DC’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Paul Quander is on his way out the door with a new administration about to take over the running of the Nation’s Capital. But before that door closes he has one final “screw you” for all those who have fought his stupid ideas and believe instead in transparency and accountability. Quander, despite opposition from neighboring jurisdictions and much of his own City Council, has implemented encryption on DC Fire & EMS Department radio transmissions. This follows doing the same with the Metropolitan Police Department’s radios a few years back.
Quander is the guy who was the great enabler of that horrendous fire chief, Kenneth Ellerbe. You may also remember Paul Quander as the one who ordered firefighters to be sitting targets by parking on street corners in high crime areas during the overnight hours.
The man has botched most everything he’s touched. Small wonder he’s a great believer in the public not knowing what the fire and police departments in DC are doing.
Besides his great legacy of less transparency, Quander has a long list of things he can look back on during his time in charge of public safety. Here’s some of them:
- Failure to hire firefighters and paramedics until the news media brought it to the attention of the public
- Failure to maintain fire trucks and ambulances until the news media brought it to the attention of the public
- Failure to purchase fire apparatus until the news media brought it to the attention of the public
- Failure to give the DC City Council correct information about the department’s failing fleet
- Failure to make sure the reinstated high school cadet program didn’t have the same problems as the previous program
- Failure to do a proper investigation into the death of a man after firefighters refused to walk across the street to provide emergency medical care
Okay, that’s a list of Quander’s failures. And I admit he didn’t do all of that by himself. He had lots of help from Ellerbe. But those, sadly, are also the accomplishments we will long remember from their time in charge.
At this point you are probably wondering what skills Quander brought to the job. I can tell you the skill I most admired. Quander was a master with his ability to divert everyone’s attention from the serious problems at hand.
For example, when there were not enough firefighters to staff all the ambulances one New Year’s Eve and a man died, Paul Quander let us think the problem was a sick out by firefighters. Guess what? The inspector general discovered there was no sick out and instead blamed it all on mismanagement by those in charge of the DC Fire & EMS Department.
Another excellent example of this skill was when a few ambulances suddenly caught fire. Paul Quander blamed it on possible sabotage by firefighters. He did that even though the city’s own fire investigators had already told him the cause of the fires was improper maintenance. That finding was confirmed during a second investigation by the police department ordered by Quander.
A skill that Paul Quander excelled at even more than diverting our attention was stretching bad news into weeks of news coverage. He did this by ordering his fire chief to join him in hiding from the news media. When they did finally talk about a crisis they put out a little bit of information at a time. In other words they did just the opposite of what any professional public relations expert would tell you to do in such a situation.
The ultimate and probably most tragic example of this PR tactic was the previously mentioned case of Cecil Mills, the man who died across the street from a DC firehouse. The team of Quander and Ellerbe stretched this into weeks and weeks of news coverage and brought national attention to the ongoing drama. In doing so, they helped make the crisis in confidence the DC Fire & EMS Department experienced much, much worse than it had to be.
In my 30 plus years of reporting on and closely watching the government of the District of Columbia, Paul Quander may be in a category of his own when it comes to terrible managers. Because of both his actions and inaction he has left one of the most important services a city provides in shambles.
I urge the incoming mayor for the District of Columbia, Muriel Bowser, to show things have changed for the better in the DC Fire & EMS Department. She can do this by being the anti-Quander. Insist on a fire department that owns up to its problems and is open to public scrutiny. The first order of business in doing this should be to immediately reverse Paul Quander’s final stupid move and un-encrypt the department’s radio communications except for its most sensitive operations and information.