Department can better handle fires at locations in the city where there are small water mains.
The report echoes some of the work of a consultant hired by the city in 2007 after a devastating apartment building fire in Adams Morgan where water was also an issue. In both cases firefighters found they were drawing too much water off an 8-inch main and didn’t have the maps to easily show them where to go to get the water needed to handle the fire.
Chief Dennis Rubin says the latest report was done internally because money wasn’t available to hire another consultant.
The new report does not address why some of the recommendations for the 2007 report weren’t implemented until the days following the July fire. These include staffing water supply companies, better maps and better training from WASA for the department’s battalion chiefs. Chief Rubin said during the press conference, “The mayor provided full funding for fire and EMS department and there were cuts that we had to react to out of council committee”
The man who chairs that committee, DC City Council member Phil Mendelson tells STATter911.com those items must have been handled in private discussions between the chief and Mayor Fenty because, “It never came to the council.”
Mendelson and the chief have clashed before over this issue, with the council member saying at a September 25 hearing that the real problem at the July fire was with the leadership of the fire department. On Monday Mendelson said, “The chief is busy blaming first Water and Sewer Authority for not having water. Now the council for cutting his budget. And he really ought to be looking at himself.”
“We believe that he, like anyone else, is entitled to his opinion”, Chief Rubin said in response to Mendelson’s concerns about his running of the department. The chief believes that Mendelson is getting bad information and criticized him for quoting an anonymous comment off of this blog as part of his opening statement for the September hearing.
Besides the new report on the water issues, the city provided answers about the cause of the July 29 fire. Officially it will be listed as undetermined, but investigators believe it is likely that the blaze started on the porch from paper towels that spontaneously combusted after being soaked with linseed oil.
As for the fire on Saturday, a city worker who first spotted it helped the lone occupant to safety. It is believed to have started because of an electrical problem in the attic. One of the biggest similarities to the July fire is that it happened at the home of another prominent DC citizen, June Hechinger. She is the widow of John Hechinger, who was the city’s first appointed council chairman and operated a well known chain of hardware stores bearing the family’s name.