Potomac Electric Power Co. officials, responding to what they said was a public impression that they did not respond quickly enough to an electrical fire Saturday at the Washington Hilton Hotel, said yesterday that their crews were not asked to cut the building's power until more than an hour after the blaze erupted.
"Public safety is as much our concern as the fire department's and we acted with our greatest speed," said Pepco spokeswoman Nancy Moses. She said Pepco did not learn the fire was in electrical gear until 45 minutes after the blaze was reported at 10:31 a.m. and that fire officials did not ask for power to be cut until 11:44 a.m.
In a news conference Tuesday, D.C. Fire Chief Theodore Coleman faulted Pepco for not cutting power sooner, saying that firefighters could not attack the blaze in a subbasement electrical vault because of the danger of electrocution.
No guests were injured in the fire at the 1,154-room luxury hotel. The next day, however, another fire in the same vault injured nine workers, and Hilton officials have announced the hotel will be closed until Sept. 1 for electrical repairs.
"We are responding to a public impression that we were lax in getting to the scene when in fact our available resources were there" by 11:30 a.m., Moses said.
Fire department spokesman Ray Alfred said yesterday that he did not know when fire officials ordered the power shut down. He said Coleman "is willing to sit down with them [Pepco officials] and discuss all the concerns from this point forward, but we don't want to rehash old problems."
Moses said Pepco was notified of the blaze by the fire department at 10:44 a.m. when the power company was asked simply to "assist" with a fire at the Hilton.
Two minutes later a two-man Pepco work crew was dispatched to the hotel, at 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW, from where they were working at Fourth and Q streets NW, about 18 blocks away. The crew arrived about 11:10 a.m., Moses said, after driving through traffic as fast as they "legally" could.
The fire department called Pepco again at 11:16 a.m., Moses said, and that was "the first time we knew . . . it was internal and a major electrical fire."
She said that because the two-man crew could not by themselves shut down Pepco's six transformers located beneath the street ouside the hotel, five other Pepco crews were sent from 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the site of an electrical fire two days earlier. Those crews arrived at 11:30 a.m., Moses said.
At 11:44 a.m. the fire official in charge told the work crews he wanted power to be cut off on his order, Moses said. She said that order came at 11:53 a.m., and by 11:55 a.m. all electricity to the building was off.