‘Unconscionable:' Memo Says DC Fire Recruits Lack Proper Equipment, Training

A veteran of the D.C. Fire and EMS Department says the city's training academy is leaving new firefighters woefully underprepared. Some rookies leave having never used a fire hydrant, a recently retired deputy fire chief with decades on the job wrote in an internal memo obtained by News4.

The nine-page memo says the recruits are rushed through a training program. The memo says initial firefighter training was a 20-week program, but now takes just eight weeks.

"I think it’s unconscionable,” Dabney Hudson, president of the D.C. Firefighters Union Local 36, said in response to the memo. "When you shortchange the training, you shortchange everybody."

Hudson's own training program was nearly twice as long, and he says it was a lot of information to grasp in 18 weeks.

"To think they would cut that to 8 to 10 weeks... I couldn’t imagine,” he said.

D.C. Fire chief Gregory Dean says that firefighter training is adequate.

"Training has been and remains my top priority since joining the Department and we have significantly expanded the frequency and level of training," Dean said.

The memo was written by a 27-year firefighter as he was retiring from the department.

Hudson, the union president, said he agrees with many points in the memo, including that training is rushed, facilities are inadequate and D.C. Fire and EMS lacks equipment.

"Things aren’t as great as they look. We have significant problems,” Hudson said.

The memo and union representatives suggest the training program left at least some recruits unprepared to fight fires. 

Hudson said some recruits are sent out before they had mastered basic skills like turning on portable radios.

“We’ve had issues with new recruits in the field not being able to perform basic tasks,” Hudson said. "Really rudimentary and basic tasks that can't be performed."

Some recruits aren’t even adequately prepared to start the program, the memo says, because their educational backgrounds may not be strong enough.

The Fire and EMS website says cadets must have a diploma or GED certificate.

Additionally, each recruit undergoes a background check and evaluations, Dean said. 

During their training, recruits are expected to learn in a building that’s too small and doesn’t have any hot water, the memo says.

The academy doesn’t have new training vehicles, Hudson said, and the air tanks firefighters wear into burning buildings are also in short supply.

“That’s just the the tip of the iceberg,” Hudson said. “There’s still significant problems in the fire department.”

News of these complaints may not be new to managers, as the memo was meant to reinforce warnings given to management over the past several years.

"Some of these issues we are already working on; I will be looking into other issues," Dean said.

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