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D.C. fire officials defend snow storm response

D.C. fire officials are pushing back against accusations by Kenneth Lyons, president of the union that represents some city paramedics, that the fire department and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) did not take the recent snowstorm seriously enough.

Lyons and Kristopher Baumann, the head of local police union, have raised concerns that the public safety was threatened because not enough resources were devoted to the storms.

But Pete Piringer, chief spokesman for the D.C. Fire and EMS Department, forwarded emails to the Washington Post Friday afternoon that detail the steps the agency took to prepare.

"In addition to normal staffing levels, extra fire and EMS crews, customer service units and other support personnel are scheduled to work through the weekend," the agency said in an email newsletter sent Feb. 4, one day before the heavy snow began falling. "About 100 additional firefighters, paramedics and others will staff at least 6 EMS units, one ladder truck, several water supply engines, heavy wreckers and standby in the maintenance shop and logistics and supply warehouse."

The agency also activated its Fire Operations Center on Feb. 4, called up "DC F&EMS all terrain vehicles or 4-wheel drive vehicles," and put chains on fire trucks and ambulances.

Lyones, however, told the Washington Post that many of the chains did not work properly.

"The chains were flying off, and ambulances were getting stuck," Lyons said.

Much of the post-storm debate among fire and police officers centers on whether Fenty (D) did enough to request additional resources from the D.C. National Guard, which is under control of President Obama.

According to testimony at D.C Council hearing Thursday, 16 National Guard Humvees were assisting firefighters, paramedics and police officers during the storm.

But Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At large), the chairman of the Public Safety and Judiciary Committee, asked Millicent D. Williams, acting director of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, about information he had heard that the Guard had offered up to 100 Humvees but the request was turned down by administration officials.

Williams gave conflicting answers to Mendelson's question. Initially, she said the 100 Humvee figure was not correct. A few minutes later, she said: "If there was the need, they could have provided more."

"It wasn't easy getting around, why wasn't there the need?" Mendelson asked.

Williams responded, "I am not saying there wasn't the need."

"Do you think we could have asked for more and we chose not to," Mendelson asked.

Williams replied: "That conversation did not happen. If people needed resources, we sought the resources...There was never a need expressed where we did not work to meet that need."

But Baumann and Lyons said they could have used additional Humvees, which are designed to clear several feet of snow.

"We needed as many resources as we could get," Baumann said. "We have rear-wheel drive vehicles."

A National Guard spokesman said Friday he is reviewing how many Humvees would have been available to city officials during the storm.

"If anyone was offering assistance, we needed it," Lyons said. "Swallow the pride. We were getting stuck. We had to make transport decisions based not on what was good for the patient, but whether we can get to a particular hospital."

But in a fire department email sent last Tuesday, officials noted they had successfully responded to dozens of calls for service, including a doubling of the call volume during the height of the first blizzard on Feb. 6.

-- Tim Craig

By Tim Craig  |  February 19, 2010; 3:19 PM ET
Categories:  Mayor Fenty , Tim Craig  
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Comments

Let's face it, we're all powerless in the event of any "disaster" whether man-made or Mother Nature's wrath. The entire East Coast was paralyzed under 3 or more feet of snow from two back-to-back storms, inacessible roads and highways, many motorists defied commonsense ending up stranded in blizzard conditions, stores couldn't open, some abandoned by employees and all local and federal offices were shutdown unable to function. We can't handle a snowstorm in this part of the country where our neighbors in the mid-western states take it in stride, their children attend school and employees report to their jobs. Makes us look like the whimps, whiners and complainers that we are.

Posted by: poescrow | February 20, 2010 7:30 AM | Report abuse

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