Mayor Adrian M. Fenty yesterday named Atlanta Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin to head the D.C. fire department, charging a veteran firefighter who once worked in the city with reforming one of its often-troubled agencies.
"We will work hard to make our fire department the best fire department and [emergency medical services] agency possible," Chief Rubin said during a press conference at the Unified Communications Center in Southeast. "We will work hard to raise the bar in every aspect."
He will replace interim Fire Chief Brian K. Lee, whom Mr. Fenty chose to take over the duties of embattled Chief Adrian H. Thompson in December.
Chief Rubin, 54, a D.C. native, worked in the District's fire department in the 1970s and has worked in departments in Fairfax; Mesa, Ariz.; Dothan, Ala.; and Norfolk.
He was fire chief in Dothan from 1996 to 2001 and in Norfolk from 2001 to 2002. He served as Dothan's city manager from 2002 to 2003 before accepting the Atlanta fire chief position.
"He brings a vast amount of fire and rescue experience back to the District of Columbia," said Mr. Fenty, a Democrat.
The D.C. Council must confirm the nomination. Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, which has oversight of the fire department, expressed support for Mr. Fenty's choice.
"Chief Rubin has a national reputation, brings a lot of experience and is an excellent choice," Mr. Mendelson said.
Still, Mr. Fenty's selection will be scrutinized during the hearing process.
In Atlanta, a news report indicated that Chief Rubin was criticized for favoritism recently after administering no internal discipline to a top aide who was found asleep and smelling of alcohol in a fire department car.
Chief Rubin said yesterday that the January incident was a "closed case."
"It's really much ado about nothing," he said.
Three lawsuits filed by white officers in the Atlanta department accuse Chief Rubin of racial discrimination in hiring and promotions.
Chief Rubin would not comment in detail on the lawsuits yesterday.
"It shows balance and fairness," he said. "We'll see what happens in a court of law."
The District is embroiled in a similar lawsuit. About two dozen white captains claim promotions dating back to 2002 under Chief Thompson disproportionately favored lesser-qualified black officers. The lawsuit has been amended to include more recent promotions, and a trial date has been scheduled for May 1 in U.S. District Court.
"The department is sort of a nightmare of reverse discrimination," said James Maloney, the D.C. lawyer representing the captains in the lawsuit. "If we've got a chief coming in who's got all these allegations against him -- maybe they're untrue, and I hope they're untrue -- it probably bodes ill for this department."
Chief Rubin said he was aware of the $20 million negligence lawsuit against the District and Howard University Hospital filed by the family of journalist David E. Rosenbaum, who died on Jan. 6, 2006, after he was beaten and robbed while walking near his Northwest home.
Chief Rubin touted his reform efforts, implemented in Atlanta's once-struggling system, as evidence that he can help turn around the D.C. department.
He said he will look at "the options on the table" for separating the emergency medical services (EMS) division from the fire department, but he asked for time to analyze other methods of reform.
Mr. Fenty pledged in his mayoral campaign last year to create a separate EMS agency but later said he would not proceed with any reforms until he hired a permanent fire chief.
"We are committed to making sure we explore every option to reform and improve our fire and EMS department," Mr. Fenty said yesterday.