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Volunteer fire department incorporated in D.C.

(Published June 14, 1999)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

A former D.C. firefighter has incorporated the Districtís first volunteer fire department in an effort to help train D.C. residents about fire fighting and prevention and to try to fill in for what he says are gaps in the fire departmentís protection.

"A lot of people are not aware of the precarious position they are put in by the D.C. fire department," Vaughn Bennett said. He said he hopes his new volunteer department will fill the void of protection he says the fire department doesnít.

Bennett currently has a civil lawsuit pending in court against the fire department. He claims he was wrongfully forced out of the department because of his vocal criticism of the departmentís practices.

By forming a volunteer fire department he said he hopes to once again be a vital part of public safety in the District. Two of the board members who are helping incorporate the department are active D.C. firefighters.

"The D.C. volunteer fire department will be the other link between safety and the community," Bennett said.

He said he also formed the department to help D.C. residents get hired by the regular fire department. To qualify for the fire department entrance exams, candidates need to hold a high school diploma or GED, or have one yearís experience volunteering with a fire department. Because the District doesnít have a volunteer department, candidates have to go to the suburbs to get their experience. Bennett said now people can volunteer in the community where they live.

Bennett has already found space at the Berry Farms Community Center where he can begin teaching fire safety courses and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification courses. He said the next step is to find a way of getting vehicles to use. He said he is also hoping to get the Latino Civil Rights Center and the Latin American Youth Center involved in the effort.

"We know we cannot depend on the D.C. fire department," Bennett said.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator