WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia Fire Department has ignored "for years" warnings that it lacks the proper equipment to save the President in the event of a serious helicopter accident on White House grounds, a high-ranking union official said Monday.
"It has been common knowledge that units assigned to protect the President have problems regarding equipment," said Ken Cox, vice president of Local 36 of the International Assn. of Firefighters.
Cox said Fire Department units assigned to the White House do not have so-called entry suits, which are worn by firefighters who must walk through flames to save any victims in the event the President's helicopter should crash or burn.
Suits Called Badly Worn
Cox also said the suits now being used allow a firefighter only to go near a fire and are badly worn.
"The fire chief himself was at a union meeting April 13 and addressed the problem face-to-face with the entire membership," Cox said. "Chief (Theodore) Coleman said he would take care of it. You can't go much higher than that.
"You're talking about the President of the United States, not just some Joe Blow off the street. This thing is not something that's just surfaced. It's been known for years."
A Fire Department spokesman said that the allegations were under review.
"We are obviously checking those suits at this time," said Capt. Theodore Holmes, who contradicted the union's claim that Coleman had been notified of an equipment problem within the White House detail.
"While the suits are not brand new," they are in adequate shape, Holmes said.
Regarding entry suits, Holmes said: "At this time, our safety office is looking at that."
White House 'Involved'
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, with the President in Los Angeles, said the Administration is involved with the Fire Department "in continually looking at equipment and so forth to make sure that it's adequate. They have a request for a different kind of uniform for special circumstances, but whether that will be deemed necessary or not, I don't know."