Winter Blitz: Fixes on the way for ‘deplorable conditions’ at DC firehouses

Broken washer-dryers, sputtering HVAC systems and unlit rooms might not be what you’d expect to see inside a D.C. firehouse, but that’s exactly what Council member Charles Allen saw, calling the conditions “shocking.”

The D.C. Fire department is finally able to begin climbing out of a maintenance backlog that left many of the city’s firefighters living in questionable conditions.

Allen, the chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, wants action from D.C. Fire and EMS leaders after touring Engine Company 27 on Minnesota Avenue Northeast.

“Having to watch our men and women having to wash their clothes in a sink and then hang their clothes on the back of a chair with the oven door open to dry — it is just unacceptable,” said Allen, D-Ward 6, at the start of the oversight hearing.

With newly dedicated funding for maintenance through the Department of General Services, Deputy Fire Chief John Sollers said, the department can now prioritize necessary fixes in every D.C. firehouse.

DGS staff toured each firehouse with D.C. fire leaders to see the conditions and necessary maintenance for themselves, and they used the experience to establish a list of projects to tackle. Sollers called it the Winter Blitz.

“The Winter Blitz consists of about 237 work orders, most of which have been completed,” Sollers said. “They were prioritized by health and life safety items, fire suppression systems, HVAC systems and, beyond that, the priorities were developed with the captains of those companies.”

However, Sollers said, there are still 700 outstanding work orders, many of which are small problems that a homeowner might be able to handle themselves, such as replacing a light bulb or an air filter.

Sollers confirmed for Allen that until last year, DCFD employees were not permitted to complete those fixes themselves. Now, DGS is providing them with the materials, so the department can skip filing a work order and an inevitable delay.

“It’s not going to be a one-year fix. This is the beginning of the climb-out,” Sollers said.

Allen acknowledged the rocky history between D.C. Fire and DGS, which allowed the firehouses to fall into disrepair.

“They’re like your general contractor, and at times, the client needs to tell the contractor what needs to get done. That relationship doesn’t always feel like it exists because I can beat you up for the conditions in a fire station, in a house, but ultimately, it comes back to DGS to get these things done,” Allen said while expressing his confidence in DGS Director Keith Anderson.

“Some of our stations are deplorable,” said Dabney Hudson, president of the IAFF 36 D.C. fire union as he testified about firefighters who have had to live in the subpar conditions for years.

“A lot of our facilities are in desperate need of repair. A lot probably need to be gutted. I’m cautiously optimistic that the changes they’ve made will make improvements, but nothing is going to happen overnight,” Hudson said about the new agreement to expedite and prioritize maintenance requests.

Allen concluded the hearing by telling D.C. Fire Chief Gregory Dean, Sollers and the other leaders present that he plans to check in on the progress being made in repairing — and, in some cases, replacing — firehouses.

“Recent meetings with DGS management and some of the steps that have been taken we see as positive. Hopefully, when we see you this time next year, we’re actually able to be starting to get ahead of the curve versus chasing it,” Dean said.

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