Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has urged D.C. Fire Chief Donald Edwards to step down, concerned that he hasn't moved fast enough to turn around the troubled department, a source in the mayor's administration said last night.
The mayor, who was in St. Louis yesterday visiting relatives, is expected to meet with Edwards today to discuss the matter, the source said. An announcement could come this week.
Edwards, a 30-year department veteran who was appointed chief two years ago, has come under attack in recent months for failing to spend money earmarked to replace faltering equipment and to recruit personnel more aggressively. Last month, D.C. Council members and a union leader chastised him for not following through on safety recommendations made 15 months ago. The department has suffered four firefighter deaths in the past two years.
The administration source said Williams had confidence in Edwards as a firefighter but believed that his administrative abilities were lacking, as was a "sense of urgency" to turn the department around.
At least twice in the past month, Williams has met privately in his office with Edwards to discuss stepping down, the source said. But early last week, Edwards said he had no intention of retiring. He also said his discussions with the mayor led him to believe he had his support.
Edwards could not be reached for comment last night. "We have no further comment until Monday morning," said fire department spokesman Lt. Brendan Burke.
In July 1997, Edwards replaced Chief Otis J. Latin Sr., who left after four years to head Fort Lauderdale's fire department. Latin was credited with improving training, but the firefighters union publicly complained about him, particularly that he failed to prevent budget cuts. Rank-and-file members also resented that he had not come from the department's ranks and was hired from the outside.
Edwards, who grew up in the District and graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School, was hailed as an insider, someone who understood the needs and problems of the firefighters.
But the honeymoon eventually ended, and department members continued to complain about faulty equipment, safety issues and morale.
"He could've done a better job, but I would still vote for him to stay," a firefighter at a fire station in Northwest Washington said last night. Another firefighter said Edwards "inherited a troubled department. They're looking for a miracle. . . . He did the best he could with what he had to work with."
In October, Edwards defended his tenure before the D.C. Council's Committee of the Judiciary, which oversees the Fire and Emergency Medical Services department.
"This year, the department has made significant strides in improving the condition of facilities, increasing the number of firefighting apparatus and upgrading communications technology," he said.
Edwards also came under attack last month for owning a home in Adelphi as well as renting an apartment in the District. A 1989 law requires that D.C. cabinet members and agency heads live in the city.
Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6), a critic of Edwards, applauded the mayor's position.
"I think administratively the chief was not doing what needed to be done," she said. "The failure to purchase much-needed equipment when he had the money to purchase it. His inability to make good on counsel directives . . . his failure to aggressively recruit."
Staff writer Emily Wax contributed to this report.
CAPTION: D.C. Fire Chief Donald Edwards