By: Carlo Massimo
On Tuesday afternoon, 17 years and four hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh pulled up to the Engine 31 firehouse on Connecticut Avenue in Forest Hills.
Six firefighters stood to attention as Cheh swept in, followed by a small knot of neighbors who had come to express their gratitude. Also, two Ward 3 staffers were bearing cupcakes.
Cheh was touring the firehouses in Ward 3 all morning. She stood in Engine 16 with Mayor Muriel Bowser, DC Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean, and Councilmembers Phil Mendelson and Kenyan R. McDuffie at 10:30 a.m.
Bowser recalled the events of 9/11 and the DC first responders who lost their lives that day. She also mentioned DCPS students and teachers who perished on what should have been an ordinary field trip. Bowser thanked the Engine 16 staff for their daily sacrifices.
“We honor them simply, sometimes, by saying thank you. Thank you for leaving your families, for working holidays, for the stress and anxiety that comes with jobs like yours,” said the Mayor. “We honor them by making sure we invest in their equipment and training.”
Furthermore, Cheh announced that D.C. City Council finalized funding for presumptive disability legislation. Previously, first responders who contracted cancer or similar illnesses on the job – from asbestos, from smoke, from flame retardants in furniture – had to prove their work caused the illness if they want to earn worker’s compensation. This bill reverses the burden. Now, D.C. FEMS must prove a firefighter or EMS responder did not contract the illness due to work conditions.
Cheh repeated the announcement at each firehouse she visited that morning and afternoon.
At Engine 31 she told staff that full funding of the bill “took a while.” “But it’s only right. And it’s morally compelling.” She told The Current that the Council agreed to the bill once she discussed it with them.
Moreover, after hugging each firefighter on staff and thanking them personally for their service, Cheh wasted no time starting an inspection of the house. It seemed some of the roofs were leaking.
The firehouse in Forest Hills is one of the oldest in the city. And it’s the last in Ward 3 that Cheh hasn’t renovated. Cheh, a noted advocate for green development in the District, fought hard for these renovations and not without resistance. She saw one firehouse get an expanded door in spite of an order from the Historical Preservation Review Board forbidding the expansion.
Engine 31 looked more or less sound, despite the leaks. Lieutenant Bryan Fraley told The Current that conditions at the station were good.
“Morale is high,” he said. “We have enough apparatus. And it’s in good shape.” He noted that emergency call volume is on the rise. But calls for actual fires are decreasing.
After checking one final, dust-covered fire extinguisher label, Cheh waved goodbye to the Engine crew, who were sharing safety tips with the neighbors. She was in a hurry: Engine 28 in Cleveland Park was next. There were first responders to thank and share the good news with. And there wasn’t a moment to lose.