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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RUBIN: The department responded to a rather large building fire at the Georgetown Public Library on April 30, 2007 -- my departmental seniority at this time was one paycheck. When Engine 5 arrived on location, there was heavy fire showing through the roof with roof collapse in progress. The companies worked diligently to quickly extinguish this tremendous blaze; however, we were faced with some adverse situations during the fire fight. The two closest fire hydrants were not operational and of course the media had that bit of information before I had it. Next, I learned that we had not flush-tested hydrants in 10 years or so and the "neglect bill" came due.

After this event was over, we started a comprehensive fire hydrant flush-testing program. As the summer was winding up, the department had flush-tested 10,200 fire hydrants and worked with the Water Authority to repair the out-of-service devices that were noted. Next, we have entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Water Authority to flush-test the hydrants twice a year (spring and fall) with the authority providing the flow-testing of the system every two years. Soon, hydrants will be marked based on their flow capability and flush-tested twice per year.

It is the department's sincerest hope that the fire hydrant system becomes a well-maintained system in the very near future. Finally, we will be attempting to regain our ISO Class 1 city rating, so the ever-stressful fire hydrant journey did serve a great purpose.

WERNER: Since DC is considered a target-rich environment for terrorists, what does that mean to you and the DCFD?

RUBIN: I think that the Firehouse® readers would be amazed by the amount of planning, preparation and response that this department puts into this issue. We handled nearly 500 events directly related protecting the homeland to include events at large federal buildings, demonstrations and marches as well as a regular response to protect the President of the United States while he takes off and lands by helicopter anywhere in the district. In several departments that I have worked for, the arrival of the President was a major event that took a lot of planning and preparation. It is the same for DC, except he lives here, meaning that we do that same process several times per day, most any day. Sorry to be vague with this response, but everyone in our profession will fully understand why that is a must. Lastly, we have a very prominent place working within the fusion center to keep the department updated on the best intelligence possible.

WERNER: While I was in DC, several DC firefighters explained to me that they were excited about the positive press for the DCFD. How have you been able to address that and what are the positives that DCFD is engaged in today?

RUBIN: The District of Columbia Fire & EMS Department is an outstanding operation with a few places to improve how we operate. Everyone is working hard to make this agency the best that it can be, so the positive stories are many, based on the great work that we are doing in the streets of this city. I have been honored to report on several occasions that members of this department have saved human life during mass-casualty events, such as the "Unifest" MCI, where 31 folks became instant victims as a drug-crazed motor vehicle operator decided to drive though the crowd. Further, we have had about a half-dozen rescues of citizens from various building fires.

There is one rescue that sticks out in my memory where companies responded to a working fire on the second floor of an apartment with two young boys trapped and left alone asleep. The fire was a block away from Engine 32's quarters in Southeast, so the response time was excellent and the company made a great grab of the two children.

Those are all easy events to have the local media cover and produce a favorable story. Great departments always seem to get good news coverage. We will continue to work to get the story out about the wonderful work of DC F & EMS and it makes the negative stories less painful when they do inevitably happen.

WERNER: After your appointment as DC fire chief, was the job what you expected?

RUBIN: The fire chief's job in the district is all that I thought that it would be in every way. The executive staff members are the best collection of folks that I have had the pleasure to work with in the past 36 years. I can say that it has been a very pleasant surprise with the talents and strengths that are in our department. In late fall, we are off to develop a five-year strategic plan for the department. All levels and interests within the agency will be represented. Chief Alan Brunacini -- no surprise there -- along with Chief Charlie Dickinson of the U.S. Fire Administration and Dr. Burton Clark of the National Fire Academy will be guiding us through the planning process, helping to determine what the next five years will hold for the department. I am truly looking forward to this process.