In the story above from ABC7/WJLA-TV Chief Kenneth Ellerbe says “If we they missed a bunch of calls while they were doing it then it was an outrageously bad decision”.
The story I’ve dubbed “watergate” is making the news for the second night in a row in the Nation’s Capital. In fact, it is one of three different stories about the actions of the administration of the DC Fire & EMS Department that local reporters worked on today. Click here to check out our other post this evening. It covers the demotion of a lieutenant for not telling a TV crew to stop shooting video of a patient on a public street and for failing to wear a compliant jacket, along with the ACLU’s letter about recent disciplinary action against two battalion chiefs.
In two TV news reports this evening about “watergate” Chief Ellerbe says an investigation is being launched. In a third the chief told a reporter he would neither confirm nor deny the incident took place (and you wonder why I call it “watergate”).
Andrea Noble, who broke the story for The Washington Times, talked to Mayor Vincent Gray on Tuesday who said he would “look into the allegations”. She also found a paper trail:
“It doesn’t sound like it would be appropriate, no matter how many calls we had,” he (Mayor Gray) said.
An internal department document obtained by The Washington Times shows that an official request to “fill water pool” was sent through the department Thursday, the day before the massive stormed knocked out power in large swaths of the region.
At the bottom of the “Special Events Notice,” the name “W. Wright” appears as the person who sent the request through the department. When reached at the phone number listed on the document, William Wright, who works for the fire department and is listed in D.C. personnel records as a customer service specialist, declined to comment.
Less than 24 hours after the storm roared through the city leaving ten of thousands without power, someone at the highest level of the fire department ordered Engine 30 out of service and told the sergeant in command to go to a home on 55th Street and fill its above-ground pool.
A man who lives across the alley from the yard with the pool says he watched from his porch as the firefighters pulled out the hose and filled the pool.
“I thought it was mighty strange but I have never seen that done before, you know, that a fire truck would come and fill you tank up for you,” says David Edwards.
DC Breaking Local News Weather Sports FOX 5 WTTG
A person who answered the phone at the home declined to comment and hung up.
The water is free to the fire department if it’s drawn from a hydrant, but homeowners have to pay for it.
Another neighbor told us she would never ask the city to fill up her pool even if she had one.
The “watergate” pool from WRC-TV.
“We have ports on the side of our homes where we can attach a water hose to it and fill it up ourselves,” says Vonnie Brawner. “But no, I wouldn’t, and I think the fire department should put the priorities in order.”
Ed Smith, President of the D.C. Firefighters Union, says he is astounded anyone would have ordered a private pool to be filled unless there was an actual emergency.
When asked if it was improper, Smith responded, “Yeah, I would say so. It’s highly unusual on a normal day, much less given a state of emergency as in Saturday, one day after the storm.”
Smith says he would like to know who ordered the pool to be filled and why.
“We as firefighters believe in being out in the community and participating as much as possible,” he says. “We cannot lose sight of our core mission, and our core mission is to respond to emergencies, whether it’s medical, fire, terrorism. We need to be in service for our core mission as much as possible.”
Smith estimates the engine was out of service for at least a half an hour filling the pool and then heading to a hydrant for a refill of its own.
A spokesperson for DC Water estimates it costs about $10 to fill up a pool of that size.
We asked D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe for a comment, but he would neither confirm nor deny that this took place. He did issue a statement that doesn’t address the filling of the pool.
In that statement, Chief Ellerbe says regarding inquiries on our storm-related activities during this past weekend:
“We feel that the real storm-related story is the fact that Fire and EMS responded to more than 1,550 calls during and after Friday’s storm. The department was staffed at 100% and our firefighters worked tirelessly through adverse weather and heat conditions.”
D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbee says he is launching an investigation to find out who approved the request.
Ellerbee added, “I don’t know why they did it. I don’t think I would have done it. I know I would not have done it, but it may have been to help a citizen who was hot.”
But, union leaders say they have a pretty good idea who gave the pool priority.
Ed Smith, the president of Local 36, said, “It had to come down from headquarters.”
Who did it, why and who ordered it? In tax records, the owner of the townhouse at 324 55th St. NE is identified as Annie Marby, but no one at the home would talk to News4 Tuesday.
“Well, first I would think that the fire union would be talking about the great work that their members did over the weekend responding to the storm,” he said. “We don’t open hydrants ordinarily for anything other than firefighting operations or training, so we’ve got to look at what happened, investigate it.”
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Also on STATter911 …
- Watergate goes national. CNN gets to the bottom of the swimming pool scandal in the Nation’s Capital. – July 6, 2012
- Water-Gate II, The Sequel: DC firefighters fill another private swimming pool after chief tells CNN it wouldn’t happen again. – July 9, 2012
- Busy DC fire engine placed out of service to fill pool. Order came as firefighters scrambled to handle major storm workload. – July 3, 2012
- Three DC firefighters face discipline over appearing with President Obama without authorization. One of those in trouble publicly opposed Chief Kenneth Ellerbe’s uniform policy. – February 22, 2013
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