The Price of Whistleblowing on the D.C. Fire Department For years, Fire Investigator Greg Bowyer spoke out against the Fire Department. Now he spends his time on hydrant duty.

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Charles Steck

D.C. Fire Investigator Greg Bowyer talks like a man whose finest days as a professional are well behind him.

He says he once had the highest closure rate of any investigator in the department. He picked up awards and various honors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for his work tracking down an infamous serial arsonist. In 2007, Fire Chief Dennis Rubin awarded him a bronze bar “for the highest degree of judgment, zeal or ingenuity.”

Bowyer, 38, is proud of the accolades. But after spending several years as a fire investigator, he slowly began turning all that zeal and ingenuity toward his very own employer. In Bowyer’s opinion:

• The department’s brass began filling his investigative unit with uncertified and untrained personnel.

• These investigators started mishandling cases, turning in shoddy work with botched determinations. In some cases, they didn’t know where or how fires were being started.


• Several costly fires that should have been labeled as arsons were instead marked down as accidental.

These were not minor cases. Bowyer contends that the Eastern Market fire was arson (“Was This Really an Accident?” 12/22/2007), a version of events at odds with that of Rubin, who announced at the time that the fire cause was electrical. An ATF report has refuted Rubin’s conclusions and suggests a different chain of events, one closer to that of the fire investigator.

Bowyer did not just sit by and shake his head about the problems at his workplace. He wrote e-mail after e-mail to his superiors, leaving the paper trail of an internal, real-time auditor. “It wasn’t popular,” Bowyer says. “I eventually got labeled for doing that.” He heard people started calling him a one-man internal affairs bureau.

Tensions between Bowyer and management spiked in July 2007. Bowyer and his partner, Gerald Pennington, teamed up on a bust of a fireworks dealer who happened to have a gun stashed in his car. In Bowyer’s retelling of events, the department’s investigators mishandled critical pieces of evidence, including both the gun and the fireworks. What looked like a slam-dunk case was eventually dropped by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Bowyer did not hold his tongue on that case, blasting his superiors for allowing mistakes to happen.

In December 2007, a supervisor took away the office that Bowyer and Pennington had used. They were literally put in the doghouse, ordered to work in a room where the four-legged staffers of the K-9 unit were housed.

Bowyer soon got an allergic reaction to the fleas and had to be taken to Providence Hospital. The department, records show, gave him performance-of-duty pay while he was out over the flea bites.

Bowyer and Pennington fought the unit again after a June 18, 2008, fire in Northeast. It was the same routine: The pair spotlighted all kinds of sloppiness in the investigation and insisted the department’s case be shut down. “We could not legally make the arson case,” Bowyer says. “They didn’t know how or where the fire started as the report clearly showed. They hadn’t even ruled out that the fire was accidental.”

Two months later, both Pennington and Bowyer were transferred out of their detective’s beat. They no longer do the gumshoe work of investigating arsons. They were put in an entity known as the Community Service Unit. Pennington was initially tasked with handing out drinks and snacks to firefighters at fire scenes. Bowyer got placed on hydrant duty. They both had to turn over their guns and badges. In a subsequent WJLA-TV story, an unnamed Fire Department official called them “internal terrorists.”

In late February, Bowyer and Pennington filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court alleging multiple instances of race discrimination and retaliation as well as an attempted coverup of the Eastern Market fire. Their lengthy complaint states that the incidents of abuse began in the spring of 2007.

It’s a funny thing that happens to whistleblowers in the D.C. government. Per tradition, they’re not punished with extra work or an inbox full of tall orders. They’re not asked to do the work of 10 men so that others can take a break.

It’s the other way around. They’re asked to watch the clock day in, day out—using their faculties to devise enough make-work, pointless conversations, and snacks to stretch from one end of the shift to the other. That’s the essence of life in the Community Service Unit: installing smoke detectors, checking hydrants, serving snacks, watching the clock.

Deputy Fire Chief Kenneth Crosswhite, who is in charge of the Community Service Unit, explains that Bowyer and Pennington weren’t demoted. Instead, he says, they were given “a unique opportunity.”

As for the daily grind in the unit, Crosswhite insists: “It’s no different than your day. We can measure their productivity. It’s not like they’re sitting around.”

For three days in early March, we logged Bowyer’s actual minute-by-minute activities in whistleblower Siberia.


5:32 a.m.

Bowyer sits in his 1998 Nissan Altima. He has pulled up along the side of the Fire Department’s training academy, located in Blue Plains. His back is to I-295. He sees a parking lot and the outlines of trees in the dark.

Bowyer flicks the dome light on. Then off. His car is bathed in street lamp. He feels shame, sitting there alone in his black Altima’s worn leather seats.

On the back seat, passenger side, is his book of psalms and scripture (The One Minute Pocket Bible: For The Business Professional). Today it’s pages 62 and 63, “Health” and “Hope.”

“Everything God creates is a solution to a problem.”

In the glove box, he still keeps his last official police notebook, dated Aug. 17, 2008. In it, there are notes from his last time out on the job, a liquor store fire at 900 Kennedy Street NW. The rest of the pages are blank. On Aug. 21, he was transferred to hydrant duty.

Bowyer woke up 4 a.m. and meditated. The unit doesn’t have an office and so each day, it arranges a meeting place. Today it’s the academy. Bowyer is too embarrassed to leave his car. He makes sure to use the bathroom before he comes to work. He chooses to await his orders from the comfort of his Altima.

“You never know what to expect,” Bowyer says. “I know they have spies. There’s no reasonable expectation of privacy. This is the safest place—in this car.…You don’t get as many dirty looks in a car.”


Bowyer opens up his driver’s side door and steps outside. He is dressed in blue work pants, blue uniform shirt, and black steel-toe boots.

The parking lot is busy with cars and recruits getting ready to start their morning routines.

“I’m just going to run in and meet the guy and come out,” Bowyer says. His unit consists of another firefighter and a sergeant. It’s the sergeant’s first day in the unit. He feels he at least has to introduce himself to his new boss and explain that he will be sitting in his car.

The two shake hands at the academy’s entrance. The sergeant turns out to be a straight shooter, even sympathetic toward Bowyer. Other firefighters walk up the entrance steps and shake Bowyer’s hand.

“Stick in there,” one says.

The sergeant lets Bowyer return to his car. He’ll call him on his cell phone and let him know when they’ll be going out to check hydrants.

Bowyer gets his Apple laptop from the passenger seat. He gets WiFi from this spot and logs on to read up on some Fire Department regulations related to his case.

Bowyer’s shift begins at 6 a.m. But that doesn’t mean work starts at 6 a.m. He says he wants to polish his boots.

“Isolation,” Bowyer says. “Everyone else has a real job to do.”


Left, right, left. Recruits, in rows of four, march past Bowyer’s Altima to the flagpole at the academy’s entrance. They look really eager, hungry even, to raise that flag, so they do, stringing up the banners for the United States and the District of Columbia.

Bowyer has taught criminal justice classes at UDC, helped train prosecutors on arson cases, and has a master’s degree.

A few minutes later, the recruits begin jogging laps around the parking lot. They are pale and doughy and dressed in all navy blue. They bark out chants familiar to anyone who has watched a military flick.

“Mama and Papa were laying in bed.…Good for you! Good for me!”

The recruits jog past Bowyer four times.


The sun starts to come up over the tree line.


A man strides out of the academy’s side door and motions for Bowyer to get out of his Altima. The firefighter has a complaint. He is animated and loud.

Bowyer stands and just listens. The firefighter’s main complaint is about simple utilities. The batteries to the generator—which would have illuminated the recruit’s exercise area in the back lot—were stolen so now they have no light.

Since becoming the best-known whistleblower in the department, Bowyer has become a walking suggestion box. Firefighters regularly call on him with their gripes as if he could do something about it.

A truck pulls up and a firefighter gets out and joins Bowyer and the complainer. Bowyer quickly says his goodbyes. He doesn’t know the other firefighter. He gets back to his Altima.

Check out a timeline of the incidents reported in this story
The District government has never been a hospitable place for employees who talk openly about malfeasance. Whistleblowers get all forms of abuse, including bad assignments, cold shoulders, dismissal, and so on.... READ MORE

VIDEO: A chat with Greg Bowyer and Gerald Pennington

Our Readers Say

This is sicking to see the way these fire fighters are treated. I am a DC resident an I've heard many horror stories from the fire fighters on how they are treated when they stand up for what is right. I think they need to fire the Fire Chief and maybe the Mayor for allowing things like this to happen. What else are they hiding from us?????
I do not know where Jason Cherkis did find this chronological news idea,( WASHED OUT) I have been sending this same kind of idea, for almost half a decade. to Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA today, NPR (documentaries) and others silence show that it was a bad idea. But, it works, good job. NO ALTERNATIVE IDEA from them (some friends for long times)
Censorship kept me from my goal (CFO James Bell, Keith Sherin) and suffering with too much skills and fake empty pockets
Arthur Mboue, MBA, JD

PS: reading 50-50 fags city paper is not a bad idea, many years after. Please better beat her for HUMANITY reason but keep her face, ass and throat from your dirty semen - it is for Dan Savage
Jason, great story…. this is really bad for DC Fire, but thanks for the factual information. Rarely, do citizens get such an inside view of city agencies. I had no idea DC Fire was that screwed up. Firefighters always seem so happy, almost if by nature. And the Fire Chief let me guess had no comment. The guilty usually don't. I met him once at a community meet. I thought he appeared overly rehearsed. If it sounds to good to-be true, it probably is! When I saw the recent city council hearings on the news, my feelings about the chief were confirmed. Please Keep up Updated…..Great reading.
Thanks for the comment. Chief Rubin refused to comment for this story. On Friday, I will be posting a lengthy sidebar to this cover.

The sidebar is a timeline of events regarding Bowyer and Pennington's activities. It will include documents and comments (or no comments) from city officials.

The sidebar addresses everything that has led up to Bowyer and Pennington being transferred to hydrant duty. It should be interesting reading (I hope).
We need whistle blowers like this mand I am really suprised that the mayor is not one this. We need good honest people on all of our depatments so we have a execellent dept
This is the tip of the ice berg. There is much coruption and cronyism in this government and thank GOD for MEN such as this to help root it out. There have been alot of crazy situations lately where fenty and nickles find it easier to fire the whistleblower.
This is another case where the D.C.F.D. has lied over and over again I think a Federal Investigation should be conducted. What ever happened to the Lieutenant who stopped to put out a fire? I hear they are still trying to fire him this week also how about the Captain who refused to take a mental exam?
It is past time for Dennis Rubin to be fired as Chief of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services. I konw many people that feel the same way.
It is certainly time that people start standing up for what is right and merely tell the mayor that in order for him to earn their vote and support Rubin must go. That should pretty much seal the decision!
Rubin has an arrogant approach to everything. Even when it is clear that his department hasn't done their job well.
His tenure as Chief should be over and without thouhgt. Mayor Fenty has let the residents down by his appointment and his continuing to be in the position.
Rubin's attititude has worked it's way down the ladder and is clearly spreading through the department.
Just this week, I was in Adams Morgan, a fire truck was parked in the middle of the street, while the fire fighters were in Safeway shopping. Traffic was very slow due to some construction and much to the fact that the fire truck was blocking the middle of the street. The fire fighters finished, got in their truck and turned on the lights and siren to get through the traffic, causing everyone to pull to the curb to let them through, the truck then made a right hand turn and turned off the lights and siren. Complete use of and abuse of what the city codes calls for permissiable use of both lights and siren. There WAS no emergency!
Sounds like this guy should be Fire Chief instead of Rubin.

This is systemic: negligence and the old boy network bigotry alive and well and flourishing...If only someone with guts would stop the ass-kissing and glad-handing and recognize/reward talent.

Why can't a fair and just person seemingly never get into a position of real power to effect change?

This is the story of Pharoah all over again...let the people go
Ok OK, enough with this chump crying and whining. Dude is still employed, I bet he is still getting paid what he was before, and that pension ain't going anywhere, so get off your pity party and unscrew some gotdamn fire hydrants for christ sakes, GEEZ! Ok, so he was a whistleblower, so you got demoted, well that is the price you pay for trying to save the world. Don't cry about it now. He wanted to fall on the proverbial sword, and once he was impaled and realized that a blade in the chest hurts, now he want's sympathy. Get over it dude! Stop complaining about what you were, you are not or will never again be a fire investigator with the DCFD! There is no reason to devalue the others who are working hard to check hydrants of the nobility of their professions because your bored. I have a solution to your boredom: kill yourself.

Sorry Cherkis, a good attempt, but your subject matter comes off soft and whimpy. D +
Awesome investigative reporting, this is unbelievable... Where is Mayor Fenty on this? What is the City Council saying? I’m not a native Washingtonian, but the amount and the levels of public corruption in DC and the lack of response is shocking. I thought Baltimore was bad.

Jason, did you find the political system in DC’s local government contaminated? Are the majority of the politicians corrupt, thus unable to speak out against their colleagues’ wrongdoings? Or are they turning a blind eye? If so, why? Please help me understand.

This is the Nation’s Capitol. How can government officials get away with such activities that are so publicly reported in this day and age? Where is the accountability?

Sorry, but this type of unlawfulness should not occur without immediate correction. Everyday, you hear and read about systemic high-level corruption in DC Government. I no longer feel safe here. But, I thank the WASHINGTON CITY PAPER for openly reporting on these matters. I’m sure you all are attacked like the employees that reported these clear examples of government waste, fraud, and corruption. This is very brave of the employees and WCP. A+ Please keep reporting. {WE NEED to KNOW THE TRUTH}
BIG TONY, it sounds like you have pretty small balls! And no Character. Take it from a veteran detective it doesn’t hurt to drop a tear or two on the stand especially when you are trying to get a conviction. In fact, it helps. Showing controlled emotion makes you human and real not weak. These guys will win this case hands down. Have you viewed the Time Line??? The city should stop the bleeding and settle this one sooner than later. It’s only going to get worse and harm the fire department even more as time goes on. I would hope, if I were in there position, I would fight and not settle for checking hydrants. Maybe it’s a law enforcement thing. No officer worth their salt would give up their powers without a fight. I expect nothing less from innocent law enforcement officers. Fight the establishment. In fact kill their corrupt ass (with the pin.)
More Power to you Brothers and I’m White.
Big Tony: No city worker should be demoted because they spoke out either to their officials or to a councilmember or to the press. Bowyer spoke out about safety issues that effect all of us. All he wanted was arson cases to be investigated properly. I don't think that merits a demotion.

DC Resident: Bowyer and Pennington raised their concerns with various city councilmembers. They also wrote to Fenty. I believe that the city council doesn't like to adjudicate personnel matters within city agencies or departments. But I'm sure they'd want to protect whistleblowers since it's, well, the law.

MPD: I really appreciate your heartfelt comments.
LMAO...So a dude posts a bitter rant complaining about a guy who's complaining about a bitter situation?

Chief Rubin, is that YOU?
Grumpy....It was probably AG Peter Nickles :):)
Big Tony---- Get a life dude. What Greg has done takes courage and integrity; of which I am sure you have none. It takes balls to do what is right and even bigger ones to accept your fate once you have done it. He may not win the battle but he will definetley win the war. He has the fortitude, the attitutude and what is right on his side. He will persever- I know this because he is my big cousin and I love him. Love ya Greg. Keep your head up. -----Tonya
“Clueless Rubin” should shoot himself and all his assistants. If he don’t Fenty will ahhhh)))) right around election time. Bet you never thought these guys would put up such a fight????? greg and gerald, kick those racist assholes to hell. PS: way to keep good notes on them bastards. Once again Rubin and Crosswhite look like clowns in the media. Who will hire this fool next?????

We should protest Rubin at his next speaking engagement. July 23, 2009, 12 p.m. This guy is a fraud.

Lemons To Lemon Aid: A Leadership Journey
Dennis Rubin, Fire Chief, Lawrence S. Schultz, Assistant Fire Chief
District of Columbia Fire and Rescue

This presentation will outline the activities, challenges and opportunities that have faced Chief Dennis L. Rubin of the District of Columbia Fire & Emergency Medical Services Department in his first year in the position. The program reviews several case studies experienced by the Department and the outcomes will be explained. In the second half of the presentation, Rubin discussed “Rube’s Rules” the guidelines that he has used for the Department as they move forward trying to reach excellence in service.

[ Summary how RUBIN HAS F@%&#ed DCFEMS UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ]
BIG TONY????!!! --- I believe our friend Big Tony maybe someone that has been behind the iron curtain of the Fire Dept. causing corruption for years. If I'm right he's one of the many folks that Mr. Boyer and Mr. Pennington stood up to and since he's not at the top of the corrupt food chain our boy Cheif Rubin put him in the dog house.
We should take off our hats to these two investgators and stand behind them; how many people do you know that would say a situation or event is not right and not just speak up, but speak out (there is a difference). We our talking about a system that appears to be really racist, but will take a chance on this city's citizens no matter what color they are. We are talking about the Fire Cheif gambling with lives, do you understand (Big Tony) how great of a problem this is?
Washington DC has been one place over the past couple hundred years were people from all races and communities can have some form of safe haven; do to the seat of goverment being here. Look at our pockets of communites that do not fear anything (Gay and Lesbian, Asian, Black etc) Mayor Fenty has hired Fire Cheif Dennis Rubin to destroy probably the world most aggressive and diverse Fire Departments. Thanks again Mayor Fenty, without you we are something, with you we are......!!!!!
I’m In! Lets do it DC Fire. It’s time to take a stand against Rubin and this corrupt administration. We should show up in numbers. Baltimore is right up the road. Lets Do this. Show the "Fire Service" we ain't having it in DC.
Asst. Fire Chief Shultz is my guess the one behind the lynching. There are the good ole boyz club out there that don't even have a CPR card let alone an NREMT card. I thought one of the requirements for being on a rescue is to have a valid emt card. Guess certain officers don't have to comply cuz they one of Larry's boyz. In charge of a RESCUE and no cpr or emt card. Go figure
Don’t know AFC Shultz but we know Dennis. Had bets he wouldn’t last in DC.
Been looking for this article told about it from friends in Fairfax FD & NYFD. Search the Statter 911 (no link.) Any reason why???? Also, where is the timeline… with those well-discussed documents? Is there a link to any of the recorded phone conversations and memorialized meetings? This is better than the Supreme Court Issue. Thanks for the info WCP and BOLD reporting style.
What about the Rubin DUI. Is that a rumor or just pre-mature fact. See what you can dig up on this one. Also, don't forget about the donated firetruck, the emt cheating scandal, the MFRI tapes that show's how incompetent our F/F Medics are. How about are paramedic engine companies that when on a Box alarm there's about 5 PEC's not available because there on another call not related to EMS. Should I go on? Mr. Rubin is MR. Fenty's puppet. When Fenty's gone, say goodbye to Rubin and friends. As for Statter, they got to Dave too!
I know how he feels. I was treated the same way for bringing to light things that were wrong in the Office of Youth Programs. I was dedicated and then I was forced out. If I didn't think that it would take money away from the programs I would sue.
The timeline is linked above. You can find it here:
Cherkis is your cover up for any awards? I saw the WJLA story was nominated for the 51st Emmy Awards Investigative Report – Series (nominations)
Good Luck Jay Korff
DC Fire Dept. wants them to recind their nomination of the emmy for fear it will hinder there case against Mr. Boyer and Mr. Pennington. I've also learned that members of the Homeland Sercuity Division have been riding on EMS units to ensure fairness and are being backfield by untrained members on specialty units. Doesn't taxpayer money grants go to the Homeland security for their training so they will be on their unit if something occurs. Members of the Homeland Security Division should remain on their respective peice in the event a technical rescue happens, which is alot lately. Taxpayer's money is used to train and equip these indaviduals to handle the tasks so make sure these units are staffed with trained personel. Make sure all officers are trained as emt's as well. There are individuals that are officers that don't even have a cpr card let alone an emt card that are riding on these specialty units. Get with the program damn it!
this was a good story, if a bit tedious, though i guess that mirrors the tedium that this guy unfortunately has to live with. it's another in a long line of disillusioning stories brought to light here. thanks for the reporting.

but that's not necessarily the main reason i'm commenting today. The main reason I felt compelled to comment, is arthur mboue. can we please delete that comment? it doesn't make any sense whatsoever, and what little sense i can make of it is pretty offensive. not that i'm speaking out for censorship, but if it's nonsensical AND offensive, can we make a special exception? I mean, can we chalk it up as a win for basic sentence structure and grammatical rules? coherent thoughts?please?
Do you see a gauge on the hydrant while he has it opened. That's why nobody knows how much water is in theese hydrants. A pitot gauge is needed to determine how much a hydrant will flow. They just turn on the hydrant and if water comes out, move to the nest. Has anything come about with the Boyer case yet? Wait until the backround checks come back. I heard a certain Asst. Fire Chief was arrested in his early volunteer days for arson.

Bowyer hears an emergency called over the radio for a man in distress at 4308 Jay St. NE. Bowyer’s crew is one block away. They go on checking hydrants. They do not take the call.

Enough said....

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