04/29/2013 02:53 pm ET Updated Apr 29, 2013

Can D.C. Handle A Boston-Like Attack? D.C. Mayor Says Yes, After Letter Suggesting Otherwise

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WASHINGTON -- Can D.C. handle a Boston-like attack?

The Washington Examiner reports that D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray suggests not in a recent letter:

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has warned key lawmakers that the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department's staffing protocols are leaving the District at risk in the event of a Boston-style attack against the city.

"The existing shift structure permits many personnel to commute extraordinary distances to report for work," Gray wrote in a letter to two legislators. "Should a serious emergency situation impact the District of Columbia, as it did [on April 15] in Boston, it would be almost impossible for many off-duty FEMS workers, who would be desperately needed, to respond in a timely manner to meet the needs of our residents."

Firefighters currently work 24-hour shifts before receiving three days off, but the Gray administration has used contract negotiations to seek a new arrangement of shorter shifts.

Gray spokesperson Pedro Ribeiro told The Huffington Post that the letter -- you can read a PDF of it here -- was intended only to recommend a more flexible FEMS staffing protocol, but that Gray did not mean to say D.C. is currently unprepared.

"What we're saying is it would be easier if those folks were closer. However it doesn't mean we're not prepared. We are," said Ribeiro. "We respond to hundreds of incidents a day...To say that the District is unprepared is absurd."

The president of the D.C. firefighters' union told the Examiner that he disagrees both with Gray's proposed changes, which come as the city and the firefighters will be going into binding arbitration, and with the suggestion that D.C. is unprepared to respond to an attack:

Edward Smith, the union's president, said firefighters are sufficiently close to the District, and he dismissed Gray's contention that the current shift structure poses a public safety threat.

"I think he's playing on people's emotions," Edward Smith said. "I don't believe those claims at all."

Smith added: "We'd be able to respond initially to any emergency."

For more on the historical context of the administration's dispute with firefighters, see this recent Washingtonian article.

And more: Gray and Washington Post reporter Tim Craig exchanged tweets over the Examiner story today:


D.C. Under Attack