As we reported on Thursday, DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told CNN that the city’s firefighters would not be filling any more swimming pools after an almost week-long controversy erupted over a busy engine company being taken out of service for such a detail on an extremely busy day. But apparently someone in the department doesn’t watch CNN, local TV news, or read The Washington Times and STATter911.com.
Just two days after Chief Ellerbe clearly stated his position, and exactly one week after the incident I dubbed “Water-Gate” occurred, another busy engine company went out of service to fill a pool.
One week after the D.C. fire department was criticized for filling a private pool in the hours after a devastating storm, it has happened again. Firefighters filled a large inflatable pool on Saturday for a Columbia Heights block party using water from a nearby hydrant.
The pool was filled after residents hosting the block party walked into the station house Saturday morning and asked for help. They told the official on duty it would take hours if they just used hoses from their homes. By 11 a.m., the pool was filled and now the fire chief wants to know why.
A photograph, obtained by FOX 5, shows firefighters from Engine 11 running a hose down the 1300 block of Newton Street to fill the pool in the middle of the block.
A second photo from the fire department’s computer-aided dispatch shows Engine 11 out of service at 10:15 a.m.
“The chief involved determined that it wasn’t a private pool and how he came to that conclusion is beyond me,” said Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. “It’s not a municipal pool so it must be a private pool, and when he gets to work, we will have a conversation with him at least.”
Engine 11 is stationed at the fire house at 14th and Newton Street in Northwest D.C., just steps from where the block party was being held.
Neighbors said the fire department had performed the service before and they didn’t see a problem with it.
“I don’t see any reason why they can’t,” said neighbor Michael Norman. “They went right off the fire hydrant and within 15 or 20 minutes, the pool was full.”
But a week ago Saturday, firefighters from Engine 30 filled a private pool as other units responded to a heavy volume of storm-related calls.
Chief Ellerbe said it wouldn’t happen again.
“I think that our citizens look at it as an expedient way to get a pool filled because of the gallons per minute that we can discharge,” said the Chief. “But they have to understand that it’s not our purpose, so we will have a conversation with the chief. We’re looking at it right now.”
But the residents on Newton Street defended their request, seeing nothing wrong with getting a little help.
“I don’t see a problem with it personally, but I just think that we’ve been doing this, a little tradition for the past seven years, and if they can help out, I think it’s fine,” said a man identified only as Butch.
“They didn’t even [get] here for 15, 20 minutes,” said Norman. “And as fast as they can wind the hose back up, if they got a call, they could have left.”
But as the firefighters union pointed out, water costs money and firefighters are paid to save lives and property, not carry out favors by filling private pools.
Chief Ellerbe says the filling of the private pool after the storm is still under investigation, but says it was not done as a favor to anyone with connections within the fire department.
In fact, the chief says, the request was initially turned down at the highest levels, but never communicated to the officials in charge of Engine 30.
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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
- Watergate update: DC Chief Kenneth Ellerbe launches investigation. Says he didn’t approve pool filling but wants to find out who did. – July 3, 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
- Chief Kenneth Ellerbe responds: Live interview this morning discussing sexual harassment claims when chief was in Florida. – March 8, 2012
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