Adrian H. Thompson was announced as the mayor's choice for D.C. fire chief yesterday, as the 32-year firefighter and onetime ambulance staffer was selected to command a department struggling to balance its firefighting and emergency medical duties.
At his weekly news briefing yesterday, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) introduced Thompson, a D.C. native, as "someone who's of the highest quality, who rose up through the ranks of our department." Williams also referred to Thompson's having the support of the city's powerful firefighters union.
"At this moment in our history . . . it makes sense to have someone who's homegrown and has the respect of the folks in fire suppression, which is the heart of the department," Williams said.
Thompson, 52, was second in command to Fire Chief Ronnie Few. He was appointed interim chief of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department after Few tendered his resignation this spring. Thompson's nomination now goes to the D.C. Council for confirmation.
If confirmed, Thompson will take over a department that has a history of problems in emergency medical services, including staffing shortages and ambulances that often take more than 11 minutes to respond to critical calls.
Yesterday, Thompson gave few specifics about his plans to improve medical services. He said he needed to study a proposal by one of his subordinates to add 14 full-time ambulances to the city's fleet at a cost of $11.3 million.
Thompson said he supported giving equal benefits to paramedics and emergency medical technicians, who complain that their retirement system is worse than that for firefighters.
He also said he supports "one-plus-one" staffing, which would put one emergency medical technician and one more skilled paramedic in every ambulance. The city's ambulances now either have two paramedics or two EMTs, depending on the level of care needed. EMTs cannot do certain medical procedures that paramedics can do.
According to his resume, Thompson has worked on fire engines and ambulances and was trained as an EMT in the 1970s.
Thompson already is running into trouble from the EMS side of department. Kenneth Lyons, who heads the union that represents EMS workers, said he believes that Thompson will not do enough to improve those services -- which have become an increasingly large part of the department's job in recent years.
Lyons said Williams's comment that fire suppression was the heart of the department is "a direct insult."
Although Thompson is supported by the city's 1,250-member firefighters union, its support could be at risk over the next several months as he begins to make millions of dollars in mandated budget cuts.
Thompson said one way to save money, for example, is to "consolidate" certain firehouses. That means that only one crew of firefighters would occupy a firehouse that has both a fire engine and a ladder truck. But only one piece of equipment could be used at any time.
The firefighters union is adamantly opposed to consolidation. Thompson said yesterday that that other proposals were being considered and that consolidation was "one of our last alternatives."