WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) - Firefighters in the District are calling for the end of a controversial policy after a man lost his life in a recent fire.
Since last August, rescue squads have been ordered to stage blocks from a reported fire, instead of going immediately to the scene.
The policy is aimed at preventing deadly accidents, but in one instance it may have contributed to a young lawyer’s death.
Lendon Alexander was about to start his new job as a legal counsel for a U.S. Senate Committee when his life was cut short in the early hours of April 20.
A cooking fire – now ruled accidental – broke out in his sixth-floor apartment, and Lendon was found unconscious in a bathroom.
He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
His parents – Charles and Valerie – spoke to FOX 5 on the phone from their home in Georgia.
"Not only was he the best human being that I have ever had an opportunity to know, you know, Lendon was the most humble. He went to UGA and earned two degrees within three years,” Charles Alexander said.
The Columbus, Ga. native then came to D.C., where he attended George Washington University law school.
"He was always involved in the community and tried to make things better for others,” his mother said.
The events that unfolded the morning of the fire have caused considerable controversy within the department.
The battalion fire chief told the rescue squad and other units to stage blocks away from the scene.
Approximately four to five minutes later – only after the engine company discovered the fire – was the squad told to move in.
According to an action report obtained by FOX 5, the officer in charge of the squad wrote:
“I believe that delaying the on-scene response, by requiring the rescue squad to stage, may have contributed to the death of a civilian.”
He then recommended that the fire department end its policy.
Dabney Hudson is president of the Firefighter Union.
“Nobody wants to come to work, sit on the sidelines when people die, right, and that's unfortunately what happened that night,” he said. "Nobody wants to be in that position. Nobody wants to second guess themselves after an incident like this occurs.”
The fire department offered this response:
After a major accident last summer between two engines that were on their way to a fire, the Department made a change to response guidelines where units responding to a fire would stage two blocks from the incident except the first two engines, ladder truck and battalion chief. Once on-scene, the initial units would determine if additional assistance was required and assign them to areas needed. This change was consistent with recent changes to our Standard Operating Guidelines. The issue of staging units and assigning them was implemented to assure the incident commander could deploy resources as dictated by the demands of the emergency, which also allows for quicker access to the fire and to citizens in danger.
We are a traditional organization that strives to be the best. Anytime there is change there is resistance of some members. Our labor organization has raised some members’ concerns about this issue. We have reviewed their concerns but do not agree that committing resources prior to understanding the circumstances is the correct or safe way to approach an incident.
Internally, our message to our members is that we must all work together to achieve a greater level of operational discipline, improve firefighter safety and risk assessment, ensure deliberate decision making and deploy our resources responsibly.