While watching the news the other night, I heard D.C. Fire Chief Theodore Coleman admit that his ambulance drivers get only two hours of geographic training before being sent on calls. Initially, I couldn't believe that I had heard correctly, butthen I realized that this was just another example of the incompetent political regime that Mayor Barry brought with him when he came into power.

When I was a D.C. firefighter, all employees were required to know the number and location of each firebox, where the fire hydrants for the boxes were located and the routes by street name to each firebox. Without this knowledge, we could not become permanent employees.

Since then, a different administration has come in, and it has brought with it lowered expectations of performance. This explains why the ambulance drivers have been unable to arrive in sufficient time to avoid senseless fatalities. When you hear remarks such as: "They should hire pizza drivers for ambulance drivers," you know the situation is bad.

Mayor Barry and Chief Coleman have been promising to effect positive changes in the operations of the D.C. Fire Department for years, yet they have shortened the training of the firefighters in critical areas, as evidenced by the two-hour crash course in D.C. geography.

It's evident at this point that the Barry administration is incapable of following through with its promises of a better fire department. It's time for Chief Coleman to step down. Let someone who really knows how to run a fire department take over.

You can't save a life if you can't get there.



The D.C. Fire Department's Ambulance Service should take a cue from the London taxi system.

An aspiring taxi driver there is required to spend a year bicycling around the streets, soaking up knowledge of the city's addresses. Following that year-long immersion in the minute details of London's complex geography, the prospective driver must pass a rigorous test of his ability to reach -- quickly and safely -- any address in that city.

If knowledge of the city's streets is that important to a London hackie, how much more vital it is to an ambulance driver in D.C.