City Desk

Mr. Mayor: Why Did You Flip-Flop on FEMS?

My apologies to anyone who's been trying to get a hold of me for the past hour. I've been too busy giving pageviews to the Washingtonian. For good reason, too. The mag's February issue has a 14-Web-page expose on the city's Fire and Emergency Medical Services (FEMS) department.

The investigative piece, which puts to shame even the windiest of City Paper cover stories on the word-count front, delves into the decadeslong dysfunction in the agency. The basic message is that the people responsible for your well-being if you suffer a stroke, heart attack, or some other calamity are demoralized, underpaid, and poorly regarded by their firefighting peers in this agency.

One of the story's strongest points is its accountability moment for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who in his 2006 campaign promised to separate out the emergency medical part of the agency from its firefighting component. Here's the mag's treatment of that question:

Since taking office in January 2007, Fenty not only has reneged on his campaign promise, but he hired as fire chief Dennis Rubin, a DC native adamant about keeping EMS within the fire department. Rubin said at his confirmation hearing that if EMS were separated from fire, he would refuse the job and return to Atlanta, where he was fire chief.

Fenty has never explained his reversal. E-mail and telephone requests to his office asking why he broke his campaign promise to separate EMS from the fire department have gone unanswered. Some observers suggest that the firefighters union pressured him; others think he backed off because he realized it would be too politically difficult. He also might have realized that separating EMS from fire likely would mean closing firehouses, triggering fierce opposition from the firefighters union and its supporters in Congress. Civilian EMS personnel remain bitterly disappointed by Fenty’s broken promise.

“No one wants to touch the EMS-separation issue,” says one former city official. “It’s a hot potato with a lot of politics involved.”

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