Atlanta Fire Chief Tapped for D.C. Post

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Atlanta Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin is coming to the District to head the troubled Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, government sources said last night.

Rubin, 54, a former D.C. firefighter, would replace Adrian H. Thompson, whose four-year tenure was marred by the department's bungled response to the fatal mugging in January 2006 of journalist David E. Rosenbaum. Rubin was among several finalists for the job, including the acting chief, Brian K. Lee, a District native and 21-year veteran of the department.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) is expected to formally announce Rubin's selection at a news conference this morning. Thompson was ousted in December. During the mayoral campaign, Fenty repeatedly said that he would find a new chief.

Fenty would not comment last night. The appointment would be subject to confirmation by the D.C. Council.

Rubin handed in his resignation in Atlanta yesterday, saying his last day in that city will be April 13. He had headed that department since December 2003.

"Although it was a difficult decision, I have decided to move and accept a position elsewhere," Rubin wrote to Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin in a letter dated yesterday. The letter did not specify where Rubin was going. He could not be reached last night for comment.

According to government sources, Fenty also plans to name Darrell Darnell, a former official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as director of the city's Emergency Management Agency. That puts three new leaders in charge of the departments that would be called upon in the event of a terrorist attack or other disaster; one of Fenty's first moves was to name veteran police commander Cathy L. Lanier police chief. She is awaiting confirmation.

Lanier's appointment drew some criticism from community activists because she is a white commander replacing a black chief in a majority-black city. Rubin, also white, would replace a black chief.

The shake-up at the top of the fire department comes at a time of low morale among emergency responders. Residents have been complaining for years about long response times to fires and other emergencies, and some city officials want to create a separate agency that would handle emergency medical response.

Rubin has worked in fire and rescue services for more than 30 years, according to the Atlanta fire department's Web site. He began his career as a firefighter in Fairfax County, then moved on to other jobs as a firefighter and commander in the District; Mesa, Ariz.; and Chesterfield, Va.

Rubin became a fire chief in 1996, when he took over the department in Dothan, Ala., a city of about 60,000 residents. He moved in 2001 to Norfolk, where he created controversy during a one-year run as chief when he allowed a religious group to put Bibles in 15 firehouses; he later had them removed and apologized.

He left Norfolk to become city manager and public safety director in Dothan. Then he headed to Atlanta, where he oversaw the day-to-day operations of fire, rescue and life safety services.

"He didn't do anything necessarily good or necessarily bad," Atlanta City Council member C.T. Martin said. "He didn't do much to get your attention one way or the other."

The Atlanta fire department has 960 members and a budget of about $56.4 million, according to the department's Web site. The District department is significantly larger, with about 2,000 employees and a budget of about $169 million.

Besides his time in Fairfax and the District, Rubin has other local ties. He holds a bachelor's degree in fire administration from the University of Maryland and an associate's degree in fire science from Northern Virginia Community College, according to his biography.

Rubin has written dozens of technical articles and a book, "Rube's Rules for Survival," about firefighters' experiences. He also lectures throughout the country on fire issues.

The job in Washington has many challenges, outlined in chilling detail in the inspector general's report on Rosenbaum's death. The retired New York Times reporter and editor was mugged while on an evening walk near his Northwest Washington home. But paramedics failed to recognize his severe head wound and treated him as a drunk. They then took him to an out-of-the way hospital that was convenient for a paramedic who had to run a personal errand. Thompson initially played down the mistakes that were made but reversed course as the investigation continued.

The Rosenbaum family has filed a $20 million suit against the city.

Thompson also took over the fire department in troubled times. Then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) gave him the job after learning that the previous chief, Ronnie Few, had submitted a résumé that listed a college degree he did not have and a "Chief of the Year" award from a labor union that gives no such honor.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company