The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, seeking to save more than $5 million, has proposed budget cuts that include halving the staff of one firehouse and taking paramedics off the crews of six fire engines, Deputy Mayor Margret Nedelkoff Kellems said last night.
All of the cuts recently proposed by Interim Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson still need the approval of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who has expressed support for them informally, Kellems said. Williams was traveling yesterday and was unavailable for comment, a spokesman said.
The cuts are part of the city government's attempt to make up a $323 million shortfall discovered this year. Thompson, whose appointment has not yet been considered by the D.C. Council, asked for extra time to make his cuts as painless as possible, Kellems said.
Kellems said Thompson wants to "consolidate" one firehouse, meaning that a firehouse with two pieces of equipment -- a fire engine and a ladder truck, or a fire engine and a rescue squad -- would be staffed by just one crew. One vehicle would then have to be left at the station during a fire.
Thompson also wants to suspend the department's paramedic engine company program, which sought to make up for slow ambulance response times by placing a paramedic on the crew of six fire engines. The paramedics from those companies would be transferred to the city's shorthanded ambulance fleet, Kellems said.
Third, Kellems said, Thompson has proposed placing fire inspectors -- who normally spend their days looking for fire code violations -- on the crews of fire engines. The inspectors would still make their rounds, she said, in the downtime between fire calls.
Kellems said she thought about eight fire inspectors would be affected. But the head of the department's training academy said he had been told to expect 17 people from the fire prevention section for a refresher course in firefighting. Department sources said fewer than 40 inspectors work in the city.
Kellems said the city had considered consolidating four firehouses instead of one. Fire department sources said other options had been considered, including deep cuts to the emergency medical services bureau.
The proposals described yesterday likely will be controversial. The D.C. firefighters union, which praised Thompson at his appointment, reacted angrily to the suggested cuts.
"I think it's devastating to the protection in the city," said union chief Raymond Sneed.
Kellems said Thompson has not chosen which firehouse would be consolidated, though she said Engine 1, at 2225 M St. NW, is a strong candidate. That station, which also houses Truck 2, has several fire companies nearby that could pick up the slack, she said.
The move to suspend the paramedic engine companies means the demise, at least temporarily, of a program once seen as heralding the future of the department, when firefighters and medics would be trained to work interchangeably. In fact, the expansion of the program, from six paramedic-equipped companies to 12, is listed on the mayor's scorecard, one of four measures on which the fire chief's performance could be judged.
One paramedic involved in the program said yesterday that he and his colleagues were devastated. "Almost half the medics that are participating are going to be gone in six months," he said.