Anna Martinez thought she was fulfilling her civic duty when she reported to the D.C. government that her 1-year-old daughter — playing in a city playground — had fallen through the rotting hole of a wooden firetruck.
Instead Martinez found herself plunged into another kind of hole — a black hole of bureaucratic inertia.
Concerned that another child would be injured, Martinez wrote the city a series of polite — then not-so-polite — emails when, two months later, the broken blue-and-red truck remained at Walter Pierce Park in Adams Morgan, which draws legions of youngsters.
In the meantime, she said, at least one more child was hurt.
“I was just so frustrated,” said Martinez, 40, a policy analyst for the federal government.
Once a symbol of government dysfunction, D.C. leaders like to tout city agencies as beacons of responsive efficiency. Yet, the tortured saga of the Adams Morgan firetruck, which began in May and was still burbling this week, evokes a time when the District was infamous for struggles to remove snow, pick up trash and fill potholes.
Even as they promised Martinez action, D.C. officials allowed eight weeks to pass without attending to the firetruck — that is, until Martinez contacted Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s office.
“Can we dispatch this, as it is HOT. We received a call from a Mayor’s Office,” an assistant maintenance services manager at the Department of General Services, wrote a colleague Aug. 3, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post.
This week, after months of inaction, city workers removed the firetruck, without telling the public or parks officials and causing confusion within their own agency about its whereabouts — to the point that the city reported it stolen to police.
“It’s super frustrating that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” said Mindy Moretti, former president of Friends of Walter Pierce Park. “It’s kind of a throwback to when these kinds of things were always happening.”
Asked why it took more than two months to attend to the truck, Kenneth Diggs, a DGS spokesman, answered via email that the agency “was planning to repair the firetruck as part of our routine summer work efforts.”
Martinez’s voyage to the inner recesses of the D.C. government began over Memorial Day weekend, when her daughter, Lola, was playing in the park.
“All of a sudden, she started screaming,” Martinez recalled by phone. Her daughter’s leg had fallen into a hole that had opened up in the wood plank in the firetruck’s rear. “She was freaking out. We had to pull her leg out and she was all scraped up.”
Martinez said she does not typically contact the government to report a problem. In this case, though, she was worried that another child could be injured.
On May 31, she reported by email to DGS what had happened to her daughter and that “we’d like to avoid that happening to other kids.”
What Martinez did not know, and what no one told her, was that another mother had contacted the city about the same problem two weeks earlier.
Michael Flood, a DGS official, replied on May 31 that her request had been “forwarded to our grounds unit.”
“I hope your daughter is well,” Flood wrote. “We will work to get this issue resolved immediately.”
At 6:37 a.m. the following day, Martinez was among the recipients of an email from Ricardo Eley, DGS’s safety and health manager. Eley promised to “send our Certified Playground Inspector to inspect the playground.”
Nearly three weeks later, Martinez asked city officials what was taking so long, noting in an email that the firetruck was “in the same damaged condition.”
And then, nothing.
On June 28, Martinez wrote another email, pointing out that “I did not receive a response to my follow-up email from a week ago.”
“It has been nearly one month since my daughter fell on the playground structure and I lodged my concern,” she wrote. “The damage and the safety risk is still there.”
Three hours later, Eley notified her that he would “check with the DGS Maintenance Unit that is responsible for this type of work” and promised a response by the following day.
Eley kept his word, writing the next morning that the agency’s “Maintenance Grounds Unit” would be “contacting you with information regarding the repairs of the playground.”
“You can always contact me for assistance,” added Eley, who referred questions from The Washington Post about the exchanges to his agency’s spokesman.
Martinez heard nothing for three days, then wrote Eley that her mother had “witnessed another child get injured” on the firetruck.
“I find this simply unacceptable,” Martinez wrote before informing Eley that she had calls “into the Mayor and Councilmember for Ward 1 to see if something can be done.
“When I reached out on May 31,” she reminded him, “I was told by email that this would be taken care of immediately.”
An hour later, Shinada Phillips, Bowser’s Ward 1 liaison, told Eley by email that her “biggest concern” is that more children would be hurt.
At that moment, agency officials shifted into higher gear.
Angela Bradley, a DGS service center representative, turned the repair work over to a contractor “for immediate assistance,” pointing out that “the Community has now reached out to Ward 1 office.”
Someone covered the firetruck in yellow “Caution” tape.
And then, on Aug. 10, it vanished.
On Monday, after hearing from neighborhood residents, Jackie Stanley, a DGS official, tweeted that neither her agency nor the parks department had removed the truck. “We are looking into it & will file a @DCPoliceDept report,” Stanley tweeted.
A police investigator traveled to the scene, and filed a report (under “victim” the officer wrote “DC Department of Recreation and Parks”).
Then it turned out that DGS had removed it.
A new truck is on the way, city officials said.
“Six to eight weeks,” a DGS spokesman promised. “If not sooner. That’s the longest it will take.”
Start the clock.