There are two stories on problems in the DC Fire & EMS Department that will probably lead you to ask “Really?”. The first one, in the video above from WJLA-TV/ABC 7 and printed below is about Medic 1. Medic 1 was on one of its regular assignments protecting the President of the United States and ran out of fuel while part of the official motorcade.
The second story from Peter Hermann at The Washington Post was about a paramedic shortage over the weekend which forced nine of 14 ALS units to be downgraded to BLS and five Paramedic Engine Companies to operate without medics. The PIO for the department blames too many people calling in sick and IAFF Local 36 points to the department’s failure to hire medics. But, to me, the real news in the story is this statement from the department’s spokesman:
“Trying to fill holes unexpectedly is never something you plan for,” said Timothy Wilson, spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
I know I haven’t been involved in providing fire or EMS services for a very long time, but I thought that’s exactly what you are supposed to plan for when dealing with the safety of the public. Maybe if this is now the guiding principal for the department’s operations we shouldn’t be surprised that Medic 1′s fuel tank was empty.
As President Obama travels to and from the White House in his motorcade, the number one concern is keeping him safe. A critical constant is a DC Fire and EMS ambulance, typically Medic 1, that trails behind in the event of a medical emergency.
But on August 8, as the President and First Lady were leaving the White House to celebrate Mr. Obama’s 52nd birthday at the restaurant Rasika in West End, Medic 1 ran out of gas.
Fire officials confirm that the vehicle was towed away and is now being repaired off-site. Fire officials say that as per policy, the crew should have but did not fill up the tank that day. Sources say the bigger issue is that the vehicle’s fuel gauge had been broken for months and not been repaired.
For months, D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells has been critical of the fire department for not quickly addressing a fleet in despair. He says all District residents, including those in the White House, deserve better:
“This is just an example that highlights the fact that we are not where we need to be.”
According to the official Press Pool report, the motorcade left the White House around 6:40 p.m. A fire department spokesperson says another ambulance, Medic 7, was dispatched and arrived at the White House at approximately 6:59 p.m. – nearly 20 minutes later.
But by then, the motorcade was long gone as the restaurant is only a couple of miles away.
What we also know according to a video is that when the motorcade left Rasika, Medic 7 was parked off to the left. Multiple sources familiar with protocol say since Medic 7 was not in the motorcade, it likely had not gone through a security sweep and therefore could not have been used by the president anyway if something had happened.
There are plenty of D.C. residents who can’t believe that something as simple as not fueling up could potentially jeopardize the First Family’s safety.
The sources said the operator of Medic 1 indicated that the fuel gauge was broken and the driver was uncertain how much gas was in the vehicle. They also said the operator previously documented the problem.
Mr. (Spokesman Timothy) Wilson said an internal investigation is underway to determine whether the vehicle was properly fueled.
“To my knowledge, prior to this incident there was no report of any problem with the fuel gauge,” he said. “If there was, no operator prior to this had reported that.”
D.C. Firefighters Association President Ed Smith confirmed the report and said it was also his understanding that the ambulance operator blamed a faulty fuel gauge. He said the incident, coming on the heels of a series of high-profile problems with the city’s ambulances, are making the department a “national embarrassment.”
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.
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.
And Councilmember Mary Cheh says Ellerbe should probably be looking for a new job.
Frustration is building after a scathing report on the fire department’s problems and Councilmember Mary Cheh says if the fire chief can’t come up with an immediate plan, he might want to dust off his resume.
One problem after another has plagued D.C.’s ambulance service for months. Long waits, units sidelined with mechanical failures, staffing shortages.
And now a 29-page report outlines a department in disarray.
“Unless he has an immediate response that has some comprehensive plan we could have confidence in, then he should be looking for something else,” Cheh says.
Ellerbe had asked the council to sign off on a new plan that would redeploy ambulance crews to periods of peak usage, but the public safety committee voted that plan down.
“He’s got to get on top of things,” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson says. “Clearly things need to be happening.”
But Cheh says she’s running out of patience.
“We’re left with a department that is on its way down and the people of DC are not going to take that,” Cheh says. “I’m not going to take that.”
A stinging rebuke, for DC’s embattled fire chief and allegations that none of us are safe because the fire service is so badly managed.
For months now, DC Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has been pushing a dramatic redeployment of paramedics off the night shift and on to the day shift. A DC council committee is now telling him to forget it, voting 3-0 with one abstention to disapprove his plan.
Committee chair Tommy Wells points to a series of scary failures: an injured cop left to wait while medic units from Maryland had to scramble to pick him up; a carjacking suspect who died after the ambulance he was in stopped running.
“This is not just isolated incidents,” says Wells. “This is a pattern of ambulances not being able to transport people in need.”
The fire chief’s plan would have left the city without any advanced life support units on the street overnight.
In a 29 page report, the committee chair says the department has lost track of its own fleet, has failed to keep enough medics on staff, and cannot even explain its own redeployment plan.
“We have apparatus challenges on a daily basis,” says firefighter union chief Ed Smith. “We are short-staffed firefighter paramedics. They’re holding, forcefully holding people over their shift. So you do 24 hours, and you’re forced to do another 12 hours, against their will.”
Fire Chief Ellerbe was no where to be seen at the committee vote and his spokesman has failed to return phone calls. Committee chair Wells says the problem is management. “This is not a problem with funding. This council has fully funded the emergency response of the city. This is about execution.”
Despite the problems, the Mayor’s office insists there will be enough medics on hand to handle any emergency on the 4th of July.
In the 29 page report prepared for the full Judiciary Committee, Tommy Wells uses strong language in defending his position. Saying the approval of the fire chief’s plan “could have serious consequences for public safety.”
Just after Kenneth Ellerbe took office as D.C.’s new fire chief, he and the mayor’s office came up with a plan to add ambulances during peak demand times in the afternoon and early evening.
The proposed legislation, if approved, would shift resources and take 14 medic units out of service after midnight.
But in the report to the committee, Wells says the department “failed to produce evidence or documentation supporting the number of ambulances it says are needed during peak demand times”.
“We don’t believe that the department has the ability to cover all the needs already and so we can’t support decreasing ambulance services in the district at this time”, Tommy Wells said in an interview Thursday.
In the report Wells writes, “Over the past two years, the Department has failed to adequately hire, recruit, internally train, or retain paramedics, resulting in shortages that are putting the system in crisis”.
“Unfortunately we have been sounding the alarm for two plus years now and finally getting the just recognition that it in this report”, said Firefighters Union President Ed Smith.
To bolster his position, Wells also points out the trouble the department has had in filling its scheduled shifts, writing, “Since October 1, 2012, the Department has had exactly 424 shifts. FEMS was only able to deploy all 14 scheduled (Advanced Life Support) transports in only 16 of those shifts (or) 3.7%”.
Tommy Wells says he’s troubled by the departments hiring practices and the way it’s gone about procuring new equipment.
“There is no reason to not have enough paramedics and enough staff for emergency medical services because they are fully funded for these services, already their overtime is skyrocketing and that has everything to do with not hiring enough staff”, he said.
In recent months the fire department has had to deal with embarrassing incidents in which ambulances haven’t been available for critically ill patients, including a police officer hit by a car and a man in cardiac arrest New Year’s Eve.
Outside the Wilson Building Thursday afternoon, City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson as well as judiciary committee member Jack Evans both said they agreed with Tommy Wells recommendation not to support the ambulance redeployment plan.
Mary Cheh, also a member of the judiciary committee, made it known Thursday evening she would not support the plan which means the legislation now likely dies in committee sometime Friday.
Reading all of the stories since the start of the year about the DC Fire & EMS Department you get the indication that there are some very serious problems keeping fire trucks and ambulances on the road and fully staffed. You would think it’s something citizens and community groups would be outraged about.
In fact, in your Nation’s Capital there is a group of citizens in Columbia Heights who have organized and become very vocal about fire department problems. Their concern, following story after story about the readiness of the department, is that the fire trucks are too loud. Yes, these people moved into homes and apartments near a firehouse and now they have the nerve to complain the nap time for their kids is interupted or they can’t sleep at night because the sirens are too loud.
The group calls themselves QuietDC. I say, give them what they want. The best way to make sure there is peace and quiet in the neighborhood and that little Johnny gets his rest is to just close the firehouse. See how quiet QuietDC becomes when you suggest that idea.
Some Columbia Heights residents don’t necessarily want D.C. firefighters to stop doing their jobs – they just want them to cut down on the sirens. They say emergency vehicles are blaring at them louder than ever before and at all hours of the day and night.
The group QuietDC hopes D.C. leaders hear them out and brainstorm a solution.
“There have been some precipitating incidents that have made the noise much more detrimental to their way of life,” says Patrick Flynn, Advisory Neighborhood commissioner.
Flynn says the number of people complaining about a spike in noise has tripled. Many of them are troubled with Monroe Street, which added extra parking spots on January 1.
“It takes a street that is already somewhat narrow and makes it even narrower, so when the fire engines are coming down here they have no place to go.”
Residents say the traffic jam forces first responders on their horns.
“It’s not only that we’re hearing noise but also either somebody is not going to get help fast enough or there’s going to be a major accident,” says Richard Dubeshter.
“For kids especially who are waking up in the middle of the night, crying and screaming, waking up from the noises, it’s something that worried me as a mother and I think other neighbors as well,” says Maryam Ahranjani.
But others say it comes with the territory and think D.C. leaders have bigger problems to solve.
“It’s absolutely insane. It’s ridiculous… you don’t like the noise? Don’t buy a house next to the fire station,” says Fernando Sandoval.
“The reason why it creates noises is because it’s to let people know that a fire engine is coming so it can save someone’s life,” says Sheika Reid, who works in Columbia Heights.
Reid has worked across the street from Engine 11 for 15 years.
“We have soundproof windows. We knew what we were moving into so we deal with that accordingly,” she says.
Concerned Columbia Heights neighbors are holding a meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. They’re gathering at the Trolley Turnaround Park at 11th and Monroe. Click here for more information.
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.
A new audit of the D.C Fire Department’s fleet of vehicles shows a critical lack of reserve pumper and ladder trucks with just over half of the ambulances owned by the city available for service.
The audit was ordered by D.C. City Councilman Tommy Wells after FOX 5 revealed the fleet numbers given to the city council last February were false.
After taking weeks to count all of the vehicles in its fleet and determining their readiness the D.C. Fire Department now admits it doesn’t have nearly the ambulances and pumper trucks it claimed to have last February.
City Councilman Tommy Wells says there is money in the budget to purchase new vehicles but he is now more concerned with staffing.
Just before he appeared before the D.C. City Council’s Judiciary Committee last February, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and his staff told the council it had 398 vehicles in its fleet including 29 ladder trucks, 106 ambulances and 64 pumpers.
Numbers we now know were false.
In a new report obtained by FOX 5 the fire department now admits it has far fewer vehicles with many of them out of service.
In fact an audit now shows the department has available for service:
56 out of 96 ambulances
37 out of 53 pumpers
And 18 out of 26 ladder trucks.
Those numbers concern Tommy Wells.
“I am putting a whole lot of scrutiny on the maintenance and availability of these vehicles, that’s why we got the audit report and i am going to require another audit report as they acquire and fix vehicles and I will stay on this like a laser beam, they must be accountable to the public for the vehicles they have and the vehicles they have been budgeted for”, said wells.
As chairman of the City Council’s Judiciary Committee, Wells points out the fire department has been given 18 million dollars for new equipment but has been slow to spend it.
“This is why I am putting the focus on the fire department right now we need to be assured that we have the vehicles ready and available that we need to keep the city safe”, he said.
An opinion shared by the firefighters union.
“It calls into question our ability to answer calls on a daily basis”, said union Second Vice President Dabney Hudson, “we are coming up on summertime, summers here, we had our first little heat wave the other day, it’s our busy time of the year and we run significantly more calls in the next four to five months”.
Even more concerning for Wells is the fire chief’s re-deployment plan which would put more ambulances on the street during peak afternoon and evening hours.
“They are way behind in hiring paramedics, way behind in hiring the staffing they need and that’s why I am very, very skeptical about the new staffing proposal they have”, said wells.
According to the fire department’s numbers there are currently 17 ambulances in reserve.
A number the union says should be doubled.
On Monday Morning Tommy Wells says he went to the Office of Unified Communications to listen to 911 calls and see the staffing levels for himself.
Wells says, as of 10:30 he was astounded to see only three out of 39 ambulances were available for service and all of them were in northwest.
Ongoing issues with D.C.’s emergency medical staff came to the forefront Monday after a D.C. councilman toured a district 911 call center and discovered that there were only three medical transport units available for the entire city.
Councilman Tommy Wells said in a statement Monday that the three emergency transport units were also located in NW.
This is not to say that there were no other emergency response vehicles working. During Wells’ visit to the call center at the non-peak time 10:30 a.m., 31 units were on a response call or at a hospital while five of the remaining eight ambulances weren’t available for unnamed reasons.
“This is exactly why we must take a long, hard look at the proposed ambulance redeployment plan. The prevailing issues with our Fire and EMS fleet readiness are of grave concern to me, the Council, and the public,” Wells said in a statement.
Four firefighters are being investigated for an alleged sexual assault of a female firefighter at a DC firehouse, officials say.
The firehouse where the alleged incident occurred at Engine #1 which is located on the 2200 block of M Street, N.W. Two firefighters and two supervisors have been placed on administrative duties. The female firefighter is from the same unit as the four that are being investigated, officials say.
D.C. Police say that a report for a misdemeanor sex abuse at 2200 M Street NW was filed on May 31. The incident occurred around midnight.
The police report shows that the accuser reported that “she was asleep at the Firehouse when she felt someone touched her inner thigh.”
In a statement from the President of the DC Fire Fighters Association, Edward C. Smith said, “We are watching this situation closely and are concerned anytime there are such allegations. Local 36 represents all of the firefighters and urges the department to conduct a thorough investigation in a timely manner that is fair to all.”
D.C. police are conducting a sexual assault investigation which allegedly took place inside a firehouse.
The alleged victim is a female firefighter who says she was inappropriately touched while she slept early Friday morning at the 2225 M Street firehouse in Northwest D.C.
A police report reveals the victim says she felt an unknown suspect touching her inner thigh which woke her up.
The D.C. fire department is also conducting its own internal investigation to find out if the female firefighter’s report of the alleged incident to her immediate supervisors was then passed on to police and administrators within the fire department in a timely manner.
Four firefighters have been placed on administrative duties pending the result of the investigation.
The alleged victim remains on the job.
Local 36, which represent the firefighters involved, issued this statement:
“We are watching this situation closely and are concerned anytime there are such allegations. Local 36 represents all of the firefighters and urges the department to conduct a thorough investigation in a timely manner that is fair to all.”
Three-years-ago Boca Raton (FL) Fire Chief Tom Wood contacted me about what was, at that point, a little discussed but potentially major issue facing fire and EMS across the country. Admittedly, my eyes glazed over a bit as Chief Wood explained the ins and outs of the new EPA mandated diesel emission standards. But my news instincts kicked in when the chief told me about his ambulances shutting down on major highways and limping back to quarters. That’s what brought about the guest column in April of 2010 titled The Regeneration Gap: A fire chief wrestles with front-line apparatus time-outs due to EPA diesel emission regulations.
The issue has not gone away, even though EPA made some modifications to the regulations that, on the surface, were supposed to help fire and EMS deal with the problem (though most say it really didn’t). Wednesday’s shut down of a DC Fire & EMS Department ambulance on I-295 while transporting a trauma code shooting victim to the hospital has the mainstream media’s attention on regeneration, for the moment. The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis linked to Chief Wood’s 2010 column online and reporter Peter Hermann interviewed him for an article in today’s paper.
In the DC case, the early word from union president Ed Smith, and shop head, Deputy Chief John Donnelly, is that the normal warnings didn’t happen with Ambulance 19. Here’s what Peter Hermann wrote:
A warning light is supposed to flash and give the driver enough time to complete an emergency run before taking a scheduled break. Donnelly said that didn’t happen Wednesday; instead, a more severe indicator came on warning of imminent failure.
“That is not supposed to happen,” the deputy chief said, noting that he was awaiting results of a diagnostic test to determine whether the breakdown was the result of a clogged filter or some other problem.
Chief Wood doesn’t know the details of the DC incident but he has made it his business to come up with solutions for his department, including doing forced regeneration on a schedule rather than being at the mercy of the rig. Here’s what he wrote in our comments section yesterday:
The article highlights an incident in Bracketville, Texas from February 15, 2012 in which the passenger of a truck fire died. “Diesel motor de-rating” slowed the fire apparatus response to the scene.
Regeneration can be performed on demand or “forced regeneration” by a qualified mechanic and the correct software. Our fleet has three different motor manufacturers and our shop has the software to “force regeneration” on our schedule, instead of at random. We schedule our fleet through the shop once a month for “forced regeneration”, one unit at a time. This also assures a complete 100% cleaning of the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF). Under the random / ordinary method, many of our apparatus were regenerating every 4 days, obviously not completing the process. I recommend the “forced regeneration” as a best practice.
“I know they’re trying to reduce pollution emissions, but I don’t know if they contemplated all the dangers,” said Thomas R. Wood, the chief of fire rescue services in Boca Raton, Fla. “Fire doesn’t take a timeout to let firefighters regroup and regenerate.”
Last year, the EPA, facing criticism from fire chiefs and trade groups, allowed for exceptions so that emergency vehicles “would no longer face power disruptions.”
But Harold Boer, head of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturing Association, said the waiver does not fully exempt emergency vehicles and instead allows them to be retrofitted so there is more time between regeneration stops. Boer, who is also president of the fire truck builder Rosenbauer, said few cities request the work because it does not eliminate the problem. He said a request to the EPA for a blanket exemption for all emergency vehicles has been denied.
D.C. fire department officials are still probing the glitch, but they said the issue seems to be specific to a sequence of warning lights that ultimately notify the ambulance crew the engine will shut off imminently. And while it’s the first time city officials said a department ambulance has failed while in transport as a result of the emissions system, widespread problems have been reported nationally.
“What I want to do is see what the computer says about this problem, and then we can re-evaluate if we need to do anything,” Deputy Chief John Donnelly said, assessing the extent of the issue. “We’re going to look at the series of warning lights and the indicators. They should lead us back to the problem.”
When the D.C. fire department began buying these diesel engine ambulances a few years ago, officials knew they would have to manage them with a new emission control system that would automatically shut the engine down if it wasn’t allowed to what’s called “regenerate.”
It was a mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency.
And until recently, the fire department said it had been able to handle the requirements without any significant incidents.
One of those incidents involved the same ambulance that broke down Wednesday.
“On May 22nd or 23rd, it was here in the shop,” said Deputy Chief John Donnelly of D.C. Fire and EMS. “It had a problem with the regeneration system. That problem was a lot different. The end result is the same – the engine gave a warning light. But it was different in some ways and we sent it to the dealer and got it back. It was repaired and it was running fine when we put it back in service.”
Donnelly says the drivers of the rigs and the people who manage them have to stay on top of the warning lights to make sure they don’t ever approach the shut down level.
“We don’t want to have any incidents like this, but we’ve shown we can manage it,” he said. “It’s tough. It takes a lot of coordination and effort and there are a number of people that work on it. The drivers have a role, the dispatchers have a role, the battalion chiefs and EMS supervisors have a role and everybody has been doing their job in managing this. I’m confident we can.”
The emergency response was complicated by the fact that the ambulance carrying the man to Howard University Hospital was forced to pull over en route because an emissions system problem caused it to shut down. The year-old ambulance went straight from a hospital to the scene of the shooting and had been continuously running for too long, D.C. fire department spokesman Tim Wilson said.
When a check-engine light came on signaling the ambulance was about to shut down, the driver had to pull off Interstate 295 and wait for about five minutes until another ambulance could respond and pick up the carjacking suspect.
Emergency workers continued to perform CPR on the man, and Mr. Wilson said the delay “wouldn’t have had any impact” on the man’s chances of survival.
A D.C. fire department spokesman said the ambulance carrying the wounded man to Howard University Hospital stopped near Route 295 and Pennsylvania Avenue when a warning light came on indicating that the engine was about to shut down. Tim Wilson, the spokesman, said that problem can occur in late-model vehicles driven continuously for extended periods.
Wilson said the patient was transferred to another ambulance five to seven minutes later and taken to the hospital, in Northwest Washington, about eight miles from the shooting scene. Lon Walls, the fire department’s chief spokesman, said the delay “did not affect care in any way.”
Fire officials say it wasn’t because of an attempt to let a suspected cop shooter die in their care, but because a new piece of equipment on their truck meant to reduce diesel emissions forced the ambulance to shut down.
The device which is mandated by the EPA to be on all newer model diesel vehicles is designed to burn of diesel toxins. It does it either automatically or manually. If neither of those happens during a common cycle known as a “re-generating cycle” warning lights will go off and eventually force the vehicle to lose power and shut off.
It a rare occurrence but DC Fire Deputy Chief John Donnelly says that’s appeared to have happened to Medic 19.
Donnelly said, “to my knowledge it’s never created a problem for us, but something different happened on this call.”
Critics of this EPA mandate say there should be exemptions for emergency vehicles so this won’t happen.
However, Deputy Chief Donnelly says their challenge is to work within the federal agencies restrictions.
Donnelly added, “we’re not in a position to fight the EPA regulations and we’re not even going to try.”
A second ambulance did show up to finish the patient transport 7 minutes after Medic 19 shut down. The man was pronounced dead at Howard University Hospital.
Chief Donnelly says as soon as they get the ambulance back into the shop they will access a data recorder that will explain exactly why the ambulance got to the shut down stage.
Teachable Moment of the Day: As anyone who has seen my presentations knows, I urge leaders who make controversial decisions they believe in to stand before the cameras and answer the tough questions. Running from it undermines your credibility and your decision. The sight of DC Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe making a run for the elevator after yesterday’s hearing on EMS staffing, along with his communications director giving the appearance of physically blocking the reporters and videographers, didn’t look very good.
It never looks good running from the press. Chief Ellerbe must have throught the same because he quickly changed his mind, moved Lon Walls out of the way and got off the elevator to answer the questions (check the videos above and below). It’s best to really think this strategy through ahead of time and make the right decision initially, instead of providing reporters with better video than a boring hearing. In fact, a better use of your communications director is to use their brain to anticipate and plan for these situations rather than their brawn as media blockers. Now for the news.
The chairman of the D.C. City Council’s Judiciary Committee says he has “grave concerns” over the staffing of the D.C. Fire Department. And Friday questioned its ability to provide quality emergency medical care in the city.
Tommy Wells made those statements during a hearing in which the fire chief testified about his plan to redeploy ambulances during peak hours of the day.
D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe today told the city council he has “more often than not” a surplus of ambulances in the middle of the night and he wants to move them to what’s being called a power shift where they will be available to respond to a high number of calls.
But the Firefighters Union is against the plan and the chief admitted it requires a change in shifts.
Ellerbe does not have the authority to redeploy his EMS resources without the approval of the D.C. city Council.
So Friday, he tried to convince the head of the judiciary committee it could be done and needs to be done.
The unions generally agree, because of a changing city and an increased population, there is a need for additional ambulances during peak times of the day but not at the cost of leaving the middle of the night uncovered.
Under the chief’s plan no advanced life support units would work from 1 am to 7 am and the firefighter paramedics would have to move to 12 hour shifts. A move that’s very unpopular.
The chief admitted he has far exceeded his overtime budget and told the council in order to have enough paramedics to handle a shift change the union would have to agree to the plan.
Thursday night we reported the fire department has lost 53 paramedics since the chief took office and none have been replaced.
One other note, we have asked repeatedly over the last several months for a sit down interview with Chief Ellerbe. He has declined every time. So Friday was our only chance to ask him questions in public.
But instead of stopping for reporters’ questions the chief headed right for the elevator.
His handlers tried to bar us from getting in the elevator but after repeatedly asking to speak with the chief
He did come out of the elevator to take some questions. It was an acrimonious encounter to say the least.
When asked if the reason he was not hiring paramedics is that he is hoping the three shifts finally goes through Ellerbe answered, “Well, we are hopeful the three shifts goes through and hope it goes through by the end of the summer…see what happens.”
The union says paramedics are being forced to work overtime nearly every day because the department does not have the staffing.
D.C.’s firefighters union and Chief Kenneth Ellerbe are at odds over a scheduling shift for ambulance crews in the District.
Ed Smith, president of the D.C. Firefighters Assoc. Local 36, says the changes could jeopardize lives.
Ellerbe’s plan would shift the number of paramedics. Fewer would work over night. More would work during the day.
Smith admits there is a peak time in demand during the day, but he doesn’t think the solution is to take away from the night shift.
“It’s gambling on people’s lives,” Smith says. “You’re going to take 14 units off the streets from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. It’s a bad, bad idea.”
If approved, the proposal would affect advance life support paramedics.
Smith called the plan antiquated, saying some of the most violent medical emergencies happen overnight.
“When you take 14 units off the street, out of that 39, you’re decreasing our transport capabilities, the ability to take somebody to the hospital by 36 percent.”
He says the solution is not redeployment of staff but rather to hire more staff, something Smith says is not happening.
“It’s tearing the department apart and the citizens and visitors are suffering,” Smith says.
Initially, it seemed Ellerbe didn’t want to answer questions from reporters. Then he changed his mind and addressed concerns from the union.
“We understand their concerns and we’re going to do everything we can to accommodate them, the best way we can,” Ellerbe says.
Ellerbe was questioned over the vacancies and lack of hiring in his department that some argue has created more tension with an already frayed union. But he says the department will start hiring.
“A lot of our attention has been turned into the District to help reduce the unemployment numbers here in Washington, D.C.,” Ellerbe says. “If we don’t have qualified paramedics here in the city, then we’ll go outside the city.”
The District of Columbia is losing paramedics at an alarming rate and they are not being replaced.
53 have resigned or retired since Kenneth Ellerbe became fire chief in 2011.
It is an exodus that has led to a critical staffing shortage with advanced life support units going unfilled every day.
The firefighters’ union has been sounding the alarm for months, telling D.C. councilmembers and anyone who will listen, the net loss of paramedics has created a “crisis” situation with first responders forced to work 36-hour shifts and advanced life support units left off the streets every single day.
Normal protocol has 14 medic units staffed during every shift. It is a number designed to make sure advanced life support is available within minutes of a 911 call in every ward in the city.
But as paramedics leave without being replaced, those 14 medic units have dwindled.
According to the firefighters union in 2011, two to three Advanced Life Support units were downgraded to Basic Life Support every day.
In 2012, the numbers went from four to five, and so far this year, it is averaging five to six downgrades every day.
“Pretty simply, the basic difference between a paramedic and an EMT is that the paramedic brings the ER to you in the first 20 minutes, so everything the ER can do in those first critical minutes, a paramedic can do for you in the field,” said Paramedic Joe Papariello in an interview Thursday.
Emergency medical technicians cannot administer drugs. It is a vital function in some trauma cases.
“There are a lot of drugs that we can give,” said Papariello, the Union’s EMS official. “Over 30 in our protocols … if you are having a heart attack or you have a broken bone, we can deliver those.”
But as paramedics leave, those services have diminished.
Take for example the month of April. According to the union in April 2011, more than 23 percent of the scheduled Advanced Life Support units were taken off the streets.
In April of last year, it was more than 34 percent, and so far this year, it has risen to more than 42 percent.
“And when we don’t have enough units on the street, units have to respond out of their areas that they are supposed to protect, and it puts a stress on the system and on the individual, and that’s why a lot of our medics are leaving,” said Papariello.
The staffing shortage has also lead to forced overtime. In 2012, according to the union, 185 times paramedics were held over for a 36-hour shift. So far this year, it’s happened 136 times.
Just this month on May 9, the fire department announced in a special order three more firefighter/paramedics had decided to resign.
“We are in a crisis mode,” said Union President Ed Smith. “I mean, in the 90′s when they were closing firehouses, you had firehouse roulette. You didn’t know where the wheel was going to stop. Right now today, we have medic unit roulette and I hope it doesn’t stop on the wrong person.”
On Friday morning, Chief Ellerbe will go before the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee where he is expected to testify about his ambulance deployment plan.
He declined our request for an on-camera interview.
In recent testimony, the chief told the council he plans to train current EMTs to become paramedics. But as the union points out, that could take up to two years.
D.C. Fire and EMS put five firefighters on desk duty after one of them posted a picture critical of D.C. police on Facebook and four others commented on it.
After a D.C. police officer wrote a traffic ticket for a firefighter, that firefighter took a picture of the officer walking toward his cruiser and posted it on his Facebook page with a comment to the effect of “This is why we should be careful and take our time getting to incident scenes,” sources told News4.
The post is said to be so inflammatory it was brought directly to the attention of both Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and Police Chief Cathy Lanier.
Top D.C. fire and police officials viewed those comments as a reference to the March incident in which a D.C. motorcycle officer waited 20 minutes after being struck by a hit-and-run driver before being transported to a hospital by an ambulance from Prince George’s County.
D.C. fire immediately transferred those five firefighters from the field to desk duty.
“Right now it’s in the investigation phase,” said Ed Smith, of the firefighter union. “Hopefully they’ll be back to duty soon, and then we’ll have to deal with any disciplinary proceedings if there are any depending on the outcome of the investigation.”
The temporary reassignment of that many firefighters affects staffing levels, Smith said.
“Having these members off the street on desk duty definitely adds to the overtime problem and other members getting relief from duty,” he said.
Through a spokesman, Ellerbe said the fire department can’t comment because it is a personnel matter.
The post was removed from the firefighter’s Facebook page.
Four firefighters commented on the original post, and were also assigned to desk duty, according to Ed Smith, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association.
“There isn’t a social media policy in place,” says Smith. “If members are going to be held accountable then it needs to be upfront and the rules need to be known about what’s in bounds and what’s out of bounds,” says Smith.
Smith says the issue isn’t only a public safety concern.
“Employees in all workplaces are struggling with social media policies,” says Smith.
The head of the firefighters’ union says establishing a policy reflects expectations, but also provides for free speech.
“You have to find that fine line between keeping the public trust and respecting members’ First Amendment rights,” says Smith.
Smith says he’s reached out to his counterpart in the police union, “just to let him know we respect our brothers and sisters in blue.”
D.C. Fire has not responded to a request for comment.
An active duty female D.C. firefighter is breaking her silence to speak up for young female cadets who allege sexual harassment at the DC Fire and EMS Training Academy.
Fearing retaliation, the firefighter requested anonymity. She’s being referred to as “Susan” in this story.
She says when she joined a recruit class a few years ago, it came with a warning from a female academy employee about some of the male instructors.
“She just said, ‘be careful, because a lot of them, they don’t know their boundaries,” she says.
Almost immediately, Susan says, the sexual harassment began. One instructor commented, “guess who wore the wrong bra today,” she says.
After a tough day of training, Susan says that same instructor got her alone. She says his hand moved from her shoulder slowly down to the top of her backside.
“And then as the hand like went lower to like you know here, I was just like, ‘Um, yeah please don’t ever touch me. Like, that’s hugely inappropriate,’” she says.
Fearing for her job, Susan kept quiet until she saw ABC7′s recent investigation centering on two young female cadets, fresh out of high school, who accused two instructors of sexual harassment. She says those cadets came to her for advice and told her what the instructors said.
“You know, they’re babies. And, so for them to speak to them like that and you know, just make any sort of sexual comments toward them is just disgusting,” she says.
The fire department has reassigned the two instructors to positions outside of the academy and launched an internal investigation.
But when ABC7 approached D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe in February, he insisted the alleged harassment was “not” sexual in nature.
“What we believe happened was more some inappropriate language and touching, not of a sexual nature, but the matter made the youngladies uncomfortable,” Ellerbe says.
But one male firefighter says he also felt compelled to speak out, saying he’s aware of cases in which superiors intimidated female firefighters into not filing complaints.
“And I know of two issues uh, first hand, um where issues of sexual harassment or harassment towards women have been basically brushed under the table,” said the male firefighter who declined to be identified.
A fire department spokesperson declined comment about the status of the latest alleged harassment investigation. He did say the department provided additional training for staff to address concerns regarding inappropriate conduct toward colleagues. And a female instructor has been placed at the academy to train cadets as well.
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.
For those who have been a part of or followed fire and EMS in our Nation’s Capital for a long time, the recent news about major fleet problems and delayed EMS response has a familiar ring to it. We lived it for more than decade starting in the late 1980s.
If you watch this series of WUSA-TV news reports focusing on the mid to late 1990s, you should get a feel for DCFD from that era. This is a time when the City was under the direction of the District of Columbia Financial Control Board because of serious money problems. While I can’t recall specific dates on all of these reports (my mind isn’t nearly as sharp as the reporter featured in the video), here’s what I have been able to figure out. I’m sure there are many standing by to correct me if I screw up any of the dates.
I am not sure of the date on story two about the delay to help Gloria Scott on Michigan Avenue, Northeast. Judging by the PIO (Battalion Chief Alvin Carter), I believe it is also the mid 1990s.
Story three is easy. It’s Monday, January 4, 1999. On that day the brand new mayor, Anthony Williams, during his very first weekday on the job, was confronted about an AWOL ambulance crew, reported by Channel 9 the night before.
Story four, about the ambulance with the missing stretcher and no ambulance being available for a patient during a winter storm, happened in the middle of January, 1999.
The fifth story, covering Chief Donald Edwards’ appearance before the Control Board asking for five more ambulances and a firefighter going with a patient to the hospital in a taxi (yes, a taxi) because there were no ambulances available, also appears to be from early 1999.
In story six, likely also from early 1999, the topic is whether EMS should be a separate agency, or third service, and includes the views of the two union heads.
Story seven aired shortly after the May 30, 1999 deaths of Firefighter Anthony Phillips and Firefighter Louis Matthews at a townhouse fire in Northeast Washington. It looks at the sorry state of the department’s fleet of ladder trucks and its possible impact on the deadly fire. Click here to download the internal report about the Cherry Road fire.
Hope you don’t mind the history lesson. A warning for you. Please be kind about the physical appearance of the reporter as compared to today. I hear he’s a very sensitive guy and, trust me, you don’t want to hurt his feelings.
Alvin Bethea’s testimony in front of the DC City Council on Thursday was overshadowed by the almost three hours of questioning of Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander. Other than one mention in an article, I don’t believe Bethea made news, despite the rather outspoken nature of his testimony and an interesting link to an EMS response from 18-years-ago that shows progress made by the department.
At the beginning of his appearance before the Committee on the Judiciary and Public safety, Alvin Bethea had nice things to say about Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and the department’s response to two EMS calls he was personally familiar with. One of those calls involved the stabbing death of Bethea’s son a little more than a year ago.
What is probably worth noting in the praise about that response is that Bethea’s son, Deoni Jones, aka JaParker, is described in news articles as a transgender woman. In 1995, a long and ugly chapter in the department’s history was opened after allegations surfaced over poor care and derogatory remarks made when the DC Fire and EMS Department responded to a car crash that took the life of Tyra Hunter, a transsexual. Hunter’s mother successfully sued the City.
But Alvin Bethea then switched gears in his testimony. That’s where the clip above posted to YouTube begins. Bethea talks about attacks on Chief Ellerbe as being “the work of the devil”. He testifies that firefighters are bringing the city “grief” and “intentionally breaking and destroying ambulances and fire trucks and medical equipment”. Bethea likens the firefighters to “home grown terrorists”.
To see the entire hearing and all of what Alvin Bethea had to say, click here (Bethea’s testimony begins at 3:04).
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.