New DC fire chief says he will end hiring freeze - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

New DC fire chief says he will end hiring freeze

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Interim D.C. Fire Chief Eugene Jones Interim D.C. Fire Chief Eugene Jones

On his first full day as D.C.'s new fire chief, Eugene Jones sat down with FOX 5's Paul Wagner for an interview on a number of topics. Some of them were quite controversial.

As you may recall, the previous chief, Kenneth Ellerbe, routinely turned down virtually all of our interview requests. So Thursday’s question and answer with the new chief is a fresh new start.

Chief Jones addressed a number of concerns, not the least of which is the arrest of another firefighter.

There were no boundaries when we met with the chief Thursday and he answered all of our questions about staffing, EMS, hiring, new apparatus as well as how he will handle the results of the trial boards in the Cecil Mills case.

He also addressed the arrest of another D.C. firefighter. It is at least the fifteenth since last October.

Norris Jackson, an 8-year veteran assigned to Engine 23 in Northwest D.C., was taken into custody by the D.C. police department’s gun recovery unit after getting a tip the former cadet was dealing crack cocaine out of a barber shop in Northeast.

Police say they found more than seven grams of crack cocaine and a Beretta 9 mm pistol in the car he was driving.

Chief Jones says he was notified of the arrest, but had no details.

"Personally, I think these issues, notwithstanding that one, are health-related issues, people dealing with stressors that occur in their life and I want to do more of that … help employees not get in trouble,” said Jones. “But employees do get in trouble (and) that's why we have a law enforcement system to deal with those issues. Firefighters are not above the law.”

In the case of Cecil Mills, the 77-year-old who collapsed across the street from a firehouse last January while no one came out to help, Chief Jones says he wants to see the results of the trial boards of the three firefighters accused of neglect of duty before deciding what to do with  rookie firefighter Remy Jones.

The rookie firefighter said he wasn't trained on how to handle a walk-in emergency and told people seeking help they had to call 911.

"I think the trial boards should run their course because it will provide us pretty clear information on what happened that day and who should be carrying the blame for what occurred,” he said. “So that is what I would like to see because there is that deliberative process. Let’s see what’s being said.”

As a probationary firefighter, Remy Jones has no rights to a trial board.

Chief Jones also said he will lift the hiring freeze put in place by former Chief Ellerbe and begin recruiting firefighter paramedics again. He says a class of 50 will be hired in the very near future.

He also said eight new engines and two new ladder trucks are on the way and four new medic units are on the street from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. with two more on the way.

"Those new units are medic units, so there is a focus on having higher trained personnel out on the street,” said Chief Jones. “So we have added four new medic units, we are waiting for the other two to go in place. As far as response times, we meet all of our key performance indicators and all of our firefighters are trained as EMTs, so there is no lack of service on the EMS side.”

Chief Jones says he welcomed the D.C. Council’s lifting of a limit on the number of overtime hours a firefighter can work in one pay period. It has been nearly doubled from 36 to 60 hours, which will give the chief the room he needs to help staff the department.

In recent weeks, some engines and trucks were left unstaffed because of either a shortage of personnel or the overtime limit.

Chief Jones says although his status is interim, he would like to keep the job when the next mayor takes over.

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