This evening there are two separate stories questioning the readiness of the DC Fire & EMS Department. In the story above, WTTG-TV/Fox 5 reporter Paul Wagner, who has broken most of the stories about the poor state of the fire department’s fleet, tells us that two reserve ladder trucks recently failed aerial ladder inspections. You may recall Wagner’s previous report that the department did not conduct ladder inspections last year. Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told Wagner in a statement then that the inspections weren’t done because of a lack of reserve trucks. Now that those inspections are happening, Wagner reports problems are being discovered, including the damaged cable seen below.
At WTOP radio this afternoon, the city’s former director of D.C.’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Pete LaPorte, was interviewed about Washington’s ability to respond to an attack like the one yesterday in Boston. LaPorte was asked about the impact of the fire department’s fleet problems on the City’s readiness. Here’s LaPorte’s response:
I think there is a lot of mutual aid but I think it’s a true concern. I believe that the city has a great deal of reserve money right now. and I truly believe it would be a wise investment to reinvest in our fire equipment and resources. You remember after 9/11 there wasn’t a dollar that … couldn’t be had for our response. We literally got all new fire trucks, all new ambulances, throughout the city. It seems like we’ve lost some of that level of response and we certainly need to upgrade it. And I think that would be something that Chief Ellerbe wants to be looking at quickly, is to make a request. To look for a capital investment in the equipment there.
There are new concerns the D.C. fire department is taking risks with its ladder trucks after two of them failed stress tests this month and were taken out of service.
One of the trucks had frayed steel cables used to raise the ladders into the air.
According to the firefighters’ union, that truck, a reserve that has been responding to emergency calls on Capitol Hill, failed a stress test Monday morning and was immediately taken out of service.
It is a discovery that raises questions about the safety of the entire fleet.
“Absolutely, and unfortunately, I don’t believe it’s the only truck running calls that probably wouldn’t pass an aerial ladder test,” said Union Second Vice President Dabney Hudson. “It’s going to continue to put the citizens and the firefighters who ride it in jeopardy.”
When FOX 5 first aired the union’s concerns on March 18, a spokesman for the fire department said the stress tests had not been done in 2012 because there were no reserves to take their place.
Then two days later, fire officials told the city council the tests had not been done since 2008.
“If the cables snapped, it would have caused a catastrophic ladder failure, the ladder would completely fail … it would have come crashing to the ground,” said Hudson.
The truck with the frayed cables was running calls on the hill because the truck normally assigned to the hill, Truck 7, has been out of service, parked at fleet maintenance on Half Street since early April.
The new reserve taking its place in the firehouse on 8th Street in Southeast D.C. has issues as well.
Photos obtained by FOX 5 show rust and corrosion on the base of the aerial ladder. It is a condition the union feels would likely lead to a failed stress test as well.
Last year, an aerial ladder in Alliquppa, Pa., collapsed while fighting a blaze at an auto repair shop and seriously injuring a firefighter.
As of March 20, the fire department reported to the city council’s judiciary committee it had 16 trucks and one reserve ladder.
In an email sent to FOX 5 Monday night, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe confirmed one front line truck and two reserves have been given stress tests since early April, with only the front line truck passing.
The chief said the reserves will be repaired in about two weeks.
On Tuesday, the chief declined an interview request.
This sure was something I haven’t seen in my 40 years in the area. The DC Fire & EMS Department and the Arlington County Fire Department ran mutual aid to Charles County Maryland this afternoon. For those who don’t know the geography, Prince George’s County borders the Northeast and Southeast quadrants of our Nation’s Capital. Charles County borders the southern portions of Prince George’s County from approximately Accokeek to Baden. Arlington County is across the Potomac River in Virginia and borders the Northwest and Southwest quadrants of DC.
The fire that caused this was described in some news reports as a two-alarm fire and in others a general-alarm fire. The fire was at the Charles County fairgrounds in Bel Alton, south of the county seat of La Plata. Waldorf VFD on the north side of the county sent out the picture below with a tweet thanking DC’s Engine 4 and Truck 7 and Arlington’s Engine 113 for filling in at Waldorf’s quarters.
It could not be determined how many firefighters responded to the fire, though all Charles County firefighters are volunteers. Lon Walls, a spokesman for the D.C. fire department, said county officials requested help from the District, which sent Engine 2, Engine 4 and Truck 7, along with a deputy chief of operations. The trip is roughly 36 miles.
Mutual aid at such distances is unusual but not unheard of. In September 2010, the D.C. fire department sent at least one engine north on I-95 into West Baltimore to help on a four-alarm fire that destroyed a string of vacant rowhouses.
A two-alarm fire destroyed several structures and caused a brushfire Tuesday afternoon around 3:30 p.m. at the Charles County Fairgrounds, south of La Plata.
Charles County Government Spokeswoman Crystal Hunt said the blaze affected three structures, the livestock barn and two adjacent smaller barns.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, those fires had been contained, along with the brushfire behind the barns. Hunt said the call was issued as a general call, meaning all fire units in the county responded, along with some from St. Mary’s County. Hunt said that units from Calvert and King George County in Virginia could still potentially respond if necessary.
A day after DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe apologized for giving the wrong information to the DC City Council about it’s reserve fleet, Paul Wagner first reported this that Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander have done it again. According to Wagner’s report this morning on WTTG-TV/Fox 5 (above), at the same time the pair told the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety that there were four fully stocked and ready to go reserve ambulances at the apparatus maintenance shop, Ambulance 16 found something completely different. Check out Paul’s evening report in the video above and the story below:
There is new information in the ongoing troubles inside the D.C. Fire and EMS department. FOX 5 has obtained a document and a picture that shows the department’s reserve fleet of ambulances is not what leaders claim it to be.
D.C.’s fire chief told the D.C. Council Thursday his department is in an “acceptable state of readiness for major events” while the deputy mayor for public safety said the department is prepared if ambulances break down.
The deputy mayor repeatedly told the council the department has four ambulances held in reserve and said they had been in place since just after March 5 when an injured D.C. police officer waited 20 minutes for an ambulance.
But according to an internal document obtained by FOX 5, not one fully-stocked reserve was ready Thursday when a crew needed one.
Approximately three hours before Paul Quander sat down to testify before the city council, the crew of Ambulance 16 went to the fleet maintenance shop in Southwest D.C. where they were told to get into reserve Ambulance 627.
According to the internal document, the crew told a supervisor, “This unit was not fully stocked and one compartment appeared to be used as a trash can … there was oxygen however it was low and needed to be replaced. The unit had less than a half a tank of fuel and the cot had a pile of equipment thrown on top of it.”
The document says the crew got in the rig, but “It seemed to be in worse shape (than) the one we had just switched out of.”
As the crew waited for another reserve, Quander was repeatedly claiming the department had four ambulances ready to go.
“A minimum of four ambulances are kept stocked and available at FEMS fleet maintenance for ambulances that go out of service for more than 30 minutes due to mechanical problems,” he said. “Those units are fully available, they’re stocked.”
Later in the hearing at the Wilson Building, Quander said it again.
“We have placed four ambulances that are there ready to go,” said Quander. “All we have to do is turn the key and bring some equipment, the bag and the laptop.”
But the crew of Ambulance 16 did not get a working reserve until 3:30 p.m.
The third they were told to get into that day.
During Thursday’s hearing, the chief told the council the department has 111 ambulances. 39 are in service, 46 are out of service and 19 are in reserve.
The department is currently conducting an audit of the fleet after FOX 5 revealed the numbers the department was claiming were false.
The chief admitted Thursday he had been managing the department for about a year with numbers that did not add up. It is an admission Councilmember Tommy Wells seized upon, calling it an “incredibly serious issue.”
“Management is absolutely accountable for the problems of this agency, and it goes back to making sure they have the equipment they need to do their jobs,” said council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety that held Thursday’s hearing.
During several sharp exchanges, department leadership rebuffed characterizations that the issues were widespread, with Mr. Quander laying out plans to address what he referred to as the “isolated” incidents, and the chief adding that he believes the “department’s fleet remains in an acceptable state of readiness for potential major events in the city.”
“Rarely is it about one person. It is about a system and the lack of quality control,” Mr. Mendelson said, later appearing incredulous that the chief had such inaccurate information about the condition of his fleet.
D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe acknowledged on Thursday that he led his agency for about a year using faulty data about the state of its fleet, and he apologized for repeated ambulance shortages that left the ill, injured and dying waiting for help.
“We were operating with an outdated list,” said Ellerbe, who told lawmakers that current statistics show that nearly half of the District’s 111 ambulances are out of service. “It was inaccurate for approximately a year.”
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson was incredulous.
“I just don’t understand how the chief of the fire and EMS department would not know how many vehicles are available,” Mendelson said as lawmakers continued to absorb a scathing report from the D.C. inspector general that said the department’s fleet was unprepared for a catastrophic emergency.
The chair of D.C. City Council’s public safety committee grilled the fire chief for 2 1/2 hours on Friday during a contentious hearing on whether slow response times and maintenance failures are endangering the lives of sick and injured residents.
Deputy Mayor for public safety Paul A Quander Jr., who sat beside Ellerbe, said the chief needs to move forward with plans to revamp schedules and deployment to keep up with a changing city.
He said the fire service is no longer a “fire department that sometimes handles medical calls, but instead it is a mobile medical hospital agency that occasionally handles fires.”
Nearly half of the ambulances serving the District of Columbia are out of service, an apologetic D.C. Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe testified Thursday before members of the D.C. Council.
Ellerbe, who has faced multiple calls for his resignation in the midst of numerous issues facing the city’s fire and EMS response capabilities, said that the equipment problems his department faces are due to them “holding on to things” for too long.
The chief told members of the D.C. Council that just 58 of the District’s 111 ambulances are currently in service.
For Ellerbe, Thursday’s hearing was an uncomfortable grilling. But for Durand Ford, Jr., it was like ripping the scab off a wound.
His father, Durand Ford, Sr., died from a heart attack on New Year’s Day while waiting for an ambulance. Ford’s death was one of three incidents under the microscope during Thursday’s testimony on slow response times.
At issue is whether the three problems in the last three months are because of a systemic breakdown or if, as Chief Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander contend, unfortunate outliers.
“The events of New Year’s Day are atypical, hopefully never happen again,” Quander says.
More than 100 firefighters called out sick on New Year’s Eve. But the subsequent two incidents involving an MPD motorcycle officer and a stroke patient being transported in the cab of a fire truck are being blamed on an aging fleet and a lack of paramedics.
“Sometimes it takes an incident to realize there are these issues,” Ellerbe says.
Ford, however, calls these problems just an opportunity to punt the blame.
The department came under even more intense scrutiny on March 5 after a Metropolitan Police Department officer had to wait nearly 20 minute for a mutual aide Prince George’s County ambulance to tend to him on after he was injured in a hit-and-run in Southeast.
A recently-released city report indicated that three D.C. ambulances were improperly out of service that night, forcing the need for a Maryland-based unit to respond. The officer finally made it to an area hospital nearly an hour after he was hit.
Seven city employees were disciplined for the inadequate response.
Ellerbe also said that the department had been operating under an incorrect inventory list for about a year.
In response, though, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson told Ellerbe that the issues were a “management problem” and that he needs to find a staff that can get their jobs done more effectively.
In a statement released Thursday, Ed Smith, the president of the D.C. Fire Union Local 36, said that the D.C. Fire & EMS Department is living on “borrowed time.”
“Nothing proves Chief Ellerbe’s negligence more than the state of the fleet of reserve ambulances and fire trucks that is supposed to be at the ready at all times,” Smith said. “The fleet is virtually non-existent and has been a key factor in recent well-publicized EMS failures.”
Ellerbe overwhelmingly received a vote of no confidence from the fire union on Monday. Immediately after the 300-37 vote, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander threw their support behind Ellerbe.
“Despite the ‘no confidence’ vote tallied by the local firefighters union, I am very optimistic about the department’s future and encouraged by the service we provide to District residents and visitors,” Ellerbe said in a statement after the vote.
His department also faced scrutiny over claims of sexual harassment in February. Numerous cadets told ABC7′s Jay Korff that two training academy instructors repeatedly harassed them.
Only 58 of the District’s 111 ambulances are currently in service, D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe testified before a city council committee Thursday.
Ellerbe added that the District only has 245 paramedics, well short of its target of 300. Even that number is less impressive than it appears since Ellerbe disclosed that not all paramedics do field work or receive calls.
The failure to provide an ambulance to a police officer injured in a hit-and-run and two other incidents — including the death of a man who died while waiting for an ambulance — have raised questions about whether the department has enough resources to handle the emergency call volume in the fast-growing city.
Those three incidents, all within 90 days of each other, prompted the hearing, said D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells.
Ellerbe apologized during Thursday’s testimony. “I’d like to offer my sincere apology to the families,” he said. “I’m deeply troubled … I accept responsibility.”
The chief also apologized for misinformation on the department’s inventory of vehicles, saying that the department had faulty inventory records for a year.
An internal investigation had blamed individual employees for the slow ambulance response — but the District’s inspector general has also found a lack of adequate reserve vehicles, both ambulances and fire trucks. At any given time, only 39 ambulances are active in the District.
Ellerbe told the Council committee Thursday that although “the audit is still ongoing,” he promised to overhaul the way their fleet is managed by bringing in a “fleet consultant.”
Due to current shortages, Advance Life Support ambulances are routinely downgraded due to a lack of paramedics on duty, Ellerbe said, adding “The problem is not fixed.” A final assessment of the inventory of D.C. Fire/EMS is still 30 days from completion.
Ellerbe’s testimony comes three days after the city firefighters’ union overwhelmingly approved a resolution expressing no confidence in his leadership. When asked following his testimony whether he could guarantee no more ambulance delays in the District. Ellerbe told News4′s Mark Segraves that he could not.
D.C. Deputy Mayor Paul Quander testified Thursday that Ellerbe has “worked tirelessly.” However, Wells did not seem convinced by the testimoney, telling reporters following the hearing that he was “not satisfied” with Ellerbe’s responses, “deeply concerned with the dwindling number of paramedics,” and convinced there is a “systemic” problem with D.C. Fire and EMS management.
There has been a good deal of build up to today’s DC City Council hearing on the state of EMS in the Nation’s Capital. It is scheduled to start at 11:30 AM EDT and you can watch it here. There are a lot of expectations that the hearing could bring some clarity to the issues after the dozens of stories over the past few weeks. My experience tells me maybe or maybe not.
Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Chairman Tommy Wells has made it known he has been dissatisfied with the answers so far. Whether all of this finally makes sense will depend on how to-the-point the questions are from Wells and how willing Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and the administration of Mayor Vince Gray are to opening up on the issues of the last two years.
All you have to do is recall one of the most bizarre City Council hearings involving the DC Fire & EMS Department over the last 30 years to understand how unclear everything can still be after one of these public events. That was the one that had Chief Dennis Rubin on the hot seat over the Fenty administration’s give-away of a fire engine and ambulance to the town of Sosua in the Dominican Republic (see videos above). It took an IG report to finally get some real answers in that case (click here to read the report & see related articles). But the topic of today’s hearing is much more important than those shenanigans.
Suderman makes the case that other administration officials have been asked to leave based on a lot less than the record amassed by Chief Ellerbe. Suderman reviews that record in the column.
Last week, the latest department head to get the boot was Harold Pettigrew, who senior Gray administration officials say was fired for not moving fast enough to reform the Department of Small and Local Business Development.
But Gray’s tolerance for controversy or alleged ineptitude isn’t always so slight; he’ll stick with some department heads no matter how much heat they generate. Consider Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe, whose two-year tenure has been marked by steady controversies and who is likely to be the subject of intense questioning by the D.C. Council on Thursday.
Early on, Ellerbe pledged to be a “transformational” leader who would bring together a fractured fire department, improve relations with the firefighters union, and be a better community partner. But up until now, Ellerbe has made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Suderman’s article also looks at a transistion document sent to Chief Ellerbe by Chief Rubin.
Other pre-hearing stories include the video at the top of this post by Paul Wagner. He interviews Marcus Rosenbaum who is scheduled to testify today. Also scheduled to testify is Durand Ford Jr. who was interviewed by April Burbank of the Washington Examiner. Both men had relatives who were the patients in a pair of high profile EMS cases.
Apologies for the late post, I have been traveling. Here’s coverage of Monday’s vote of no confidence in the leadership of embattled DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. The vote was 300 to 37. The last vote of no confidence by IAFF Local 36 was in 2001 against Chief Ronnie Few. Chief Few resigned in 2002 after news reports revealed discrepancies in the resumes of Few and other top officials he recruited for the department.
Union President Edward C. Smith said Ellerbe’s management “places our members and the public needlessly in harm’s way.”
Ellerbe declined to be interviewed, but he issued a statement saying he is “very optimistic about the department’s future and encouraged by the service we provide to District residents and visitors.” The chief, a native of the District who came here from Sarasota, Fla., in 2011, added, “I am deeply committed to resolving the issues before us.” He previously said the department has reached the “tipping point” in regard to slow response times.
Councilman Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), the public safety committee chairman, said he will demand on Thursday that Ellerbe explain how his staff submitted information for a Feb. 20 oversight hearing showing the department had an adequate reserve fleet when officials there had been given the inspector general’s report one day earlier.
“Did they purposely provide false information to the council, or were they operating under false information?” said Wells, who is considering running for mayor.
“Fire Chief Ellerbe now has a two-year record that has resulted in a failed approach to leadership that has needlessly endangered the public through excessive delays in response due to staffing and fleet mismanagement, and dangerous situations for the firefighters who are sworn to protect the citizens and visitors of our city,” union officials said in a statement issued Monday after the vote.
“It’s a sad day when we have to use that as a recourse to let the public know they’re in harm’s way,” union President Edward Smith said.
Paul A. Quander Jr., the city’s deputy mayor for public safety and justice, also issued a statement Monday afternoon saying the chief has his support in ongoing efforts to “modernize and move the agency forward.”
Hundreds of D.C. firefighters packed a Northeast D.C. union hall Monday morning where they voted “no confidence” in Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe.
It was a vote that went overwhelmingly against the chief.
Union leaders say Ellerbe is putting public safety at risk with a depleted staff of paramedics and a shabby fleet of vehicles while the chief’s defenders say it’s all about an unpopular shift change.
337 firefighters cast secret ballots Monday. Only 37 voted they still had confidence in Chief Ellerbe.
It is a vote that came 12 years after the last “no confidence” vote and three days after an inspector general’s report questioned whether the department could respond to a mass casualty incident.
Things got a bit testy outside the union hall on Bladensburg Road, NE, where firefighters casting ballots came face-to-face with Ellerbe supporters.
The 300 who voted “no confidence” in the chief discussed the issue in the union hall before folding their votes and slipping them into the ballot box as they left the building.
Ellerbe’s trouble with the union and its membership began soon after he proposed doing away with the platoon system where firefighters work 24 hours on and 72 hours off.
Instead the chief wants to go to 12-hour shifts to better handle a high volume of medical calls.
But the union says it’s more than that.
“If we don’t have the right staffing and the right tools and the right training, we can’t be the best department in the country,” said Union President Ed Smith.
The firefighters’ vote comes on the heels of embarrassing stories in which an injured D.C. police officer waited 20 minutes for an ambulance while a stroke victim was transported to the hospital in a fire engine.
The union says attrition has left well over a hundred jobs unfilled while the inspector general found the department’s fleet of vehicles and its repairs a dysfunctional mess.
But Chief Ellerbe’s supporters say the trouble comes from firefighters resistant to change.
“Chief Ellerbe sees for the future we need to be working shorter shifts, more intervals and that doesn’t comply with a lot of people who live far away from here,” said firefighter Garry Wiggins.
Retired firefighter Nathan Queen added, “I think the chief is a good manager. He was called here to manage and that’s what he is doing. Are there those that don’t want to change? Yes, and that’s why they are having this vote of no confidence against the chief because their biggest issue, Local 36’s biggest issue is the shift change.”
In a statement, Chief Ellerbe responded to the vote by saying:
“I am very optimistic about the department’s future and encouraged by the service we provide to District residents and visitors. I remain deeply committed to resolving the issues before us. I look forward to strengthening our capabilities and putting our resources to better use in order to uphold the confidence of those we serve every day.”
Union President Ed Smith says he plans to lay it all out on the table this Thursday when Councilmember Tommy Wells holds a special hearing on D.C. Fire and EMS and the condition of the fire department’s fleet of vehicles.
By the way, the no confidence vote will not force any action. Instead, it’s just a way for the firefighters to show their confidence, or in this case, their lack of confidence in their chief.
“Chief Ellerbe is ethically bankrupt; and his poor managerial practices places our members and the public needlessly in harm’s way,” according to a statement released by Ed Smith, president D.C. Fire Fighters Association Local 36. The statement goes on to say that Chief Ellerbe “has needlessly endangered the public through excessive delays in response due to staffing and fleet mismanagement, and dangerous situations for the fire fighters who are sworn to protect the citizens and visitors of our city.”
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has backed Ellerbe with support despite the scrutiny the department has faced over the last few months.
A report by the D.C. Inspector General’s Office earlier this month said the department’s ambulance fleet had dangerous gaps in coverage and a “dangerously high and unaddressed attrition rate of paramedics that threatens the lives of D.C. residents everyday who are in medical distress.”
District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray is standing behind fire chief Kenneth Ellerbe following a no-confidence vote by the city firefighters’ union.
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander said in a statement Monday that he continues to support Ellerbe’s efforts to modernize the department. He’s calling on firefighters to work with the chief to accomplish that goal.
Councilman Tommy Wells told ABC7 this latest problem is undermining his confidence in the department’s ability to respond to any crisis that requires additional resources.
“We just had a shooting of 13 people. If that had been 13 casualties, 13 folks that were life threatening, I’m not confident that we would have had the ability to respond,” Wells said.
Members of the Progressive Black Firefighters Organization, who held signs supporting the chief after the vote, say the main reason the union’s against Ellerbe is his plan to change scheduling.
On Feb. 19, Ellerbe received an initial management alert report from the Office of the Inspector General saying that “many vehicles designated as reserve vehicles were out-of-service and could not be used if needed as frontline replacement vehicles in neighborhood fire stations, or for large-scale emergencies or mass casualty events.”
A day later, Ellerbe testified before the Council’s public safety committee and made no mention that the information about the reserve fleet he submitted may have been inaccurate.
On March 13, Fox 5′s Paul Wagner reported on allegations made by the fire fighters union that the department was improperly counting fire trucks that had been sold or been out of service for years as part of the department’s reserve fleet. Right after the story aired, Ellerbe put out a statement saying the union was right and thanking it for “bringing this inaccurate information to our attention.”
Council member Tommy Wells, whose committee received the bad information, told Suderman he is going to give Chief Ellerbe a chance to explain the timeline but said it “does not look good”. No response from the chief on this issue.
But the inspector general’s report, which highlights some of the same deficiencies in the reserve fleet, was delivered to the fire chief the day before the hearing. It was released to the public on Friday.
“It certainly undermines my confidence in the management of the fire department,” said Councilmember Tommy Wells, who chairs the council’s public safety committee and presided over the hearing. “If they used the information that they provided me that said the reserve trucks are available when they’re not even in the District of Columbia and we don’t even own them anymore, then that tells me there’s a massive breakdown of administrative competence.”
Ellerbe said in a statement that he was already implementing the report’s recommendations and that the department was in the process of purchasing new vehicles, including ladder trucks and ambulances.
A new report by the D.C. inspector general is painting a dim picture of the readiness of the D.C. fire department and questions whether it can answer the call in a mass casualty incident.
The report found major deficiencies in the reserve fleet of trucks, pumpers and transports, and describes a dysfunctional operation.
This report, which was given to Chief Kenneth Ellerbe on February 19, the day before he appeared in front the D.C. City Council, says the department had not come close to meeting its own emergency plans and many of the vehicles designated as reserves were listed as out of service.
The report slams the condition of the fleet and questions the quality of the repairs it receives.
The investigation into the fleet and its maintenance began in January of last year when an inspector took a look inside a warehouse on Gallatin Street in Northwest D.C.
Inside, according to the report, were supposed to be ten reserve engines, eight reserve ladder trucks and two reserve rescue squads.
Instead, the report says the investigator found two engines that would not start, a ladder truck that would not start, and one being worked on in the driveway.
As for the rescue squads — there were three – but one that wouldn’t start.
The report also says the department’s emergency plan calls for 12 battalion reserve engines. But over the course of the seven-month investigation, the most ever listed was five.
The ambulances were another matter. Of the 31 listed in reserve, at times there were none, at other times there were just two, and the most the investigator found were 14.
On Thursday when FOX 5 asked the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety about the ladder trucks in reserve and the readiness of the fleet, this is what he had to say.
“I received a report recently that we have a reserve fleet,” said Paul Quander. “And I don’t mind going out with you. And if we need to count one by one, we count one by one. I think that’s the best way to put this matter to issue. If it’s there, it’s there. If it’s not, it’s not. Let’s go and see. Let’s go and count.”
It’s unclear if Quander had seen this report at the time of our interview. The inspector general says it was emailed on March 21.
The report goes on to say, “The limited documentation available and the overwhelming sentiment expressed to the OIG team by employees at all levels indicate that such deficiencies are real and negatively impact the day to day availability of both frontline vehicles at many fire stations and the vehicles in reserve status designated to replace them.”
“There is no planning,” said Union President Ed Smith. “It’s all fly by the seat of your pants and the citizens are suffering and my members are put at risk every day when they get out there on the rigs.”
A week ago Wednesday, FOX 5 first reported the union’s claim the reserve numbers given to the D.C. City Council in February were false and that apparatus claimed as in the reserve fleet had actually been sold or placed out of service.
Later that night, Chief Ellerbe issued a press release thanking the union for bringing the issue to light.
“It is poor management at the top and it alludes to that in this report,” said Smith.
One of the more eye opening facts in the report points out that Truck 3, the tower truck that would be first due to the White House, was repaired 138 times from January of 2009 to May of 2012. It is a number the inspector general decided to highlight.
Chief Ellerbe answered the report with a press release saying the department was already moving ahead with the recommendations of the inspector general and would report back in 60 days.
Seven people, including a fire captain, two firefighters and four medics, have been singled out for discipline after an injured D.C. police officer waited more than 20 minutes for an ambulance.
A report released Thursday says the captain failed to properly monitor the situation on March 5th when the officer was hit by a car. The other six were in ambulances that were improperly out of service.
As FOX 5 first reported Tuesday night, the investigation singled out three ambulance crews for not monitoring their radios after going out of service the evening of March 5.
Medic 27 was east of the Anacostia River and the closest when Officer Sean Hickman was seriously injured in a hit-and-run.
But the first responder taking the bulk of the blame is the captain working that day as the emergency liaison officer.
According to the report prepared by the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, the fire captain was working inside the Office of Unified Communications and should have known an officer was down and dispatchers were looking for help.
But the captain, even though he has access to the same data, status information and data screens, was unaware the dispatchers asked for an ambulance to come from Prince George’s County.
“The ELO (Emergency Liaison officer) could have said to the units who had requested relief, ‘No, we are low on available units. You need to stay in service so we can make sure that we are covered,’” said Paul Quander, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety. “He didn’t do that. Nor did the ELO monitor the situation and return those units to service, which he has the ability to do.”
Quander says the emergency liaison officer is a gatekeeper who keeps his eyes open for problems and makes adjustments if needed.
“I think that it was a major failure that evening,” he said.
But Union President Ed Smith disagrees and says the problem lies within the system.
“The ELO is specifically monitoring two medical channels and routes units to the right hospital,” said Smith. “They are not directly involved with dispatch.”
Smith says to single out this captain is inappropriate when the problem appears to be more with computer system design.
“We need to look at system-wide problems and fix it,” said Smith. “And if it needs more resources, then we get more resources or we make adjustments to the software.”
As FOX 5 reported Tuesday night, Medic 27 and Medic 19 were allowed to temporarily go out of service, but told to monitor the radio.
The crew of Ambulance 15 says it was parked at a firehouse on New Jersey Avenue in Northwest D.C. and unaware they had mistakenly marked themselves out of service when dispatchers were looking for help.
However, the report says Ambulance 15 was actually parked in quarters at Engine 15 in Anacostia at the time of the call.
“I think it is up to every employee to follow the protocols and rules,” said Quander. “And that’s why we have it and so the rules are if you are going out of service, you go out of service on a condition, to monitor the radio in case we need you to respond.”
Quander says all seven face punishment that could possibly end in termination.
The report recommends five remedies, which include keeping four ambulances stocked and ready to go in case an ambulance breaks down.
It was just a couple of weeks ago Quander said at a news conference the fire department should have two ambulances in reserve ready to go.
The D.C. inspector general has beugn an investigation into the D.C. fire department’s staffing levels to see if it can support around the clock emergency response.
The probe was launched in late January after a hundred firefighters called in sick on New Year’s Eve.
The investigation, by FOX 5’s count, is at least the fourth conducted inside the fire department in the last year.
In a letter sent to Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, the inspector general made several requests to include the list of all ambulances and other apparatus that were taken out of service on December 31, 2012 due to the reported staffing shortage.
The letter also asks for the names of all employees responsible for staffing.
On New Year’s Eve, the EMS system was stretched to capacity with one man losing his life after waiting for an ambulance that finally came from Prince George’s County.
FOX 5 has also obtained a document showing the fire department is looking for 20 of its ambulances.
In an email, sent by Deputy Chief John Donnelly to as many as seven other officials in the department, asks for help in locating the rigs.
Donnelly is conducting an audit of the department’s entire fleet after FOX 5 reported last Wednesday the number of trucks and pumpers given to the city council were false, and that as many as six pumpers and two ladder trucks claimed as reserves in the city are no longer in the fleet and have actually been sold. Still, others were unaccounted for.
And there is more. The inspector general has already completed an investigation into the fire department’s fleet, which according to sources is now being reviewed by Chief Ellerbe.
That probe began after an investigator was shown all of the stored fire equipment parked in and behind a building on Gallatin Street in Northwest D.C.
At his bi-weekly news conference Wednesday, the mayor declined to directly address the issues.
“I think you know that I have asked the deputy mayor, who happens to be ill today, that’s why he is not here, I’ve asked him to conduct a review of a number of issues in FMES,” said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. “The report will be out this week. It probably would have been out [Wednesday] if he hadn’t taken ill, but it will be out before the end of the week and I think I would rather wait until we get the report.”
On the staffing issue, FOX 5 has also obtained a letter marked confidential from former Chief Dennis Rubin to Chief Ellerbe as he was about to take over the department.
Rubin complains about staffing in the letter saying 603 people were hired during his administration, but they lost 336 people.
In the letter, Rubin wrote: “Unfortunately, my administration always needed to fill vacant seats on ambulances and fire trucks using overtime, and I found myself under incredible pressure to reduce overtime spending from all directions.”
In a statement, Chief Ellerbe said, “We welcome a review by the Office of the Inspector General of this unprecedented event where more than a hundred firefighters called in sick this past New Year’s Eve. We will cooperate fully with this investigation and look forward to its outcome.”
As for the ambulances the deputy chief was looking for? Just after 6 p.m. Wednesday, a spokesman for the mayor said all of the ambulances had been accounted for.
Two weeks ago, a D.C. motorcycle officer waited nearly 20 minutes for an ambulance after he was struck in a hit-and-run. Officials have since focused on why and how one of their own was left helpless.
The leaked report of Deputy Mayor Paul Quander’s investigation into what happened found there were three ambulances at fire stations in the vicinity of the accident.
ABC7 spoke with D.C. EMS Union officials who say the crews in question never heard a call.
“If they were available why weren’t they dispatched?” ambulance union president Kenneth Lyons asks. “I think that’s the question you have to ask … why weren’t these two units dispatched?”
Lyons tells ABC7 that the crews of two of the ambulances in question that he represents were monitoring the dispatch channel two weeks ago when the police officer was struck in a hit and run on his motorcycle and lay on the ground 20 minutes until an ambulance from Maryland came to get him. The two units were in a delay status, but could have been called.
“Units don’t self dispatch just because you hear a call, especially at a busy time of day,” Lyons says. “We’re not allowed to do that.”
Fire union president Ed Smith blamed a computer glitch for the fact the third ambulance crew he represents was not listed among available units.
“They realized there was a problem, went to jump in an ambulance and go on a run, and it wouldn’t start,” Smith says. “So now w’ere back to mechanical issues again.”
When reporters tried to ask the Mayor Vincent Gray about the report today, he said Quander was sick today and until Quander officially releases it, he’ll not comment.
The fire union blames Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe for poor equipment and staffing and are holding a no confidence vote Monday.
Asked about Ellerbe, Gray says, “I’m delighted to work with him.”
When the call was dispatched on March 5, D.C. said they had no available EMS units to send. An ambulance from Prince George’s County arrived 20 minutes later. Nearly an hour passed between the time the officer was struck and his arrival time at MedStar Washington Hospital.
“There are at least three units that I am focusing on that were listed as out of service inappropriately,” D.C. Deputy Mayor Paul Quander said during a press conference earlier this month.
Sources say that of the 39 ambulances scheduled as on duty that night, nine were listed as out of service. Of those nine, six were valid mechanical issues, but three were improperly taken out of service.
One crew didn’t log back into the system properly and were off the dispatcher’s radar. But the other two were considered to be in “delayed relief mode” and had been told to “monitor the radio” should an important call be dispatched.
Regardless of what led to the breakdown, D.C. residents say the lack of response is still concerning.
Reading the latest news accounts, it appears today’s regularly scheduled press conference should include some questioning of Mayor Vince Gray about the DC Fire & EMS Department. On Monday, with no comments coming from Chief Ellerbe or Deputy Mayor Paul Quander, a spokesman for Mayor Gray said the previous administration “neglected” the fire department leaving the city “unprepared”. It is expected, according to news accounts, that there will be a release of findings at today’s event of why no ambulance was available to take a seriously injured DC police officer to the hospital two weeks ago. Details of that investigation are already out.
FOX 5 has obtained the initial findings of an investigation into the March 5th ambulance response for an injured D.C. police officer.
Sean Hickman waited at least 20 minutes for an ambulance that eventually came from Prince George’s County. The Sixth District officer was on a scooter when police say he was intentionally run over by a man in car.
Sources familiar with the investigation say two ambulances should have been able to respond, but did not for reasons still unclear, and a third may have gone out of service by mistake.
The findings are expected to be made public Wednesday morning at the mayor’s bi-weekly news conference.
Sources familiar with the investigation say when the initial call for service went out at 6:36 p.m. that night, one ambulance was in quarters east of the river and near the scene of the accident, but did not respond even though the crew was told to monitor the radio.
Sources say Medic 27 went out of service for equipment trouble and parked at a fire house on Minnesota Avenue in Northeast D.C. when the call for the hit-and-run came in.
The crew went out of service at 6:27 p.m. after reporting problems with two batteries in a piece of equipment on the rig.
At 6:36 p.m., an engine with a paramedic was dispatched to the hit-and-run at 46th and A Streets in Southeast while communications searched for an ambulance.
Sources say a second crew, Medic 19, was at Howard University Hospital and asked for a delayed response back to quarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, and went out of service at 6:34 p.m. after being also told to monitor the radio.
The call for the hit-and-run came in two minutes later.
A third crew, Ambulance 15, went out of service for 53 minutes from 6:26 p.m. to 7:19 p.m.
According to the crews’ own account, it was a mistake. They entered the wrong information into the rig’s computer and put themselves out of service.
20 minutes after the initial call for help went out, Ambulance 15 was still parked at a fire station on New Jersey Avenue, NW.
“It was a computer error,” says Union President Ed Smith. “They lost them in the system. Once the employees realized there was a problem, they self-reported the problem and then they were dispatched on another run.”
Smith says the firefighters realized their mistake when they heard a call for service over the radio that should have been given to them.
“They heard a run coming out that they thought they would be responsible to take and that’s when they realized there was a problem and self-reported to dispatch,” said Smith.
Sources familiar with the report say 39 ambulances were on duty that night, with nine out of service at the time of the call for the injured officer.
The investigation has discovered six of those transports were legitimately out of service with mechanical problems.
On March 5th a D.C. Police Officer—a victim of a hit-and-run—laid in the street for nearly 20 minutes with a broken leg before he was finally taken to the hospital by an ambulance from Prince George’s County.
In a report set to be released later Tuesday, sources familiar with the investigation tell ABC7 they found that 39 ambulances scheduled on duty that night, nine of those were listed as “out of service.”
Of those nine ambulances, six had valid mechanical issues, but three were improperly taken out of service.
One crew did not log back into the system properly and were off the dispatcher’s radar. But, the other two were considered in “delayed relief mode,” and had been told to “monitor the radio,” and should an important call come, they were told to respond.
ABC7 spoke with D.C. EMS union officials, who say, the two crews in question never heard a call for a dispatch.
Regardless of what led to the confusion, district residents told ABC7 that something needs to change.
“The previous administration left the city unprepared. … It takes time to turn around a department that was neglected for so long,” said Ribeiro, who noted the agency has ordered or received 45 ambulances since Gray became mayor.
Here’s a little more from Blinder’s article:
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Monday that the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department suffered an “embarrassment” by being forced to acknowledge it misled city lawmakers last month about the state of its fleet. “It’s always a concern of mine that the council receive accurate information,” Mendelson said. “It’s an embarrassment to the department that the information they provided turned out to be incorrect.”
DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Elllerbe got a couple of minutes to state his case in a live interview last night at the top of the 11:00 PM newscast on WUSA-TV. Chief Ellerbe wants to go to a peak scheduling plan for the department’s paramedics beefing up the number of paramedics working during the hours when the statistics show they are most needed. The most controversial aspect of the idea is the removal of all paramedic ambulances, or medic units, between 1:00 AM and 7:00 AM when Ellerbe says demand for those services goes down to about half the number of calls during the rest of the day.
Such peak loading has been attempted in the past in the Nation’s Capital. It can become controversial when a chief has to explain why a paramedic ambulance was sitting in quarters unstaffed at a time when a child around the corner goes into cardiac arrest. Chief Ellerbe points out that he doesn’t expect the wait time for receiving ALS care to increase during those hours because paramedics will still be responding aboard paramedic engine companies and there will be 21 to 25 basic life support ambulances available for transport overnight. In addition, there will be paramedic supervisors working during the off peak hours.
Chief Ellerbe was asked last night, and in a story a week earlier on WTTG-TV, about allegations of a paramedic shortage and the departure of overworked medics. The chief claims the rate of departure is lower the last two years than the previous two and that there is not really a paramedic shortage as claimed by the firefighters’ union.
But the question I have yet to hear anyone ask is the first that comes to my mind in these stories. When a fire call strips an area of paramedic engine companies and there is an immediate need for ALS around the corner how is easy is it going to be to defend the plan when the closest paramedics are aboard engines on the other side of the city?
My experience is that whatever the merits of this plan are or aren’t will take a back seat to the public and council members acceptance of it after the first news story about someone dying. In the past they have had trouble dealing with the concept that their neighborhood paramedic ambulance only comes to get you if you have your heart attack at 2:00 PM but isn’t staffed if it occurs at 2:00 AM.
Doyle reports that U.S. District Judge James Boasberg ruled on Friday, that despite continued legal challenges from the District of Columbia government to have the suit dismissed, the lawsuit will continue. Steinberg’s case has spanned the administration of more than a handful of DC fire chiefs. Mentioned in the ruling are Adrian Thompson, Dennis Rubin and Kenneth Ellerbe. Here’s more from Mike Doyle:
FEMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, and several other former top officers, were scheduled to be deposed July 30. Keep in mind: when handled by a tough, prepared attorney, depositions can be uncomfortable proceedings. And, as it happened, “just four days” prior to the depositions, Boasberg noted, “Mr. Steinberg received a letter from Chief Ellerbe advising him that he would be conditionally reinstated and awarded retroactive back pay and benefits.”
Steinberg says he is permanently disabled, and cannot be restored to his prior position. He stopped appearing for work as an EMT in 1995 when he filed his initial disability claim, actions which eventually led to his termination. Department officials said he was fired for being absent without leave; he says he was wrongfully terminated for filing a workman’s compensation claim.
So what the hell was Statter ranting about with his post about The Rube?: A very good question. Thanks for asking. The former chief of the DC Fire & EMS Department wrote his latest FireEngineering.com column about dealing with the press at a major incident. I just happened to notice some facts in the column were very different than the ”facts” Chief Dennis Rubin used when he claimed in 2009 that STATter911.com was not reporting the truth in some of our coverage of a deadly Metro collision. Reading The Rube’s article, I am starting to be suspicious that I actually did tell the truth (must have been by accident, you know how we media types always lie) Click here for my post.
But if you would rather avert your eyes and not look at Dave dredging up something few people care about, let me offer you this Reader’s Digest version of it all. During a major crisis in the community an elected official put his own need to be on TV in front of keeping the citizens informed. When called on it by the press, a department head covered for his boss, the elected official. In doing so, the department head then went on the attack and blamed the reporter.
Shocking? Not really. The team of Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chief Dennis Rubin were far from the first to do something like this in the Nation’s Capital or elsewhere and they won’t be the last. It’s just nice to see more of the real story starting to emerge.
The Curt & Dave Show: Curt Varone of FireLawBlog.com and much more is getting ready to carry me through a webinar on social media sponsored by American Military University. It will be held on Tuesday October 23 at 11:00 AM Eastern time. Sign up here through the IAFC.
Squirrel dinner destroys apartments: Firegeezer.com has all the details of one of the more unusual causes for a fire of late. Don’t miss this one.
Audio from Detroit 2nd alarm at pallet & trucking firm: wildfirevideosWNY has audio posted from Wednesday’s fire at Beaufait and Sylvester. Click here.
Random behavior: That guy at FireCritic.com has the latest installment of his new series called Firefighter Randomness. I’m not sure how to describe it (or pretty much anything that guy does) but here it is.
On duty sex show(s) in Nashville ends career for three: The scandal that was uncovered when a firefighter was being extorted now results in three firefighters resigning. Here are details.
Never off duty in Jacksonville, Florida: There is some fallout after a group of Jacksonville firefighters were reprimanded because of sexually charged performances at a fundraiser in August. Now, an annual charity fashion show, which in the past had firefighter participation, isn’t getting many volunteers. The union head says there is concern about a comment from the chief that the firefighters are never off duty, Here’s more.
Captain Willie vents: My friend Willie Wines Jr. thinks he has the answer to much of what ails the fire service in this country and lays it all out in two columns here and here.
STATter911.com June 2009 reporting on this issue here & here
Some background from Dave
On the morning of July 2, 2009 I was tuned in to the most listened to radio station in the Nation’s Capital when the city’s fire chief told an interviewer that some of my reporting on a major news story was not true. Something like that gets the attention of a reporter.
While I was taken by surprise, like most people in the news business, it’s something I’ve dealt with before in my career. I did what I always did when such a claim was made. I rechecked the facts and tried to do as honest an evaluation as possible to see if I was being fair to all involved. The next day I posted all the details as I knew them, including the chief’s comments and an on the record statement from the fire department PIO, who also heard the broadcast. The spokesman directly contradicted his boss.
Now, more than three-years later, the same chief has written his own column about the news media and that same incident. In it, the chief now verifies most of what his PIO said and what I reported, in direct contrast to his words in 2009.
I fully expect some will accuse me of trying to settle an old score and others will find this absolutely boring. But I think it’s important to my credibility to once again place the facts as I know them before you and let you be the judge. It should also give you insight into how sometimes decisions are made about public information during a crisis, based not on good policy, but on a political leader’s ego.
1. Keep providing the information to the media, even if it is “stale” and already discussed items. Shutting the “news tap” off altogether is never a good idea.
2. The local media felt shut out when the national folks arrived (typically from their parent companies). I should have made extra efforts to include the local folks in every aspect of the media presentations. Remember that when the national and international press go home, you are left with the media locals, and they are always watching your department. Adding the local folks to a discussion wouldn’t have taken anything away from the reports and would have allowed the hometown media to feel a part of everything.
You will get no argument from me about keeping the information flowing and taking care of the local news media. I also made those exact points on the very day Chief Rubin’s column was posted while leading a class for a group of visiting officials from Southeast Asia. The topic was handling the press during critical incidents. In fact, I used the Metro crash as an example of how not to do deal with the news media. The incident has been a part of my presentations around the country during the last two years.
Better late than never
I need to thank Chief Rubin for writing this column. For the first time, in a very public way, he has acknowledged that some of what he said about me, my blog and his own public information officer 11 days after the crash was wrong.
In his column, Rubin now confirms that an anticipated press conference by Mayor Adrian Fenty completely stopped the information flow in the second hour of this developing incident. This, despite the public being hungry for details due to much of the region’s transit system shut down at rush hour and many people worried about the fate of their loved ones.
Chief Rubin also now admits it was wrong for the mayor and chief to provide interviews and information to CNN’s Larry King and national fire/EMS publications without also taking care of the local news media.
Above, Chief Dennis Rubin on WTOP Radio, July 2, 2009.
What Statter reported & the chief said in 2009
These same two issues were brought up in my TV and STATter911.com reports in the days immediately following the incident (here & here).
I also had many discussions about these concerns with the DC Fire & EMS Department’s media team of Deputy Chief Kenneth Crosswhite, Billy D. Hayes and Alan Etter and left a message on the chief’s cell phone. All of them heard an earful from me that Rubin and his command staff talked about the handling of the incident with FirefighterNation.com/ Fire Rescue Magazine, Firehouse.com, FireRescue1.com and JEMS.com, but were under orders to turn down interview requests with local reporters.
I know Mr. Statter had described that fact and that just simply isn’t true. The other side of it is, though, if we were to shoot from the hip, I think instead of being here today saying why did it take a bit to learn the number of folks, to have some notion as to what occurred here. Instead of that, I think we would be under the gun, why did you give us such inaccurate information?
I know there were some comments made about the number of cell telephone calls that were made. I never received a one from Mr. Statter and I know he is the person that’s complaining the most. But I would have to give us a very high mark, that of course is, the mayor’s management consequence team that worked at that event providing accurate timely and effective information.
Rubin now admits there was a 45-minute gap in the flow of information and that it was done because “the mayor’s office directed the fire department PIO team to prepare for a mayoral press conference.” If you look back at my reporting you will see I also wrote the order came from Mayor Adrian Fenty’s office but that the gap was about 70-minutes long.
We’re getting closer. Our only disagreement now is 1525-minutes and some specific instructions with that order.
Above, Chief Dennis Rubin with WUSA-TV photojournalist Keith Williams, July 2, 2009.
I reported the mayor’s office said there were to be no further interviews at the scene until Mayor Fenty speaks. Rubin said that was not correct and told my Channel 9 colleague Keith Williams right after the WTOP Radio appearance, “There were no restrictions or controls placed on fire and EMS by anyone.”
But Rubin’s own PIO at the time, Alan Etter, who was in the process of leaving the department, contradicted the chief. Here’s what I reported:
Etter confirmed, on the record, that it was accurate. Etter said at about 6:10 PM, 70-minutes after the crash was reported, he received a page from Mayor Adrian Fenty’s press office ordering that he give no further interviews about the collision. According to Etter, the page indicated Mayor Fenty would be speaking at 7:15 PM.
Until that page came Etter had worked very hard in making sure the local news media and the public were being informed about this important story. Then suddenly there was a news blackout along with later orders not to upstage the mayor with local interviews in the days following the crash.
The mayor and the fire chief talking with the press at the Metro crash scene from WashingtonPost.com.
For the record, we have never indicated the stopping of the information flow came on orders of Chief Rubin. It wasn’t his style of handling information at or following a major incident. But it certainly was the style of his boss, Mayor Fenty. The Washington Post made note of that two days after the Metro crash in an article by reporter Nikita Stewart titled, ”D.C. Mayor Tries Too Hard to Control the Message, Critics Say“.
In the old STATter911.com articles you will see there were other missteps in handling the media that day, including a bit of a heavy hand from the police department.
It’s sad that any of this even became an issue, because it distracted from the expert job Chief Rubin and the men and women of the department did that day in handling a very high profile and difficult mass casualty incident.
And a final word
When you read Chief Rubin’s article, which I urge you to do, you may note he has the Metro crash occurring a week after the date I am using. For the record, June 22, 2009 is accurate.
I can tell you even a small error involving details of a rail incident is very uncharacteristic of Dennis Rubin. During a panel discussion we both participated in at the National Fire Academy a number of years ago I just happened to mention the 1987 Chase, Maryland Amtrak collision. Off the top of his head he rattled off all of the pertinent facts and figures of that incident, including the exact date. Quite impressive. I believe Chief Rubin told me his dad was a railroad man.
Vanessa Coleman, a former captain for the DC Fire & EMS Department who claimed department officials violated her First Amendment rights and ordered her to undergo psychological evaluation as part of retaliation against her has had her lawsuit dismissed.
This is the case that revolves around the major fire at a Mt. Pleasant apartment building on March 12, 2008. Firefighters failed to discover in a timely manner that the fire began in the basement of the building. That failure was blamed on Captain Coleman who was in charge of Engine 21 at the time of the fire. The department’s SOP makes checking of the basement the responsibility of the second due engine. That engine is assigned to the rear of the structure. Capt. Coleman contends the radio traffic from the night of the fire shows her crew was ordered by the IC, Battalion Chief John Lee, to cover the third floor.
The controversy became public about eight months after the fire when the Government Accountability Project (GAP) took on Vanessa Colesman’s case. GAP is a whistleblower protection organization located in Washington. Click here for GAP’s summary of the case.
Many disputes then ensued, as the department tried to figure out what happened and as then-Capt. Coleman made public her position. Chief Lee subsequently accepted an official reprimand. Coleman did not; she fought on.
Some of Coleman’s public comments were incendiary, and her bosses ordered her to undergo a pscyhological evaluation. She called that retaliation and refused. The department fired her in October 2009.
Judge Lamberth goes carefully through each element of the complaint; illustratively, he reasoned:
“Defendants claim that they acted in response to plainitff’s erratic, paranoid, and otherwise worrisome behavior – as manifested in the ‘barrage’ of dozens communications and memoranda which plaintiff documents in her filings in this case. These filings, as well as plaintiff’s other behavior, gave the defendants legitimate concern about plaintiff’s mental state, and her ability to safely command her company.”
On Monday, GAP announced in a press release it was in court that day with Theresa Cusick the former legal counsel for the DC Fire & EMS Department. Here’s how GAP describes Cusick’s case:
Cusick served as FEMS General Counsel until 2007, when she informed an Assistant US Attorney that a FEMS officer – who the attorney had been working with – was under investigation by the Washington, DC Office of Inspector General (DC OIG) for his alleged involvement in a cheating scandal at the FEMS Training Academy. Cusick raised concerns that neither FEMS nor the Office of the US Attorney should rely on the officer until he was cleared of any involvement.
Cusick also blew the whistle in 2007 to the DC OIG that then-Assistant DC Fire Chief Brian Lee ordered her not to communicate with either the DC OIG or the DC Office of the Attorney General (OAG), and attempted to cover up the fact that a fire investigator was being investigated by DC OIG.
After reporting Lee’s actions to DC OIG, OAG and DC Fire Chief Dennis Rubin, Cusick was transferred from her position as General Counsel purportedly at the request of then Fire Chief Dennis Rubin.
While we have not been able to find any coverage of Cusick’s day in court, it made news in 2009 when videotaped depositions of Chief Dennis Rubin were released by GAP.
Above is an excerpt of the deposition provided by GAP (more excerpts from the deposition here and here). Below is my coverage of the story for WUSA-TV which includes the response from the DC Fire & EMS Department.
The video above is a combination of a short clip taken shortly after the arrival of firefighters at 4869 Glenbrook Rd, NW this morning and later video from DC Fire & EMS Department videographer Vito Maggiolo. The fire was in a home of more than 7000 sqaure feet that last sold for more than $4 million.
The home is located a few streets away from a mansion owned by former school board president Peggy Cooper Cafritz that was destroyed in July 2009. The 2009 fire was plagued by serious water supply problems that brought a great deal of scrutiny to the fire department and WASA, DC’s water and sewer authority (read more about the 2009 fire here). There is no word of any water issues this morning.
Here’s what Vito wrote about the fire for DCFD.com:
Units were dispatched to 4869 Glenbrook Road shortly before 5:30AM, and arrived to find a very large, 2 1/2 story detached home with flames raging through the second floor, attic and through the roof.
A second alarm was requested almost immediately, and the fire was so well advanced that an interior attack was not feasible.
Firefighters worked to establish a sufficient water supply for a master stream assault, and the blaze was eventually fought from the outside with three ladder pipes, Tower 3, and large handlines.
A two-alarm fire in Northwest DC produced a column of smoke that could be seen from Crystal City early Friday morning.
Lon Walls, spokesman for DC Fire and EMS, says the blaze broke out in a house located at 4867 Glenbrook Road around 5:37 a.m. Firefighters arriving on scene found a fully-involved house fire with flames on both floors of the two-story home. A second alarm was called.
Right now there are no reports of injuries. It is unclear whether or not the home is occupied.
D.C.’s fire chief continues to parry criticism against him, citing what he says are inaccuracies in recent media reports that the city failed to vet harassment claims against him and that protective gear sitting in storage could have saved firefighters from injury.
In an interview with WTOP Monday morning, Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, who was tapped for the position by Mayor Vincent Gray in December 2010, claims scathing reports by Washington Times against him are “unfair,” “not accurate” and “sensationalist.”
The Times recently reported Ellerbe was not properly vetted before taking the job as chief of D.C. Fire & EMS, and that the city overlooked sexual harassment claims at his former position in Sarasota, Fla. where he also served as fire chief.
“Those articles coming out of (The Times) have been fraught with unproven allegations and inaccuracies,” he says. “I think they have not been fair and accurate in their reporting, but sensationalism sells stories.”
Ellerbe says he does not recall “undressing someone with his eyes,” per the Times report that he “leered at female employees and intimidated other employees,” adding he wouldn’t know how to undress someone using only his eyes.
He also denounced ever referring to himself as a “vindictive ‘expletive deleted.’”
“I would never refer to myself that way,” he says, “nor would I call anyone else that.”
The chief has also caught flak from an Examiner.com report that he kept $70,000 worth of fire-resistant shirts in storage because they did not align with the firefighters’ uniform. These could have been used to protect firefighters, the report claims.
Ellerbe said Monday these specific shirts don’t have any protective qualities, and are solely designed not to melt onto the firefighter’s skin if the protective outer jacket and pants fail.
He confirmed the shirts, which do not conform to the uniform, are sitting in the warehouse for the department while it looks for a way to repurpose or sell them.
“This is the deal when we take these leadership positions: We have to understand there’s going to be some resistance sometimes, especially if change is involved,” he says. “If you can’t take the heat, these aren’t the positions for you.”
D.C. firefighters and councilmembers are asking if protective shirts have been sitting in storage instead of being worn by firefighters–because the shirts didn't have the right patch.
Veteran D.C. firefighter Chuck Ryan was the most critically injured of five firefighters in a house fire that flashed over last April.
Today, only on ABC7, he talks about the recent report in the Washington Examiner that fire-resistant shirts designed to prevent burn injuries were sitting in a fire department warehouse last year when Ryan and four others were burned.
With second and third-degree burns on 40 percent of his body, Ryan is still on the very long road to recovery.
The Examiner reports the shirts were in storage and not handed out because the protective clothing didn't have the correct patches. Almost $70,000 of polo shirts bore logos designed by the previous administration. The shirts didn't have the new department logo ordered by current Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, so the shirts stayed in the boxes, according to the Examiner.
Councilman Phil Mendelson's office has been asking the department for months about rumors that the protective shirts were available. But he says he was always told the shirts didn't exist.
"It was disturbing after a year to find out they do exist," Mendelson says.
"We work in the best city in the nation," Ryan says. "Why wouldn't we have the best equipment available?"
"The temperature got so hot the uniform melted into my skin," Ryan says.
If he wasn't wearing the best gear–because of a patch–that's disheartening, he says.
Ryan says the shirts now in storage might have helped lessen the burns on his upper arms and back. But he says we will never know how much.
Besides echoing Chief Ellerbe's money will be saved, the Post editorial board says for the department to be fully unified, as recommended by the task force that looked into the 2006 death of New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum, firefighters should work the same 12-hour shifts as the civilian EMS force.
The editorial also makes the point, with EMS being bulk of the work load for firefighters, the department needs to move away from 24-hour shifts to reduce errors, similar to the trend of hospitals shortening shifts for interns.
Here are some excerpts from the editorial:
An altered work schedule has the potential to save money while ensuring better emergency services.
Mr. Ellerbe said the change would help curb excessive overtime while enabling (through attrition) a reduction in the number of full-time employees, eventually saving $36 million per year.
Whether the so-called 3-3-3 plan is the best combination is to be determined, but the chief is persuasive on the need to reexamine the 24-hour shift. Shorter shifts would allow for more training opportunities.
Since firefighters, paid annually, would work more hours per week under the new scenario, more compensation is in order, particularly since they have not had a raise since 2006.
More money won’t appease everyone who has built a life around a work schedule that — with its requirement of just eight or nine workdays a month — allows extended time with families, second jobs and the ability to live as far away as North Carolina. Ed Smith, president of the firefighters union, says he believes the change will prompt an exodus from the department, including by EMS-qualified firefighters who were recruited to upgrade the department in the wake of the Rosenbaum case.
Above is the video from what I believe was one of the strangest DC City Council hearings I had covered in my 25 years as a TV reporter. The contentious April 1, 2009 hearing before Phil Mendelson's Committee for Public Safety and the Judiciary had then DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Dennis Rubin and his staff on the hot seat about a used city fire engine and ambulance that had been donated to the city of Sosua in the Dominican Republic. Trying to get to the bottom of this supposed good deed by the administration of Mayor Adrian Fenty was not an easy task. A series of reports were issued. Links for some of those reports are above.
Top members of the Adrian Fenty administration violated District regulations when they developed plans to donate a used D.C.-owned fire truck to a Dominican Republic city, a D.C. inspector general investigation has concluded.
"The lack of proper oversight allowed private parties … inappropriately to influence the activities of District government employees," the inspector general wrote. "This further resulted in a waste of District government resources."
One of those cited for violating city rules is a deputy fire chief. Here's a summary from the report:
B. The Deputy Fire Chiefs Conduct
Fire truck #S-104 and ambulance #S-671, which ultimately were designated for donation to Sosua, were not identified for decommissioning and disposal until after the Nonprofit 2 Founder rejected fire truck #S-194 and the first ambulance. The Deputy Fire Chief, without regard to District decommission and disposal procedures, selected vehicles that had not yet been identified for decommission and disposal and expedited the process so that the vehicles were available for donation in less than 1 month, instead ofwithin 60-75 days as he initially indicated. 19
Accordingly, the OIG finds that he used his position as a FEMS employee to benefit a private interest and expedited the decommissioning and disposal of the vehicles without following proper procedure.
After being invited by the former DMPED DOD to a Super Bowl party in Sosua, the Deputy Fire: Chief informed FEMS that he had scheduled training for SosUa fire officials. This resulted in the • Deputy Fire Chief obtaining authorized paid leave from FEMS for his time in Sosua. He then traveled to Sosua, at District government expense (costing more than $800 for his airfare and per ' diem), accepted a free meal and transportation from Sosua officials, and accepted a plaque from Dajabon officials. Therefore, he violated the DPM by accepting gifts from prohibited sources because Sosa and Dajabon were attempting to obtain property from the District, specifically FEMS.
Accordingly, the issues of whether the Deputy Fire Chief violated DPM § 1803.1 (a)(1) (Using public office for private gain); § 1803.1 (a)(2) (Giving preferential treatment to any person); § 1803.1 (a)(3) (Impeding government efficiency or economy); § 1803.1 (a)(4) (Losing complete independence or impartiality); § 1803.1 (a)(5) (Making a government decision outside official . channels); § 1803.1 (a)(6) (Affecting adversely the confidence ofthe public in the integrity of government); § 1803.2 (A District government employee shall not solicit or accept, either directly or through the intercession ofothers, any gift from a prohibited source); and § 1803.6 (An employee shall not accept a gift, present, or decoration from a foreign government), are SUBSTANTIATED.
DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe found his recent order to use the name 'FEMS' instead of the traditional 'DCFD' on t-shirts purchased by firefighters under scrutiny by the City Council. It happened at this morning's FY2012 budget hearing in front of the Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety. Council members Phil Mendelson and Jack Evans asked Ellerbe about the controversial decision by Ellerbe. Ellerbe had previously indicated 'DFCD' does not cover the EMS activities of the department. At the request of IAFF Local 36 officials Chief Ellerbe has delayed implementing the order for 120 days. Jack Evans has introduced a bill to keep the 'DCFD' name alive.
The video above starts after a question by Committee Chairman Phil Mendelson about any cost associated with suh a change.
The video below is a brief discussion of the related issue of having firefighters outfitted with safer NFPA compliant uniforms. Mendelson says more than $2.5 million was budgeted to replace polyester pants and shirts during the administration of former Chief Dennis Rubin. The questioning comes on the same day that five DC firefighters were burned during a house fire. One of the firefighters, Charles Ryan, is in critical condition.
The new year is a time for transition. In Washington, DC that means a new mayor takes over on Sunday. Mayor-elect Vincent Gray has announced that Sarasota County Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe (a DC Fire & EMS veteran) will take over the DC Fire & EMS Department. Chief Dennis Rubin, who had been chief since April, 2007, said goodbye to the department in a recorded message just before 7:00 AM on Wednesday that was played over the department’s radio system. Click above to listen to that recording.
DC’s fire chief in waiting Ellerbe & Fire Chief’s Wilmoth both post comments at STATter911.com: Following a number of reader comments about Janet Wilmoth’s blog criticizing the appointment of Kenneth Ellerbe, both the chief and the blogger show up in our comments section. Janet Wilmoth’s comments can be found at the bottom of this post. Chief Ellerbe has two responses, here and a short one here.
Ten hurt as fire rig, medic unit & 3 other vehicles crash in Philly: We have radio traffic from AlertPage.net of last night’s crash of Philadelphia’s Squad 72 & Medic 18. Click here. More details and PhillyFireNews.com pictures by Ron Trout are at Glenn Usdin’s FireTruckBlog.com.
A must read – Charles Bailey’s year-end review: To me Charles is probably among the best writers in the fire service today. On top of his writing skills Charles is always challenging his readers and asking the important questions. While we aren’t always in agreement, I am with him all the way on this one. Reflecting on the year in his FireRescue1.com column, Charles turns the mirror on the “Look at me” generation of firefighters asking them to look at themselves and the impact on the fire service. Please read.
New helmet-cam gets the attention of a local newspaper: An interesting article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, with video posted on its website, of recent helmet-cam video from the Cedar Rapids Fire Department. The paper looks at how the department plans to use the video for training. Here’s more.
‘Tis the season …. : … for giving. Over at Firegeezer, Steve Marshall has been asking for help for a young volunteer firefighter in Pennsylvania who has had a number of tragic situations come his way recently, including a house fire. Take a moment to read this.
Rhett likes how they curse in Canada: The Fire Critic weighs in with a comment on video I posted from Winnipeg that has great, but profane narration from a couple of young locals. Click here, but just don’t sue me wanting to get the two-minutes-and-forty-five seconds of your life back that will be wasted listening to this crew (or reading Rhett, for that matter).