Now, to top things off, city officials have directed on-duty firefighters from the District’s busiest station to park fire apparatus — engines running and lights on — in a high-crime neighborhood from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. This is being done in the name of crime deterrence.
So there the firefighters sit. They are trained to respond quickly to fires and medical emergencies. They are not armed with guns, and they do not wear protective vests or carry handcuffs or any of the equipment police count on to keep themselves safe while dealing with crime.
If danger strikes, their only recourse is to radio for help — just like regular citizens making phone calls to 911.
Or do the officials behind this ludicrous initiative imagine that firefighters will grab their axes and swing into action like movie superheroes (though there’s the small problem that axes are no match for bullets)? Turn their hoses on drug trafficking and other criminal activity that takes place around them?
Far-fetched? Yes, of course. And to be sure, the fallout from a confrontation or other dangerous incident would be ugly.
That is why so many of us in public safety are outraged that, here in the nation’s capital, city officials are deploying firefighters in such an ill-conceived manner.
I talk regularly to public safety leaders across North America. We share a commitment to providing the highest level of public safety while also protecting our first-responders.
Everyone I have spoken to about the decision to “soft post,” as the city calls it, firefighters and apparatus in a high-crime neighborhood has reacted with disbelief. There is agreement that this policy is dangerous and arbitrary. As a D.C. resident, this policy leaves me concerned about the safety of my neighbors.
It’s also important to note that a similar experiment has failed before. Communities have attempted to combine police and firefighter duties with dangerous, unacceptable results. Too often, the “public safety officer” model has led to role confusion in the field, adding a level of systemic danger that erodes public safety and puts the firefighters at additional risk of burns, injury and death.
That’s why every big city in the United States respects the separate and essential roles of firefighters and police — except those elected and appointed leaders of the District who have allowed this farce of a policy to move forward.
Strong public safety is the cornerstone of a successful community, and it requires investment and proper management. The appropriate response to crime in D.C. neighborhoods is to give the Metropolitan Police Department the staff and resources it needs and put firefighters back to work immediately doing the job they were trained to do.
The writer is president of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
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