The District of Columbia’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services says there are no plans to punish first responders for their participation in an economic speech by President Obama, but are still reviewing the event.
Earlier this week, Obama surrounded himself with police and other first responders during remarks regarding the real world impact of the across-the-board package of federal spending cuts known as sequestration, looming in March should Congress fail to reach a deficit reduction agreement. But Washington’s fire and EMS chief told a local TV station the appearance of three firefighters at the event may have violated department regulations.
“I didn’t know about it, the deputy mayor didn’t know about it, the mayor didn’t know about it,” Chief Kenneth Ellerbe said. “There should be protocol followed anytime one of our employees representing the District of Columbia appears at a public event.”
Ellerbe told WRC-TV the employees had been ordered to file special testimonies on how they became guests of the White House event and who authorized it. The news report prompted a statement from the city government Friday.
“Contrary to reports in local media, the DC Fire and EMS Department is not considering any disciplinary action against uniformed personnel for appearing alongside President Obama,” reads the Friday-night release, adding “DC FEMS is simply reviewing its internal protocols for such appearances to ensure that both the Department and its employees are fully informed.”
“We fully support the efforts of President to highlight the essential and life saving work that our first-responders do every single day, and welcome his invitation for our members to participate,” the statement said. “We’re exceedingly proud of the men and women that wear the DC FEMS uniform, and thank the President for his support.”
An after-hours inquiry to the department was unanswered as of press time.
Capt. Ed Smith, president of the DC Firefighters Association Local 36, said it is not likely the department will actively discipline the members who participated in the Obama event, but he remains cautious over the broader implications of the review. The association president told ABC News the officers involved were off duty and that firefighters had routinely attended similar public events in the past without incident. The invitation came from the White House through Local 36′s parent organization, the International Association of Firefighters.
“If it led to discipline later it would be taken as retaliatory,” he said, adding he knew of no protocol breached by appearing in-uniform. “There is a pattern of retaliation with the chief and the department and that is a concern of mine.”
Smith said he has seen such measures first-hand. In October an independent arbitrator ruled in favor of the captain’s claim that he was involuntarily transferred due to his union activities.
The emergency services of the nation’s capital have historically gone to good lengths attempting to appear neutral to the national politics embedded there. For example, the police and fire departments generally refuse to divulge crowd counts for the city’s many protests and demonstrations. Any estimate given would likely be targeted as politically motivated.