D.C. officials yesterday announced that D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services will consolidate its uniformed and civilian work forces, the culmination of a 30-year effort to create a unified department.
"The absolute direction the mayor provided -- even before I got here -- is we've got to become one department," fire department Chief Dennis L. Rubin said. "And probably the only way to do that is to remove the barriers of pay, of retirement, of rank structure."
Under the new model, new employees will be trained as firefighters -- including those who intend to work primarily as emergency medical providers.
The city's 230 paramedics and medical technicians over the next two to four weeks will get basic training in all-hazards operations, which involves basic safety measures at emergency scenes, officials said. And roughly 200 firefighters will be trained as medical technicians.
The plan will put the entire force on a single pay scale and make medical providers eligible for the same retirement benefits as firefighters.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's proposed fiscal 2009 budget includes $4.9 million to cover pension parity, according to the fire department.
"I think that it's safe to say that it not only will be better for our employees but better for public safety in the District," said Mr. Fenty, a Democrat.
The move comes just over a year after The Washington Times reported that Mr. Fenty was backing off promises he made as mayoral candidate to remove emergency medical service functions from the fire department.
In August 2006, when asked whether he thought the agency should remain under the fire department's administration, the then Ward 4 D.C. Council member said: "The short answer to your question is no."
Early last year, Mr. Fenty said he did not immediately make the change because he was exploring options.
For more than 30 years, city leaders have pursued a plan to integrate the uniformed fire service with the civilian EMS agency. Supporters said firefighters, who are trained as emergency medical technicians, can respond to critical emergencies faster than ambulances can.
The restructuring of the department was one of dozens of recommendations by a fire and EMS task force created as part of a settlement with the family members of slain journalist David Rosenbaum.
The family had sued the city and Howard University for improper care after Mr. Rosenbaum was beaten and robbed near his Northwest home in 2006 but dropped the lawsuit in exchange for the creation of the task force.
The D.C. Fire Department comprises nearly 40 transport units and 33 engine companies and responds to about 127,000 calls a year.
Republished with permission of The Washington Times.