Dennis Rubin
Dennis Rubin

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LL spent the weekend with D.C. Fire, the memoir/textbook from Adrian Fenty-era fire chief Dennis Rubin. What mysteries about public safety circa 2007-2010 would be revealed?

As it turned out, not much. Rubin’s book, which is meant to teach fire officials how to deal with crises, totally avoids one of the biggest scandals of his term: the donation of a fire truck to a Dominican Republic town. Still, there is fun to be had with the book’s unacknowledged subplots:

Dennis Rubin Loves Celebrities

Rubin’s book doubles as a chance for Rubin to talk about the famous people he met on the job (Pope Benedict XVI, George W. Bush, then-Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley). “I was so fortunate to be the 25th fire chief of Washington, D.C.!” Rubin writes in one chapter, entitled “Amazing Times in D.C.”

But Rubin’s heart really belongs to Fenty, who is described alternately as “a class act” and a “great leader, mentor, and friend.”

Rubin is less fond of attorney general and Fenty proxy Peter Nickles. While Rubin praises Nickles’ legal ability, he spells Nickles’ name as “Nickels”  throughout the book.

Dennis Rubin Was Not The Greatest Fire Chief

Rubin doesn’t have the making of a great prose stylist—-standing next to a dying firefighter, he remarks, “Very sad!” That would be fine, since he’s supposed to be a firefighter, but after reading his book LL isn’t convinced he’s particularly good at that.

Rubin describes how he slept through phone calls about the 2007 Eastern Market fire, only realizing that the landmark had burned down when he was getting ready for work hours later. He botches the District’s population, describing it as “over 800,000.”

The best “What is Rubin thinking?” moment, though, comes the day after President Barack Obama‘s 2009 inauguration. Rubin had been promised a spot in Oprah Winfrey‘s studio audience for her broadcast from D.C., but two fires are holding him up. At one fire, Rubin encounters an elderly woman and a mentally handicapped man who eventually died from their injuries. Later, Rubin’s stuck at a fire that’s spreading between row houses. “At the rate we were going, I would likely miss my chance to be in Oprah’s studio audience,” Rubin moans.

Rest assured, reader, Rubin makes Oprah’s taping, where he gives her a fire department shirt. “How great was that for branding DCFD to the world?” Rubin says.

Dennis Rubin Has Grudges

D.C. Fire also offers a chance for Rubin to set the record straight against his many antagonists. While Rubin doesn’t name them, he opts for the practice, popular with U.S. Attorney Ron Machen, of describing a person with everything but their name. Villains include Harry Thomas Jr. (Rubin notes his imprisonment as “a side note”), media tipsters within his department (“internal terrorists”), and Washington City Paper (“one of the local off-brand newspapers”).

But Rubin reserves his real ire for D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who chaired the public safety committee while Rubin ran the fire department. Mendelson’s crimes, according to Rubin, include not showing up at fires and opposing a ban on fireworks (Rubin hates fireworks!).

Rubin fantasizes about Mendelson being called to testify in front of Congress about the District’s broken fire hydrants. “The wind that he generated could have heated the Metrorail system for the entire system,” Rubin writes, giving himself the last word in his feud with Mendelson… at least until the release of D.C. Mendo.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery