WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Councilmember Jim Graham announced Friday he will hold a hearing on September 16 to determine what went wrong at the fire last Wednesday night at the Chain Bridge Road mansion of former DC Board of Education president Peggy Cooper Cafritz. The Ward 1 Councilmember is trying to determine why it took the DC Fire & EMS Department almost two hours to establish a reliable water supply to combat the fire.
Mayor Adrian Fenty has asked the fire chief and the DC Water & Sewer Authority (WASA) for reports this week on what happened and how to correct the issues.
If this sounds familiar, it should. In late 2007, Councilmember Graham held a series of hearings looking at the serious water supply issues that became apparent during a four-alarm fire that destroyed an apartment building in Adams Morgan on October 1 of that year. The Fenty administration also ordered an investigative report into the problems that occurred during that fire.
So what happened to the report?
It might be easier to tell you what didn't happen. During the 2007 hearings Jim Graham's Committee on Public Works and the Environment never heard from the man who headed the investigation into what went wrong at the fire on Adams Mill Road. In fact, in a December 10, 2007 hearing shortly after the report was released, the fire department didn't present the report's findings. During that hearing there was no mention or discussion of the report, despite the report's ominous warning that the water system in the Nation's Capital was "questionable".
It appears many of the same issues brought up in the 2007 report came into play at the July 29th fire on Chain Bridge Road.
The report also greatly conflicted with a report released at the same time by the DC Water & Sewer Authority (WASA). During the December 10 hearing WASA's general manager presented some of the findings from its report.
The investigation of the 2007 fire
Within hours after the 2007 fire, there was finger pointing between Chief Dennis Rubin and officials at WASA, including its general manager at the time, Jerry Johnson. The controversy surrounded who was responsible for the inadequate water flow at the scene of the fire.
Graham, who witnessed the fire, was also critical of WASA.
The tension carried over into a hearing Graham held three-days later. In that hearing, Chief Rubin called the executives who head WASA "uncooperative".
After the 2007 fire, the city engaged the services of consultant and former Shreveport, Louisiana fire chief J. Gordon Routley to lead a team looking into the fire and related water problems. The DC Fire & EMS Department says the report cost $12,000.
On November 16, 2007 Mayor Adrian Fenty released Routley's 76-page report. On the same day, WASA released an executive summary of its own report. The two reports came up with greatly different conclusions.
Routley wrote that both WASA and the fire department had to do a better job of handling the water supply needed for larger fires. The report was critical of WASA's response and the information it provided at the scene of the fire. It also had serious questions about the water system's reliability.
By contrast, WASA's report found that the water system around the Adams Morgan fire met National Fire Protection Association guidelines. The WASA report, looking at the city's smallest water mains, concluded there was only one occupied portion of the city where water flow was a significant problem.
The 2007 council hearings
A little more than three-weeks after the reports were released, Councilmember Graham held a hearing on the Adams Morgan fire. Gordon Routley was in Washington and was to be part of the panel testifying before the committee. 9NEWS NOW, aware of Routley's scheduled testimony, watched the hearing. There was no appearance by Routley, or any discussion of his report.