Just days after D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe admitted to big problems with DCFEMS equipment, our team did some digging to see if this kind of neglect common in other cities.
According to internal documents obtained by the ABC7 I-Team, only five of the District Fire Department’s 26 ladder trucks have passed a national recognized safety test – and none of the agency’s 53 pumper trucks have been tested since 2010.
This means that when District ladder and pumper trucks respond to an emergency, the community cannot be assured that the equipment will work properly, according to the agency’s own records.
These vehicles are supposed to be tested annually to ensure that the ladder can hold weight and the pumper’s pressure control system will function. But based on internal documents, many of the ladder trucks that failed the test were put right back on the streets and haven’t been re-tested in years.
Local 36 official Dabney Hudson says this lack of oversight is putting both members and citizens at risk.
“There's no reason we should be in a situation where a vehicle that we know failed a test is being used everyday," she says. "It wouldn't happen in the majority of the jurisdictions, and it shouldn't happen in the District of Columbia."
We found this ladder truck at the department’s repair shop that had its parts literally held together by tape. It failed the test back in August, but fire officials say it remains in service.
Last week, our own Bruce DePuyt confronted Chief Kenneth Ellerbe on NewsTalk.
DePuyt: "How many of the ladder trucks are certified as safe?"
Chief Ellerbe: "Yesterday, there were three out of 26. Today, there are five."
DePuyt: "Those are terrible numbers."
Chief Ellerbe insists his is not the only department facing this issue, because these tests take both time and money:
"This is not isolated in Washington D.C.," he insists. "This is an industry-wide issue."
But after contacting similar-sized agencies, we found the opposite to be true. Fire departments from across the country told us that all their pumper and ladder trucks are safety-certified.
Only in Atlanta did we find a few uncertified ladder trucks. But all the agencies say any truck not up to spec is taken out of service – which does not seem to be the policy in the nation’s capital.
“Let's fix them and let's give everybody the peace of mind that they deserve when they dial 911 and have an emergency," says Dabney Hudson.
In an email from DCFEMS spokesperson Tim Wilson, he states:
The Department has conducted additional testing of its pumpers to ensure the accuracy of gauges, capacity ratings and pressure control systems. However, these tests have not been performed since 2010. Going forward, the Department will implement annual pump testing to make sure the operability of its pumpers are kept up each year.
There are 4 ladder trucks that have been certified and are currently in service. One is not in service. The total comes out to 5.
Going forward, the Department will implement a plan to test one or two ladder trucks per month to make sure their certification status is updated annually.
ABC7 had figures sent in from various fire departments across the country to compare with D.C. The first number is the amount of pumper trucks that have passed the safety test out of the total number of pumper trucks. The second number is the number of ladder trucks that passed out of the total number of ladder trucks.
Columbus: 52/52, 22/22
Nashville: 51/51, 18/18
Seattle: 43/43, 14/14
Phoenix: 85/85, 20/20
Indianapolis: 58/58, 29/29
Atlanta: 37/37, 16/20
Other than a few ladder trucks that didn’t pass the test in Atlanta, everyone is right up to code.
This morning, DC Mayor Vincent Gray, Deputy Mayor Paul Quander and Chief Kenneth Ellerbe held a press conference to announce 30 new ambulances will be on the streets by the end of the year, nine “single role” paramedics have been hired and 60 firefighters are joing the ranks of the department. In the video above WJLA-TV/ABC 7 reporter John Gonzalez reports that Chief Ellerbe’s portion of the press conference gave the impression this was a resignation speech but there is no indication that is the case.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray again defended his embattled fire chief Tuesday telling reporters at an event showing off the city’s new ambulances the department is being “managed well”.
In fact the mayor is so confidant with the progress being made he will resubmit his ambulance redeployment plan to the city council. A plan unanimously voted down just a few weeks ago.
Mayor Gray and Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told a gathering of recruits, reporters, city officials and command staff the fire department is no longer at a “tipping point” and has turned a corner in its plan to replace an aging fleet of vehicles and fill positions on a depleted staff of paramedics.
Gray and Ellerbe stood side by side outside a downtown firehouse and listed a number of accomplishments they feel will restore confidence in a fire department that has been badly bruised by a string of embarrassing incidents.
“Fire and EMS will receive 13 new ambulances from Horton Emergency Services by the end of the fiscal year or by September 30th”, said the mayor.
He also added 24 million dollars has been set aside to buy new trucks, engines and ambulances over the next three years.
The two also announced the hiring of nine new paramedics with Chief Ellerbe remarking on the difficulty in finding them.
“Paramedics are in high demand across the country”, said the chief, “and this is a job that requires a specific skill set, it’s not easy to come by, in fact the nine hires we have today came through a pool of one hundred and twenty five applicants, so it’s not easy to get through our process, it’s not easy to hire paramedics”.
As FOX 5 has reported for months, the department has been unable to keep up with the attrition and a number of ambulances and pumpers are routinely put in service without a required paramedic every single day.
Despite that, the mayor says he wants the council to consider his redeployment plan once again.
As the chief announced improved response times in the city he admitted his plan to train current firefighter/EMT’s as paramedics at Prince George’s Community College has fallen apart.
“That process did not work out”, said Ellerbe, “they offered us a contract that we could not agree to”.
As the news conference came to a close the chief told reporters he was hoping to patch up his relationship with the union.
“They were saying the equipment was old, we are bringing new equipment in, they said we didn’t have enough employees, we are hiring new employees, they already have the best equipment that money can buy”, Ellerbe said.
Union President Ed Smith, who attended the news conference, had this take on what he heard.
“First I want to say we are glad to see new hires and new units rolling in, it’s long overdue, does it rise to the occasion of news worthy? I don’t think so”, said Smith, “and the reason I say that is buying apparatus and hiring people should be part of everyday business”.
Tommy Wells, the chairman of the City Council’s Judiciary Committee says he’s glad the council finally got the mayors attention after raising crisis level concerns and he’s pleased to see a plan of action.
As for the mayor’s plan to resubmit the ambulance redeployment plan Wells says he’s hopeful it will not eliminate services during late night and early morning hours.
“We’re no longer at a tipping point,” Ellerbe said. “We’re now in a position to turn the corner.”
Gray also used the news conference to put to rest rumblings that he might abandon Ellerbe, who has been deeply criticized by the firefighters union and some D.C. Council members, saying the chief had no reason to fear for his job. ”I am really pleased with the progress he has made,” Gray said. “The department is being managed well.”
Local 36 President Ed Smith attended the more-than-hour-long news conference and afterward called it a “dog and pony show.” The new hires and new ambulances are “a good thing,” he said, but “this should have been what we’ve been doing the whole time.”
Nine new paramedics and 30 new ambulances will soon be on the streets in the District of Columbia, but the new hires and purchases won’t lead to any changes in a staffing and deployment strategy that critics have called inadequate for the nation’s capital.
Mayor Vincent Gray and Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe announced the hires and purchases at a news conference Tuesday. In addition to the paramedics, the department will bring on 60 new firefighters by year’s end from its recruit and cadet programs. Seventeen of the recruits are military veterans.
Ellerbe says the department has “turned the corner.”
The department has 35 paramedics working at any given time, 14 on ambulances. The new hires won’t change those numbers, but union leaders say ambulances will be downgraded less often.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The department has struggled to provide timely emergency care. Dozens of paramedics have resigned in the past two years, and some ambulances have fallen into disrepair. The Associated Press reported that the department is trying to make do with less than half the paramedics employed by departments that respond to similar numbers of medical calls.
The nine new hires will be “single-role” paramedics, meaning they will ride on ambulances but not on fire engines, which are usually the first vehicles to respond to emergencies. Department officials have said many trained paramedics don’t want to fight fires.
Whatever ails the DC Fire & EMS Department, the Editorial Board of The Washington Post remains convinced it isn’t the fault of Kenneth Ellerbe. In fact, despite all of the recent headlines the Editorial Board continues to believe Chief Ellerbe is the man who has the plan for the future. This is consistent with the Post’s previous editorials on the subject. Here are excerpts from the editorial published yesterday:
Chief Ellerbe, we’ve noted before, has made some missteps, but he’s on exactly the right track in wanting to bring new accountability to a department mired in the practices and traditions of the past. Indeed, the problem with the department is not that there’s been too much change but that Chief Ellerbe has been hamstrung — by a restrictive union contract and intrusive council policies — from retooling it so that the needs of the public, rather than the wishes of the rank and file, are the main priority.
The main mission of the department is no longer simply fighting fires but also providing emergency medical services in a way that most efficiently serves the public. So while it may be in the interest of firefighters to have a schedule that requires just eight or nine workdays a month and allows them to have second jobs far from the District, that’s not in the best interests of the public that has to pick up the tab. And while it may to be to the advantage of the union that the department hire only paramedics who are firefighters, it makes sense for the city to meet its demand for paramedics by hiring people whose main role is to provide these critically needed emergency medical services.
Chief Ellerbe has dared to challenge the status quo on these and other issues, and that’s why he’s been made a target. If he were to be forced from office — an effort that troublingly is being enabled by some council members who should know better — prospects of reforming the department would be dealt a severe setback.
The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services, or DCFEMS, also has one of the most contentious relationships in the city, with both sides telling very different versions about why things seem to go wrong inside the agency.
So the News4 I-Team fought a legal battle for more than a year-and-a-half to get paperwork from the city, hoping to shed light on what’s really happening inside the city’s fire department.
We finally got the documents.
They show there are some serious problems inside DCFEMS, starting with the sheer number of unfilled positions.
According to the union, known as the DC Firefighters Association Local 36, it takes 360 people to fully staff all positions on any given day. The union claims there are as many as 250 unfilled positions.
“My gut reaction is we don’t have enough,” says Smith. “Way behind.”
Why is that important? DCFEMS says one out of every five calls requires a paramedic. Smith says only paramedics can intubate a patient, administer life-saving drugs and use complex defibrillators. Everyone else is an EMT who can provide “Basic Life Support” like CPR.
He says there are now so many unfilled paramedic jobs, the ones who do show up to work are being forced to work 12-hour mandatory overtime shifts after they’ve finished their regular 24 hour shift. (See how much DCFEMS employees make.)
When we visited his office in Northeast, Smith pointed to a graphic the union has created of every paramedic unit each day. When you look at July 2011, you can see a smattering of yellow boxes designating the unit on a specific day has been downgraded.
“It wasn’t a medic unit, it was a regular ambulance,” Smith explains.
Then he flips through July 2012. Many more yellow boxes.
By July 2013, the yellow boxes dominate the screen.
Smith randomly points to July 8 of this year and starts counting the number of units downgraded during that day’s AM shift. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11” he counts out loud and he points to yellow boxes. “Eleven out of the 14 supposed Medic units are supposed to be staffed. Three of them were in. The picture tells the whole story.”
Not quite, says Chief Ellerbe.
“People have to come to work,” he says. “That’ll keep those boxes from turning yellow.”
Chief Ellerbe says employees only work 96 days out of the year.
Chief Ellerbe says, “People have to come to work. We expect folks to come to work whether it’s a holiday or not and that’s just the bottom line. This job requires sacrifice and we know that coming in. The pay is good, the benefits are good and we expect folks to respect the fact they have a job to do.”
Even Chief Ellerbe says it is time for a pay raise, especially for paramedics who are in such high demand throughout the country. But, he says it’s been difficult getting anyone to even apply because of an old DC law that also required paramedics to be firefighters.
“A lot of employees who want to be EMS providers don’t want to be firefighters,” he says.
Chief Ellerbe says in April, he convinced the DC government to create a variance that would allow him to hire people only as paramedics. Suddenly, he says, the applications started flooding in.
“We’re not running from this stuff. We know we can make things better.”
With all of the turmoil in the DC Fire & EMS Department right now these pictures sure grabbed my attention after being alerted of their existance on Facebook by my old friend Max Cacas. They were taken by Jim Grimaldi and have been reprinted here with Jim’s permission.
Was this an exclusive look at a new seal/logo and color scheme change for the department? The last one sure caused quite the controversy.
After being told where these were shot, it caused me even more confusion for a second and then it dawned on me what this was likely about.
Jim took them in front of City Hall in Los Angeles, California. That clue eventually provided the answer. This was something made up for a movie or TV show.
Jim confirms these were part of a shoot for the television show “Scandal”. The scene also involved other emergency vehicles and a sign showing the Judiciary Square Metro stop.
The Washington Post’s Peter Hermann and Amy Brittain are reporting the initial investigations by DC fire investigators into the two amulance fires last Tuesday found the fires were probably cause by “malfunctions or by shoddy repair attempts”. The reporter say they are basing this on internal incident reports the Post obtained. The reporters indicate the findings were available before Deputy Mayor Paul Quander ordered police involved in the investigation by activating the Arson Task Force and ordering the department’s own investigators to recuse themselves from the task force investigation.
District officials said the conclusions by fire investigators do not represent the final results of a criminal probe that police expect will take some time. They also said the findings do not preclude the possibility of tampering intended to make the fires appear accidental.
“I think it was irresponsible for the deputy mayor to make those allegations,” (Local 36 president Ed) Smith said. “I think the city needs to issue us a formal apology. I’m confident there was nothing done that was untoward.”
Keith St. Clair, a spokesman for Paul A. Quander Jr., the deputy mayor for public safety, said concerns remain about two fires having occurred in ambulances on opposite sides of the city on the same day. Quander, St. Clair said, “wants to know what the facts are” and wants a more thorough investigation than was done initially.
“We’re hoping this investigation shows that these fires were accidental,” St. Clair said.
The report says the fire started near the air conditioner, and it concludes that the fire was an accident. But the investigator also wrote that he was “unable to identify the specific component failure that led to this fire.”
In a report on the second fire that day, which occurred outside MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Northwest, the investigator wrote that he found a plastic container of transmission fluid stored in the engine compartment.
I admit I can’t keep up. I’m at FRI in Chicago trying to figure out everything that is going on with the DC Fire & EMS Department and there are just too many stories and not enough time. There were people here eager to get the scoop directly from Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, who was scheduled to give a class on Thursday called “Fire Proofing the Fire Chief”. I’m told by a number of people the chief was a no-show.
Now let’s forget all that serious stuff for a moment and pay attention to the sideshow that The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis has chronicled. DeBonis confirmed former Chief Dennis Rubin’s claim earlier this week that Kenneth Ellerbe, while still in Florida, texted a message that he wanted Rubin’s job and his “head on a stick”.
As for The Rube, he broke this story and provided details of his battles with Ellerbe in an article called “Saying Goodbye: The Hostile takover” for FireEngineering.com on Wednesday. In the column, Rubin used that same silly technique he used in his book “DC Fire” of describing very clearly the people he sees as his enemies but omitting their names. In Wednesday’s column, Rubin never named Ellerbe or even mentioned the whole article was about his exit as chief in the District of Columbia. What’s that all about? I just don’t get it. It isn’t like we didn’t know. But the skillful Mike DeBonis was able to pry the name “Ellerbe” from Rubin’s lips. Still that’s not the best part.
In an even stranger turn of events, Debonis was able to get backing for Rubin’s claim of the “head on a stick” text from none other than Firefighter Chris “HOOKMAN” Sullivan. Sullivan originally got that message from Ellerbe and later posted it on The Watch Desk. What is so strange is that The Rube and The HOOKMAN are mortal enemies. The Rube fired the Hookman (Sullivan later got his job back). It’s like Lex Luthor vouching for Superman. And on top of it, through a spokesman, Ellerbe admits he wrote the “head on a stick” message.
“It’s truly disgusting, most importantly, to watch the public’s trust to erode,” Rubin said in the interview.
Rubin said he was compelled to speak out after being repeatedly denigrated by Ellerbe and other city officials as fire department woes mounted. “It’s a string of never-ending direct and indirect comments,” he said.
In March 2012, WRC-TV reported on hundreds of fire-resistant polo shirts that were sitting unused in a warehouse. Ellerbe attributed the issue, in part, to “trickery in terms of one administration to another.” More recently, a department statement issued for a WUSA-TV report said the department’s efforts had gone “far beyond what Dennis Rubin did” as chief.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a longtime critic of department management, questioned Rubin’s credibility in critiquing department matters.
“I don’t think he’s the best commentator given the state of the department when he left,” said Mendelson, who clashed with Rubin during his time as chairman of the council’s public safety committee.
I’ve finally come to the conclusion over the last few days the best thing former DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Dennis Rubin could have done for his reputation and legacy was to not write the book “DC Fire”. The headlines about the department over the last year or so may say everything that needs to be said and probably bolsters his image a lot more than whatever Rubin could say about his time in charge in DC (more on The Rube’s book in a moment).
It has come out since Friday that the situation is so bad in the department private ambulances have been brought in to handle special events details at Nationals Park and the Verizon Center. This is all related to the severe shortage of paramedics and a fleet that is in shambles. On top of that, the current chief, Kenneth Ellerbe, is once again seen walking briskly away from TV cameras, refusing to sit still and talk with reporters about the serious problems facing the department. Here’s some of what WTTG-TV/Fox 5 reporter Paul Wagner wrote:
Four private ambulances were used to transport patients at Monday night’s Nationals game and a concert at the Verizon Center, and they will be in place at Nationals Park again Tuesday night. There were so many breakdowns over the weekend, fire department mechanics couldn’t keep up.
On any given day, D.C. Fire and EMS has 39 ambulances on the street around the clock with four ambulances in reserve. But there were so many breakdowns since last Friday the fire department had to draft mechanics from other agencies in order to get them back in service quickly.
It is a situation Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe did not want to talk about when we caught up with him walking down U Street on Tuesday.
I’m so glad I retired from TV news before this administration came into office. With my fat gut I’m not in shape enough to be running after the fit Chief Ellerbe like reporter Paul Wagner has been doing while trying to get some questions answered. I needed a nap after just watching the video. The most useful quote from the fast walk down U Street with the chief on Tuesday may have been, “Don’t push me sir”.
Andrea Noble of The Washington Times is also writing about the need for private ambulances after Chief Ellerbe provided a fairly optimistic evaluation of the prospects for the summer at a council hearing in April saying, “I’m confident in our equipment and I’m confident in our personnel.”
As for The Rube, though he hasn’t been a fire chief for two-and-a-half years, he is also taking a big hit this week from the local news media. Will Sommer, who writes Loose Lips (LL) for the Washington City Paper, posted a column online Monday titled, “LL Reads Dennis Rubin’s D.C. Fire So You Don’t Have To”. It isn’t kind to the former chief or his book. Actually the review is quite brutal. It gets on Rubin for a number of things starting with this comment:
Rubin’s book, which is meant to teach fire officials how to deal with crises, totally avoids one of the biggest scandals of his term: the donation of a fire truck to a Dominican Republic town.
In the video below you will see how the chief handled this mess as it played out initially during a city council hearing on April 1, 2009. It was far from Rubin’s best moment, but I was convinced then and still am now that the chief and the department were forced to be the fall guys for this mini-scandal involving close associates of Mayor Adrian Fenty. The inspector general’s report on the whole affair can be found here. Sommer is right that an honest look at that caper by Rubin would have added great value to the book. Possibly instructing our nation’s future fire chiefs on how to avoid being put in that position.
Sommer also writes that Rubin uses the book to settle scores, describing his antagonists with everything but their names. In fact, I am one of those who gets the full Rubin treatment (as does the City Paper). He talks about me in the first chapter as the reporter who had been a volunteer firefighter and had a reputation for being “difficult for years”. Guilty as charged. But I’m pretty sure you will find his facts are wrong when he claims I was the reporter asking pointed questions about Rubin’s race at the 2007 press conference where Mayor Fenty introduces his new fire chief.
While Sommer didn’t find much he liked in the book, I believe there are some valuable parts for future fire service leaders. In particular, I was intrigued by the chapters describing why Rubin stopped the cadet program, the importance of background checks and how the Secret Service refused to allow a large number of firefighters to take part in Inaugural events because of their pasts. Those topics are a lot more useful than finding out what celebrities the chief hobnobbed with, which is something else Sommer highlights:
The best “What is Rubin thinking?” moment, though, comes the day after President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Rubin had been promised a spot in Oprah Winfrey’s studio audience for her broadcast from D.C., but two fires are holding him up. At one fire, Rubin encounters an elderly woman and a mentally handicapped man who eventually died from their injuries. Later, Rubin’s stuck at a fire that’s spreading between row houses. “At the rate we were going, I would likely miss my chance to be in Oprah’s studio audience,” Rubin moans.
Rest assured, reader, Rubin makes Oprah’s taping, where he gives her a fire department shirt. “How great was that for branding DCFD to the world?” Rubin says.
While he has never explained why, Dennis Rubin suddenly stopped speaking to me about four-years-ago. To be fair, this blog began about the same time he took the job in Washington. It put him under the microscope where his triumphs and failures were on display almost daily for the rest of the fire service to see. That was something a little bit new at that time and I’m sure it wasn’t always pleasant. It very well could be the reason behind the silent treatment.
I still want to do my best to be fair to the former chief. Dennis Rubin is invited to use this space to write a response to the book review (unedited by me), promote ”DC Fire”, and talk about me any way that he would like (I sure talked about him a lot for almost four years).
While I don’t believe the book is as useful a teaching tool as it could have been, I know for some it will at least be entertaining to view the inside of the often troubled DC Fire & EMS Department through Rubin’s eyes and learn what one fire chief thinks of Dave Statter. That reason alone may be worth the price of admission.
By the way, I am also making the same offer of writing a response to his critics to the current chief, Kenneth Ellerbe.
There has been a lot of DC Fire & EMS Department news in recent days. In the video above WTTG-TV/Fox 5 reporter Paul Wagner shows the department did not have enough paramedics available on July 4th to staff a significant number of medic units and paramedic engine companies, leaving many neighborhoods without advanced life support coverage. Wagner points out that Deputy Mayor Paul Quander had told the City Council the department would be able to provide proper coverage in the community at the same time they were dealing with hundreds of thousands of visitors enjoying Independence Day events.
In other DC news below, Chief Kenneth Ellerbe makes it clear he isn’t going anywhere despite Councilmember Mary Cheh’s call for his resignation. Also, the family of a man who died New Year’s Day is suing the District of Columbia for $12 million (more from Curt Varone’s FireLawBlog.com).
D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe says he’s not stepping down, days after a D.C. councilwoman called for him to do so.
Ellerbe has been under fire for a series of ambulance response issues in the city. A recent report by the D.C. Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety committee revealed the department has a serious shortage of paramedics, is using outdated and incorrect information and is exceeding its budget by millions of dollars.
That led D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh to call for his resignation. But Thursday, Ellerbe told News4′s Mark Segraves he’s staying in his job.
“Anybody in leadership has to expect there will be criticism,” Ellerbe said. “There may be folks who don’t see your vision. But that’s part of leadership.
“It takes courage to be in these positions, and as I told the Council when we started to unveil this plan, it’s going to take some courageous folks to get behind this, because it represents a change in the status quo.”
Ellerbe has said he wants to shift fire and EMS staffing to daylight hours. His plan would have put more paramedics on duty during the hours when most calls come in, but it would’ve also reduced the number of paramedics on duty during overnight hours.
However, Ellerbe’s proposed ambulance redeployment plan has been denied by the Judiciary Committee.
Cheh’s call for Ellerbe’s resignation came in a letter to Councilman Tommy Wells, chair of the Judiciary committee. She said the committee should demand a plan from Mayor Vincent Gray that will return the District’s Fire and EMS department back to “excellence” and “prestige.”
A District man whose father died New Year’s Eve 2012 while waiting 40 minutes for an ambulance has filed a lawsuit against D.C. Fire and EMS.
Durand Ford Jr. told News4′s Shomari Stone earlier this year that his father, Durand Ford Sr., went into cardiac arrest Jan. 1 and his family called 911 around 1 a.m. to request assistance.
That night, more than 50 firefighters called out sick, approximately 1⁄4 of the force, according to the lawsuit. It’s a number the firefighters’ union called “unusual,” though a spokesperson denied there was a coordinated sick-out that night.
Durand Ford Jr. and his family are suing for wrongful death, survival action and punitive damages, totaling $12 million.
“Durand Ford Sr.’s ultimate death was the direct and proximate result of the grossly negligent acts and/or omissions” of the fire department, the lawsuit states.
A spokesperson for D.C. fire told Stone that the department would not comment on the lawsuit.
Twenty-years-ago today I was in New York with my friend and fire buff extraodinaire Vito Maggiolo. For me it was a memorable trip. It included a blimp crash and a chance to see FDNY in action on a very busy day thanks to fireworks. I intitially wrote about this excursion during the first year of STATter911.com.
The July 4, 2007 column also looked at the problems fire chiefs and political leaders face in attempting to deal with fireworks safety. At the time, DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Dennis Rubin had proposed banning all consumer fireworks in the Nation’s Capital. It didn’t go over so well.
So, being totally devoid of any original thinking at this stage in my careeer, I am repeating, for the sixth time, my annual Independence Day column. Please enjoy the day, celebrate our freedoms and those who helped secure them and, above all, be safe.
My video after Pizza Hut’s Big Foot Pizza blimp deflated and landed on an apartment building at 410 W. 53rd Street in Manhattan on July 4, 1993.
From STATter911.com, July 4, 2007
Independence Day in 1993 was one of the stranger days of my life. I had gone with my friend Vito Maggiolo to New York to experience July 4th, usually the busiest day of the year for FDNY.
In the afternoon we were visiting one of Vito’s friends at Manhattan Fire Alarm in Central Park.
As we were sitting around chatting, the phones suddenly began ringing. We were hearing bits and pieces of only one side of the conversation. But the call takers were asking questions with surprised looks on their faces. We heard: “A what?”; “Where”?; “It’s deflating?”; “Over the Hudson?”.
Vito and I raced south and then to the west toward the Hudson River. We arrived just after the first firefighters and saw Pizza Hut’s Bigfoot Pizza Blimp draped over the side of an apartment building. We watched as the two injured crew members were brought down from the roof.
To me, that wasn’t the strangest part of the day. I would save that description for the nighttime tour of Brooklyn with FDNY’s deputy commissioner for public information. To this day I have never seen anything else quite like it.
It seemed as if fireworks were going off on every street. Barrels of fireworks burned in the middle of many blocks. Bottle rockets struck our car. M-80s exploded in trash can after trash can. The radio blared with reports of neighbor’s homes set on fire by fireworks along with numerous reports of injured people.
On one hand it felt as if I had been transported to a war zone. I’ll admit, being new to this, it was a little scary. At the same time, it reminded me of something very beautiful — one of my favorite movies, Barry Levinson‘s “Avalon”.
I came to America in 1914–by way of Philadelphia. That’s where I got off the boat. And then I came to Baltimore. It was the most beautiful place you ever seen in your life. There were lights everywhere! What lights they had! It was a celebration of lights! I thought they were for me, Sam, who was in America. Sam was in America! I know what holiday it was, but there were lights. And I walked under them. The sky exploded, people cheered, there were fireworks! What welcome it was, what a welcome!
This is the long way around to talk about the story I covered yesterday. But I think it is appropriate, because it illustrates the dilemma with fireworks. For many of us they are beautiful and meaningful. At the same time there are serious dangers.
A task force led by D.C. Fire & EMS has been rounding up illegal fireworks in recent days. At a press conference to announce the seizure of a large quantity of fireworks, I asked Chief Dennis Rubin his thoughts on the fireworks that are currently legal in the District. The ones residents are allowed to buy at the almost 70 roadside stands set up in D.C.
As a reporter, I instantly realized Chief Rubin’s answer was the news of the day. To me it overshadowed the talk of arrests and confiscation. Chief Rubin thinks the time may have come to ban all fireworks in the Nation’s Capitol, except those used in licensed public displays.
The fire chief lit the fuse and the reaction was somewhat explosive. James Peters, a retired D.C. fire inspector who runs four stands, would not believe me when I told him what I had learned at the press conference. Later when he realized I wasn’t making it up, Peters expressed anger. But his reaction was mild compared to a few other stand operators I heard from by telephone after the story aired.
Dennis Rubin says it is all about keeping children and everyone else safe. The fireworks stand owners say show me the statistics that indicate “safe and sane fireworks” are a problem in D.C.
The last time the City Council dealt with this issue was in 2004. The bill to outlaw personal fireworks died in committee. But it should be noted that the co-sponsor of that bill is now Dennis Rubin’s boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Historical note: The police chief (not the fire chief) in Washington, D.C. banned all Independence Day fireworks in 1881. That was a one-time only deal due to President James A. Garfield being shot two days only.
Media tip of the day: If you have something to say, just stand there and say it. Anything else looks like you are running from the press and your problems. When you don’t stand still, or at least slow down to a casual stroll, the resulting image is similar to the shots you see of reporters trying to get a word in from a defendant on his way to court.
DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe is not on trial, but his tactics for dealing with the news media sometimes make it appear he is. Yesterday was not a good day for the chief in that a member of the DC City Council asked for his resignation. But both of Chief Ellerbe’s bosses gave the chief a vote of confidence. I am not sure Chief Ellerbe showed that same confidence in the way he handled the interview with WJLA-TV/ABC 7′s Kris Van Cleave (above).
D.C. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh called for Ellerbe to resign in a letter to fellow councilman Tommy Wells. The letter, dated Tuesday, indicates that Cheh believes that residents of the D.C. have lost confidence in Ellerbe’s ability to effectively lead the department and protect the city.
“This is what I think is a department in disarray,” Cheh said. “(It) seems he no longer has control or confidence of the rank and file.”
“He doesn’t know about the deployment of personnel, and whether it’s indifference or negligence, it just seemed to me that he’s running the department into the ground,” Cheh said.
On Monday, more revelations of malfeasance against the department surfaced. Several sources say that in at least three instances, D.C. Fire inspectors manipulated inspection reports at a trio of Northwest Washington businesses.
The department has also faced allegations of sexual abuse of female firefighters and recruits.
The only person who can fire Ellerbe is D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who appeared Tuesday at a public event with the chief.
Multiple sources tell ABC7 that it’s highly unlikely Gray would let go his close, personal friend. On Tuesday, when ABC7 caught up with the mayor, he wasn’t aware of Cheh’s letter calling for Ellerbe’s resignation.
“I don’t know anything about it … haven’t seen a letter,” he says.
Statement from Deputy Mayor Paul Quander:
The District’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department is in a much better position and operating more effectively now than when Chief Kenneth Ellerbe took the helm in January 2011, “ said Quander, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice.
Many of the incidents that Chief Ellerbe has dealt with during his tenure have been rooted in issues that preceded his hiring as chief. In three decades with the department, he has gotten a deep understanding of the issues and challenges that FEMS faces.
In two-and-an-half years under his leadership, he has taken action to deal with many of those issues. As problem arise, they have been met with careful consideration and action to improve the department and better serve the residents of the District of Columbia. Moves to shorten ambulance response times have been made, and more lie ahead. The department’s vehicle fleet is in better order, with reserve units ready to roll when they’re needed. A work group comprised of citizens, firefighters and members of several city agencies will soon be making recommendations on how FEMS can further improve services.
There is still work that needs to get done to make the department the best it can be. I support Chief Ellerbe is his efforts to make that happen,” Deputy Mayor Quander concluded. “We should stay the course.
Read more DC Fire & EMS Department stories that reporters got wrong: here, here & here.
It was three-years-ago this month that I took a buy-out and ended my career as a TV reporter in Washington, DC. Looking at a series of stories this year, including the one above, I am starting to believe that local news coverage went into the dumper after I left. Apparently there isn’t a reporter who can get the story right on my old beat covering the DC Fire & EMS Department. I say this because every time I look around the chief or a spokesman for the department is telling a reporter their story is wrong. It’s a very clear pattern.
When Korff got word from the National Park Service (NPS) that the DC Fire & EMS Department had told NPS it did not have the EMS staff or apparatus to deal with the large crowds at the annual July 4th festivities on The Mall, Korff actually believed them (those reporters sure are gullible). And then Korff started getting all reporter like and had the nerve to ask questions about his “scoop” (he was probably foaming at the mouth at the time).
According to Korff’s self-serving report, those questions he asked brought a very sudden change of heart from the DC Fire & EMS Department with Chief Ellerbe getting personally involved in the situation. But before you start believing that, I should remind you again this information comes from a reporter who Chief Ellerbe told us got it wrong back in February. And guess what? Chief Ellerbe’s spokesman Timothy Wilson says Korff got it wrong again. Wilson’s statement reads, “Any allegation that the Department will not be able to fulfill its commitment and compromise public safety are speculative and without merit.”
See the pattern folks? It’s pretty damn clear.
Truth be told this pattern of poor reporting on the DC Fire & EMS Department goes back before the current administration. In former Chief Dennis Rubin’s book “D.C. Fire”, The Rube has a number of mentions of a local TV reporter who consistently got it wrong. Rubin describes the reporter as having a “reputation for being difficult for years” and that “he had been a volunteer firefighter for a few years, and then he worked as a fire dispatcher for one of the nearby Maryland suburbs”.
The good news is that former firefighter/dispatcher/reporter with this bad reputation is apparently no longer in the news business. I am sure if he was, Chief Ellerbe and his PIOs would be working overtime sending out even more corrections.
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.