By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Two leading candidates for mayor called for the resignation or firing of D.C. Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson yesterday in light of a report detailing widespread breakdowns in the city's emergency response system following the fatal attack on retired New York Times reporter David E. Rosenbaum.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) offered a restrained response to the requests, telling reporters that "we will have to wait and see" about Thompson's future.
In a D.C. Council chamber yesterday, Thompson listened as Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby highlighted key findings that concluded an "unacceptable chain of failure" by the city's Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, the police department and Howard University Hospital in providing medical attention to Rosenbaum. During an after-dinner stroll in his Upper Northwest neighborhood in early January, Rosenbaum was assaulted, but firefighters and emergency medical technicians who responded concluded he was intoxicated because he was vomiting and smelled of alcohol.
The assessment that he was "just another drunk," Willoughby told the council's Committee on the Judiciary, precipitated a chain of failures. Rosenbaum, who had been beaten over the head with a pipe and robbed, died two days later.
As Thompson faced questions from council members, Ward 4 council member and mayoral contender Adrian M. Fenty (D), who did not attend the hearing, circulated a letter he had sent to Williams asking him to terminate the fire chief immediately.
"The response to Mr. Rosenbaum's need for emergency care was wholly unacceptable and suggests an agency in disarray," Fenty wrote.
Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, also a mayoral candidate, questioned Thompson about the difference between the inspector general's findings and a report Thompson issued in January stating "everything possible" was done to care for Rosenbaum.
After the hearing, Cropp said she told Williams that day that she wanted the chief to resign. "Most people make mistakes, but when you find mistakes this serious, it cannot be kept hidden," Cropp said.
Thompson said that last week he had fired one of the emergency medical technicians involved in the botched response and is determining disciplinary action for other first responders.
"Some corrective actions have been taken, and yes, there will be more to follow," Thompson told council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the judiciary committee.
Thompson criticized some managers and workers in his department: "We have leaders who refuse to lead and so-called followers who believe the rules do not apply to them at all."
Given the inspector general's concern of an "impaired work ethic," council members said they lacked confidence in the agency and its leadership.
"The report came out [last week] and the mayor is still talking about 'We're going to take action,' " said Ward 3 council member Kathy Patterson (D), who represents the neighborhood where Rosenbaum lived. "When is it going to be past tense?"
Thompson said he hasn't spoken with Williams since Willoughby released the scathing 67-page report Friday, and he declined to say whether he would resign. "If my stepping down is going to improve the situation, which I don't believe it will . . . you'll just have another person as fire chief, and what is he or she going to do to stop the situation from occurring again?" he said after the hearing.
Before he began his testimony, the chief apologized to Marcus Rosenbaum, the brother of the victim, who was in the audience.
"The fact these people could act this way demonstrates a lack of clear leadership at the top," Marcus Rosenbaum said afterward.
Patterson asked how many firefighters lack emergency response training, as the lead firefighter in the Rosenbaum case was not certified. Thompson said 56 firefighters lacked certification, explaining that those who joined the department before 1987 were exempt from the requirement.