D.C. Firefighters Placed in Neighborhoods to Deter Crime

Firefighters will be positioned on the streets of a Northeast D.C. neighborhood as part of a city strategy to fight crime, but some say the plan could backfire.

At least one fire engine and five firefighters will be posted in the Trinidad neighborhood during late night hours, per an order issued by Paul Quander, the city's deputy mayor for public safety.

The fire unit, which is housed at Engine Company 10 on Florida Avenue NE, was deployed early Tuesday between 12 a.m. and 2 a.m. along Queen Street NE.

The city fire department calls it a “soft posting," which is supposed to help deter criminals. D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie who represents the Trinidad neighborhood, said he requested the assistance from city administrators after a recent series of crimes, including a fatal shooting on Queen Street.

“What they’ve been asked to do is man their apparatus in a neighborhood, rather than in a firehouse, to increase visual presence where we’ve seen recent violence,” McDuffie explained.  

City officials would not specify how long the strategy will be utilized.

Fire and police union leaders criticize the program, calling it risky and a “liability.”

Ed Smith, head of D.C.'s Fire Fighters Union 36, said firefighters are not trained to respond to crimes and are in jeopardy when placed in high crime areas.

“Firefighters are not police officers. If you put them in harm’s way, they could be injured,” chairman of the Metropolitan Police Department Labor Committee Kris Baumann said. 

A D.C. Fire spokesman said the firefighters involved will remain inside their fire engine while deployed street side.

They will not be asked to respond to any crimes or threats, city officials said.

Quander said he will consider ordering similar “soft postings” in other neighborhoods, if needed.

“We've used [soft postings] in the past," Quander said. "It's a calming influence, and another tool in our public safety tool chest. It's a decision based on analysis, intelligence and MPD's needs.”

Fire union leaders said the street-side deployment could slow firefighter response in the case of an actual fire, because trucks are slower to respond while navigating back roads.

Quander, however, said soft postings could speed response.

"An added benefit is this gives is a fire crew that is awake, equipped and already on the street ready to respond to a call,” Quander said.

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