Scores of off-duty DC firefighters wearing the workplace banned DCFD logo showed up at the Historic Sixth & I Synagogue in Northwest Washington for Mayor Vincent Gray's State of the District address. The firefighters are getting attention after they walked out in unison before the question and answer period following Chief Kenneth Ellerbe's speech on January 24 discussing the state of the DC Fire & EMS Department.
Photo above & below by Elliot J. Goodman
A verbal directive received in numerous firehouses on Saturday told firefighters to behave tonight or face punishment. Spokesman Lon Walls, who wrote that the January 24 walkout was a 'racist act' on his personal social media accounts, told The Washington Post's Mike Debonis yesterday that the order did not come from the chief:
Lon Walls, an FEMS spokesman, said “there was no directive” and explained a lieutenant who is also a union member “misconstrued” departmental discussions.
Andrea Noble at The Washington Times reports the Facebook post and Tweets by Lon Walls that brought up the issue of race in connection with the earlier protest were removed shortly after Noble questioned Walls about the comments Monday night. According to Noble, those in the chain of command above Walls, did not respond to questions about this issue:
Reached by phone Tuesday and asked whether he shared his spokesman’s view that the walkout was racist in nature, Chief Ellerbe said he could not talk because he was heading into a meeting. He would be available later but did not respond to subsequent calls.
A spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray also did not respond to messages left Tuesday asking how the mayor regarded the protests and Mr. Walls‘ comments.
Gray did not acknowledge open contentiousness from firefighters who staged a mass walkout at Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe’s “state of the department” speech last month to protest a proposal to change from 24-hour to 12-hour work shifts.
Dozens of firefighters packed the chambers Tuesday and did not applaud during Gray’s speech.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is set to deliver his yearly State of the District address–but he may have some unhappy guests at the speech.
As city staffers prepared for the mayor's State of the District address, questions lingered if D.C. firefighters would walk out on Gray as they did with Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe last month. In a tweet, Fire Dept. spokesman Lon Walls called it racism and disrespect.
Many are expected to show up for Gray's address.
On Tuesday, neither Ellerbe nor union president Ed Smith would comment on the tweet, but Smith said Fire Dept. brass have warned that any walkouts tonight will be punished.
"We've received numerous reports there have been various journal messages given in firehouses across the city," Smith said.
At issue is Ellerbe's proposal to shift D.C. firefighters from working one 24-hour day followed by three days off–as they have done for decades–to 12 hours on, 12 hours off.
"It's an EMS department with a few fires," said Kenny Lyons, D.C. ambulance union president.
Lyons said the vast majority of calls nowadays are ambulance calls and firefighters are running the vast majority of the ambulances and that a 24-hour shift endangers patient care."What's best for patient care should reign supreme here, not what's best for individuals or groups of individuals," Lyons said.
But the change to 12 hour shifts would force many firefighters to lose other jobs thy have or quit the department.
Emotions are high, but their union leader wants only professionalism Tuesday night in Washington.
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Also on STATter911 …
- DC Mayor’s spokesman: ‘previous administration left city unprepared’ and says fire department was ‘neglected’. – March 18, 2013
- Controversy all around, DC’s Mayor says he has confidence in Fire Chief Ellerbe. Deputy Mayor wants to know why 10 ambulances were out of service when cop needed help. – March 7, 2013
- News reports: No ambulance available for DC motor cop struck. 18 minute wait for PGFD ambulance. FOP head again blasts fire chief. – March 6, 2013
- UPDATED: DC announces new ambulances, firefighters & medics. ALS training program plans fall apart. Chief here to stay. – August 27, 2013
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