Summersgill testifies on Few's nomination for Fire Chief
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GLAA on Public Safety

Testimony on Confirmation of Ronald Few
for Fire Chief, PR 13-909

Delivered before the Committee on Judiciary
September 27, 2000

Mr. Brazil, Members of the Committee, and Fellow Citizens:

My name is Bob Summersgill. I am President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC (GLAA), the oldest continuously active gay and lesbian rights organization in the country.

Unfortunately, GLAA was unable to meet with Chief Few prior to presenting testimony despite the Mayor's office and Councilmember Brazil's staff attempts to arrange a meeting. Chief Few's reluctance to meet with us does not bode well for a Department with as soiled a history as the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

As you are well aware, fire/EMS responded to Tyra Hunter's automobile accident in 1995, laughed and ridiculed her, and Adrian Williams ceased live-saving care and said "This ain't no bitch, it's a nigger."

Tyra Hunter later died. Williams has since been promoted, faced absolutely no discipline, and an internal investigation was called off prior to completion. These actions, and the medical malpractice at DC General have cost the City $1.75 million dollars, which still has not been paid to Tyra Hunter's mother.

The Hunter case is merely the best publicized case of Fire/EMS staff refusing to treat DC citizens and viciously berating them while they struggle for life.

In a case uncomfortably similar to the Hunter case, Jefferson v. DC, et al., a Fire Department EMT referred to a 6-year-old asthmatic struggling for breath as a "nigger-child", refused to touch the child and then delayed emergency transport to Children's Hospital.

In both cases, the Corporation Counsel has argued that individuals who have been the victims of discrimination from the government are prohibited from suing the City or any agency or DC employee under the DC Human Rights law. The Corporation Counsel continues to defend the worst of DC employees and protect them from accountability.

Chief Few is coming into this situation of gross human rights violations, lack of accountability, overt racism and homophobia without any evidence of an ability to deal with these issues. His resume indicates a fine and distinguished career of fighting fires and managing a relatively small fire department, but no sensitivity to the great diversity of peoples that is DC's international character.

In fact, a disturbing item on Chief Few's resume is his boast of "implementing a co-op between the Fire Department and Boy Scouts of America, currently serving as District Scoutmaster." It probably goes without saying that the Boy Scouts have successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that teaching intolerance of gay men and lesbians is central to their mission.

Chief Few may be unaware that DC does not allow its departments to be used to sponsor or give support to the Boy Scouts or any other organization that holds positions in opposition to the District's Human Rights law.

Chief Few is to be praised for working with children, but he may want to explore groups that do not teach hatred and promote discrimination as moral. The Boys and Girls Clubs, the Girl Scouts, the Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, just to name a few, are admirable organizations for his attention and support.

We were gratified to hear that Chief Few took the advice of the ACLU and rescinded the punitive reassignments of two employees who had publicly criticized the Fire & EMS Department.

However, in view of Chief Few's support of the Boy Scouts; his lack of known experience dealing with a diverse population; and the desperate need to reform and train the Department of Fire and EMS personnel on basic professional behavior, we cannot recommend Chief Few for this appointment.

If Chief Few is confirmed, we will be eager to meet and work with him in an effort to ensure that our city's fire and emergency services are provided equally, and with equal respect, to all the people in the District.

Thank you for your time. I am available to answer any questions that you may have.

[Another person testifying at the hearing had mentioned that the Fire/EMS training is now named after the late Tyra Hunter. After his prepared testimony, Summersgill stated that, despite the name change, the training as GLAA reviewed it had nothing on transgender people such as Tyra and only the most minimal mentions of sexual orientation. He further noted that the training material was focused mainly on the federal non-discrimination categories and not the District's far more comprehensive Human Rights law, which (unlike federal law) includes sexual orientation.]

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