Dennis L. Rubin, DC's Fire Chief

Editor's note: This month's Chief Concerns column is a departure from our usual format, in that it takes the form of an interview with one nationally prominent fire chief conducted by another. Dennis L. Rubin, who has been chief of the District of...


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WERNER: What did you learn while serving as a city manager and how did it help shape your fire service career?

RUBIN: The city manager's position was another example of a great opportunity. I don't speak about it much, but I learned a lot more about the broader operation of government from storm-water drainage to retirement systems to traffic control. This collection of experiences allowed me to take a different look/approach at what government does and should do at the local level. Oddly enough, I ran the city government just like I ran the fire-rescue department and all seemed to work just fine. As I mentioned earlier, vivid experiences somehow find their way into topics for my Firehouse® articles. There are seven topics in a series entitled "Messages from the Dark Side." That's right from my life as a city manager exposed for all to see on the pages of my beloved magazine. By the way, the mayor and city council didn't get the "dark side" reference.

WERNER: What was it like returning to DC and what is the comparison from when you first started, then upon returning as chief?

RUBIN: When I was growing up, all I wanted to do was to work for DCFD. Fairfax County was great, but DCFD would not hire anyone during the Vietnam War years, so it was off to the county until the district called. Soon after the national military draft lottery was held, DC was hiring qualified folks with high lottery numbers and mine was 321 (Sept. 3). So, it was off to DCFD and the rest is history. Returning to the department that I left in 1979 has been a super experience!

In many ways, operationally, DCFD is still the best, so I think. After a month or so back in DC, I was working late one night. A "box alarm" (an old holdover from our street fire alarm box system) was sounded for a very familiar address in the Trinidad section of town. As I drove toward the well-involved rowhouse, the operation made an old fire chief smile! We had two supply lines to the front of the building along with three attack lines and three ladders up to the front of the address. Just about the same complement was supporting the operation in the rear alley -- 54 of America's bravest firefighters were making quick work of this once-threatening dwelling fire.

By the time I arrived, about six minutes into the operation, the reports were being transmitted to the incident commander, "primary search is negative." Just another day at work and everyone knew their role and performed very well. I am glad to be home once again. Last note, our executive staff and general staff are the best I have ever worked with and they make it a pleasure to report to duty every day.

WERNER: As DC's fire chief, what are the biggest challenges ahead of the DCFD?

RUBIN: The most looming challenge that we have before us is the improvement of our emergency medical service system. The first day at work had me meeting with a prominent district family to express the agency's sorrow over the loss of their loved one and to take responsibility for our actions or lack of actions at an emergency medical call that we did not perform properly. The next day, day number two at work, I was appointed to lead the Mayor's EMS Task Force that was comprised of many of America's most renowned EMS leaders. Also, there were several attorneys, family members of the deceased gentleman and other city agencies attending the EMS Task Force meetings. After six months of effort, we developed a leading-edge EMS system report that has six major recommendations that represent about 50 or so mandated changes. Please refer to our website for detailed information about this process and our status (www.dc.gov). This is an exciting time and opportunity for emergency medical services in the District of Columbia; we are committed to sweeping changes.

WERNER: Can you talk about the DC fire hydrant issue and the status?