This is an unusual story from Volusia County, Florida where WESH-TV reporter Claire Metz had gone to the home of a 911 center employee to get the woman's side of the story in connection with her suspension over an error involving a fatal heart attack call. Metz says she went to Shauna Justice's door without a camera or microphone and was met by Justice holding a gun in her hand.
Metz had gone to the home of Shauna Justice to get her side of the story. Justice was suspended because her superiors said she was using her cellphone in September while her dispatch trainee took a call. As a result of that call, emergency responders ended up at the wrong address, and the victim suffered a heart attack and ultimately died.
Justice was arrested after the incident involving the WESH 2 News crew at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. She was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and held on $1,500 bond.
Justice opened the door with a gun in her hand, pointing it at Metz's head, cursing at her and telling her to leave her property, according to Metz.
"The gun was no more than a foot or two from my head, and Ms. Justice held it on me until I backed away to our truck," Metz said.
Take the time to read this article by Amy Brittain. It’s about Martha Rigsby, a woman who is legendary in the DC Fire & EMS Department. Rigsby is the most frequent user of 911 in the entire time 911 has been in operation in the Nation’s Capital. According to Brittain, 911 has been called for Martha Rigsby 226 in this year alone with 117 trips to the hospital by ambulance. This been going on since 1977.
After all of this time the District of Columbia government is finally taking some action to reduce the amount of resources Rigsby ties up each year. They have gone to court seeking a guardian for the 58-year-old woman.
One thing that sticks out in this article is the detail in which department officials are willing or able to talk about Martha Rigsby. There is no explanation on how they are navigating HIPAA regulations to be able to talk with a reporter about Rigsby’s situation. I don’t recall such openness from the DC Fire & EMS Department about any specific patient since HIPAA’s been around.
These are “uncharted waters,” said David Miramontes, medical director of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.Public documents and legal proceedings detail Rigsby’s 911 habits and assessments of her mental state and medical problems. They also reveal continued concerns from D.C. officials about the impact of one woman’s troubles on public-health and safety resources.
According to testimony during the court hearings, Rigsby’s calls follow the same general pattern. She feels faint and collapses. About 40 percent of the time, she dials 911 on her own. Other times, she’s out in the District when passersby see her fall and call for help, the testimony indicated.About 55 percent of the time, she refuses to be transported in an ambulance and signs a waiver allowing emergency responders to leave.
According to court records, Abayomi Jaji, a psychiatrist with the city’s Department of Behavioral Health, said that Rigsby continues “to place herself in real danger of bodily injuries from falls under the claim of ‘seizures’ or ‘Narcolepsy,’ which have never been correlated with medical findings.”Jaji also said that Rigsby lacks the mental capacity to take care of herself as evidenced by “almost every other day calls to 911.”
I wasn’t sure I was going to again post my personal account of September 11, 2001 until a few days ago. That’s when I came across a news article on the web talking about the terrorist attacks of 12-years-ago. It mentioned that one of those attacks occurred “on a plane that crash-landed in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania”. Obviously the details of that enormously tragic day are already muddy in the minds of many, even those whose job it is to keep others informed about such events. It was a good reminder why those who witnessed this history in New York, Arlington, Virginia and Shanksville, Pennsylvania need to keep telling their stories.
Mine is just the story of an observer who had a close-up view for a little while at the Pentagon. There are much more important stories out there about amazingly heroic efforts to save lives and to get people out of harm’s way. Please make sure you, your children and grandchildren know these stories.
The account below came about because in October of 2001 I was asked by journalist Allison Gilbert to contribute my experiences at the Pentagon to a book called Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11. While I knew I was only one of many TV and radio reporters and anchors who would be contributing to the book, and Allison would only be using a couple of blurbs, it was an opportunity for me to write a chronology of the day and put a few thoughts down. It concludes with a postscript written 40-days after the attacks that looks at the public’s perception of firefighters following the enormous sacrifice made by 343 members of the Fire Department of New York.
September 11, 2001
8:52 AM: Spending time with my son is always the best way to start the day. Sam, almost two years old, is eating his breakfast. I bring my toast into the den to sit with him. The television is on so we can do what we usually do in the morning, watch my wife, Hillary Howard, Sam’s mom, do the weather on WUSA-TV. Instead of the “Early Show” ending to make way for local news, I see the open to a “CBS News Special Report”. I turn the sound up, but don’t need Bryant Gumbel to tell me that something is very wrong at one of the World Trade Center towers. The thick, black smoke pouring out of many windows and from the roof makes it very clear this is a major disaster in the making. Gumbel says there is a report that a plane hit the building. Those words send me out of the room and upstairs to quickly finish getting dressed.
9:03 AM: I occasionally glance at the TV upstairs. A little slow to comprehend some of what it going on, it dawns on me that this appears to be a crystal clear day. I am starting to wonder if this plane crash is really an accident. As I think about calling the newsroom to suggest we might be dealing with a terrorist attack of some sort, any doubts I had are immediately erased. My head quickly turns toward to the TV as I hear a woman say to Byrant Gumbel, “Oh, there is another one! Another plane just hit! Oh, my gosh! Another plane has hit! Another building! Flew right into the middle of it. Explosion.”
It hit me instantly that our lives have suddenly changed.
9:05 AM: On the phone to the station, I talk to Dave Roberts, our news director. I am convinced that if the people who did this were organized enough to quickly hit two targets like the World Trade Center towers, Washington would be next. We decide I will head into town to start looking around for increased security measures and be ready if another attack occurs.
9:10 AM: No time for our normal goodbye ritual. I give Sam a quick kiss and hug. Sam says something about “Jay Jay”. “Jay Jay the Jet Plane”, Sam’s favorite TV show, comes on soon. Not knowing what he may have already seen on TV this morning, I tell him calmly that “Jay Jay” is having a bad day. With the uncertainty of what was ahead, I didn’t want to leave Sam. I knew, though, he was in good hands with Glenda, the woman who takes care of him while we are at work.
9:15 AM: Realizing my good friend, Dan Patrick, our night assignment manager, is probably asleep and has no idea what is going on, I wake him. Dan doesn’t believe me when I describe the events of the morning along with my concern that Washington is next. Certainly I would have thought this was one of his sick practical jokes if the situation were reversed. Hanging up, I’m not sure he is convinced that this is for real.
9:25 AM: My first stop, the State Department. I circle the block and notice some extra officers being deployed around the building. Other street activity appears normal. Checking out the Pentagon never enters my mind.
9:38 AM: East bound on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House, I turn north on 17th Street. At that moment the scanners in my car come alive. On numerous police and fire radio frequencies, people are yelling that a plane hit the Pentagon. Making a fast U-turn, I see the smoke rising across the Potomac River. I get the assignment desk on the phone. It’s a bad connection. I yell into the phone, “Pentagon, Pentagon, Pentagon. Send everyone to the Pentagon. I should be there soon.”
I carefully bust a few lights on southbound 17th Street. Making a right turn, traffic is light on westbound Independence Avenue.
9:41 AM: Anchors Mike Buchanan and Andrea Roane break into CBS coverage to report that there has been an apparent plane crash at the Pentagon. They have distant, but clear pictures of the Pentagon ablaze from our rooftop camera in Rosslyn.
9:43 AM: There is also little traffic heading outbound on the Memorial Bridge. Across the river, I now have a distant view of the Pentagon. The very black smoke I am seeing is surely caused by the fuel, now burning, that was in the plane’s tanks. I call the control room to try and get on the air, but the call cuts out as the anchors lead to me.
9:44 AM: Somehow I end up on southbound Washington Boulevard directly in front of the Pentagon helipad. That is good news, but for the moment it does me no good because there is wireless gridlock. I am unable to get a phone call out.
9:46 AM: I have my home video camera out and on the tripod, rolling off a few shots. The phone still isn’t working.
9:48 AM: Walking down Washington Boulevard is Heather Cabot a recently hired reporter for WUSA. She tells me her phone isn’t getting out either. I ask her to take over my camera and I will work on trying to get a phone call to the station. Heather tells me she is with photographer Mike Trammel. I look back to see Trammel and put my camera away.
9:52 AM: Heather’s phone finally gets through. I describe the scene as firefighters from Ft. Meyer and National Airport put the first water and foam on the burning Pentagon. Some people are looking at the sky, making sure another plane isn’t approaching. I suggest to Heather, that it is probably a good idea for us to do the same. Amazingly traffic on northbound Washington Boulevard has not been blocked and drivers are just whizzing by the burning Pentagon as they head to work.
A familiar red van pulls a few feet past us. It is one of our microwave vans with Bruce Bookholtz at the wheel. I am a bit amazed that, with no communication, we all end up at the same spot.
We hear a number of small pops and explosions. I am guessing those are tires popping from the vehicles that were parked against the building and are now burning, or possibly some small canisters exploding. Among the vehicles on fire is the new crash/rescue fire truck, belonging to the Ft. Meyer Fire Department. It is stationed at the Pentagon and is routinely on hand for helicopter landings and takeoffs, in case of an emergency. It is a fire truck designed for just this rare event, a plane crash, and it can’t be used.
9:55 AM: Heather tells me to look down on the street around us. I was so intent on watching the burning Pentagon, I hadn’t noticed there are what appear to be small pieces from the airplane at my feet. I had already seen the large amount of debris scattered on the Pentagon lawn, but so far no piece is large enough to be easily identified as an airplane part.
9:57 AM: Our first live video is on the air. You see flames crawling up the familiar face of the Pentagon along with some of the first victims as they are carried away from the building.
9:59 AM: I am on the air with Michael Kelly, an eyewitness Heather pulled out of the crowd. Kelly was driving on nearby I-395 when he saw the plane take aim on the Pentagon.
10:00 AM: Anchor Andrea Roane interrupts me, “Dave, Dave, Dave. We want to break in, because we want to go back to New York, where Dan Rather is anchoring our coverage, where one of the towers at the World Trade Center has collapsed”.
These words stop me in my tracks for a moment. I have no TV monitor to see this for myself. Just Andrea’s words. It doesn’t compute in my brain. I had been a firefighter. I had studied high-rise firefighting. There had been a number of major high-rise fires throughout the world that burned for many hours. To my knowledge there had never been a catastrophic collapse of an entire building. This was just one of many things happening today that no one has ever had to deal with.
Knowing how aggressive New York firefighters are, I realize there must be scores of dead rescuers. The last pictures I saw out of New York were from an hour ago. Even then it was pretty apparent, from the amount of fire, that anyone at the impact points and above had little chance of survival.
10:05 AM: They come back to me for our first interview with someone who was in the Pentagon at the time of the attack. Two or three men on stretchers pass by us. It is our first close-up look at the injured and they are severely, if not critically burned over a good portion of their bodies. These victims are flown out by helicopter to a hospital burn unit. Their lives will never be the same.
10:10 AM: A Virginia State Trooper starts moving everyone back. There is concern another plane is coming toward the Pentagon. We don’t move.
10:15 AM: As they come back to our live shot, five floors suddenly collapse around the jet’s impact point. There is now a large gash on the west side of the Pentagon.
10:18 AM: People start running away from the Pentagon. This time, FBI agents are telling us another plane is just minutes out. They order us to move immediately. I am able to get in a few quick words, attempting to explain to Mike and Andrea what is happening, before the transmitter is turned off and the live truck’s mast starts coming down.
10:28 AM: We move just a short distance off Washington Boulevard and down the ramp to Columbia Pike. As Bruce tries to re-establish a signal, I hear through my earpiece that the second tower in New York has collapsed. I just can’t imagine what it going on in Manhattan. The death toll must be staggering. I recall my wife once telling me her grandfather hauled truckloads of steel used to build the Twin Towers. Now those buildings don’t exist.
10:32 AM: We are again feeding live pictures of the burning Pentagon.
10:36 AM: Witnesses are giving different descriptions of the plane that hit the building. Some say it is an American Airlines 757, while others believe it was a business jet. The fire is still burning out of control.
10:38 AM: Mike Buchanan asks me if I have seen any large pieces of an airplane at the scene. As I answer this question, he interrupts me,“Hold on Dave. Hold on just a second. We’ve got a bulletin from AP. A large plane has just crashed in Western Pennsylvania.”
Mike also reads an AP report about a car bomb going off at the State Department. We are just across the river from State and we didn’t hear an explosion.
10:42 AM: An F-16 makes a low pass near the Pentagon. That, along with the plane crash in Pennsylvania, makes me think there was something to the threats that forced us move away from the building. I notice a large group of people huddled under the Washington Boulevard overpass.
10:52 AM: A Lt. Colonel with Air Force Public Affairs passes our location. We snag him. He urges people to keep far away from the Pentagon. If you have loved ones you can’t account for, he asks that you not come to the Pentagon. He has no idea of the number of dead or injured. Not much in the way of information, but it is the first official word.
WUSA anchorman Gordon Peterson, who was originally sent to nearby National Airport for a flight to New York, arrives at our location.
10:54 AM: Mike and Andrea confirm there was no car bomb at the State Department. A little bit of good news.
11:06 AM: Gordon interviews Mike Walter, a television reporter for “USA Today Live”. Mike, on his way to work in Rosslyn, witnessed the Pentagon crash and offers the most vivid description so far.
11:10 AM: We are again ordered to move our live truck further away from the Pentagon.
11:31 AM: Our shot is back up. This time, from a hill in front of the Quick Mart. This Citgo, looks like a normal service station, but it is exclusively for use by military personnel.
11:39 AM: The fire is spreading. Suddenly there are flames showing in a number of windows far from the point of impact.
People again start moving quickly from the Pentagon. There is more talk of another hijacked plane heading our way.
11:52 AM: Again, more people rush from the Pentagon.
12:16 PM: I listen to Dan Patrick, with a phone report, describe his attempts to get from Northern Virginia to the TV station in Northwest Washington. Dan says he had to show identification to a police officer and explain his business in the city. Only then was he allowed to cross Key Bridge into Georgetown. The city is in lockdown.
12:18 PM: Gordon notices an ambulance convoy from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad pull up along Columbia Pike. It was a repeat of a scene I had witnessed, just on the other side of the Pentagon, almost 20 years earlier. The same Maryland squad sent a similar contingent after Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the 14th Street Bridge on January 13th, 1982.
12:20 PM: If I am not convinced how much turmoil there is in the country from these attacks, this does it. Mike and Andrea announce Disney World is being evacuated.
12:28 PM: A Navy public affairs officer officially confirms what has been painfully obvious. Besides the dead on the aircraft, Pentagon workers are dead inside the building. He has no idea how many people didn’t get out.
12:32 PM: Talking on the air with Mike and Andrea, it still isn’t clear which of the four hijacked jets smashed into the Pentagon. Right now, American Airlines believes the hijacked flight from Dulles crashed into one of the towers in New York.
Police move everyone, including the news media, off the hillside. Bruce pulls the truck around to the other end of the service station lot. This fourth move winds up being our last. It becomes home for the better part of two weeks.
1:19 PM: The first official briefing from the Pentagon. Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, announces that this was “a full assault on the United States of America”. The admiral says there was no way to prepare for an attack like this. I am shaking my head at the fact that the spokesman for the military headquarters of the United States of America is forced to talk to the world from a service station parking lot.
1:30 PM: CNN Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre joins me on the air for a few minutes. Our first time working together was at WTOP radio, 20 years ago, covering the Air Florida plane crash. Jamie says they always anticipated a terrorist attack at the Pentagon, but figured it would be on the other side of the building where all the top brass is located.
Off camera, Jamie tells me that just yesterday his son’s class in middle school had a discussion about the bombing in Oklahoma City. Jamie’s son told the class he always worries about his dad being hurt by an attack like this, because his dad works at the Pentagon. Jamie tried getting word to the school to let his son know he was okay.
1:50 PM: Andrea announces that the Urban Search and Rescue Team from Fairfax County, known as Virginia Task Force 1, has been activated and will be at the Pentagon shortly.
American Airlines now says they aren’t sure where Flight 77 ended up.
WUSA-TV’s Mike Trammel’s shot of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (third from the right) helping carry one of the injured from the Pentagon to a waiting ambulance.
1:56 PM: Admiral Quigley sets the tone for his second briefing by saying “you are going to have a lot more questions than I have answers.” Quigley doesn’t have an answer to the one question all of us are asking. He can only say, “we know there are casualties.”
He tells us Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was among the Pentagon workers hurrying from the building after the explosion. Rumsfeld helped the injured for about 15 minutes, getting several people onto stretchers. Then he went back inside to the National Military Command Center. The command center is reportedly smoky, but not damaged. (NOTE: Approaching the one-year anniversary of the attack, CNN’s Vito Maggiolo contacted me after looking at the raw video from September 11 shot by WUSA-TV photojournalist Mike Trammel. While many people had viewed that video, and all of it played out in front my own eyes, Vito was the only person to notice that one of the men carrying a stretcher with one of the first victims removed from the Pentagon was Secretary Rumsfeld.)
2:10 PM: Virginia Task Force 1 arrives. Normally Fairfax County’s Urban Search and Rescue Team is sent to some far off land by way of military transport. This time it was just a quick drive down Interstate 66 to the county on its eastern border.
2:23 PM: WUSA Photographer Greg Guise is able to provide some details surrounding the hijacked jet that went down in Pennsylvania. Greg grew up a few miles from the crash site and has business interests in the community. Greg relays a description of the scene from a radio engineer friend in Somerset County.
2:43 PM: For the past few hours we’ve seen no ambulances leave the area with lights and siren. We’re pretty certain that anyone alive is already being treated. Now reporter Jennifer Ryan, at the Virginia Hospital Center, confirms no more victims are expected from the Pentagon.
2:49 PM: Mike and Andrea report it’s now fairly clear the plane wreckage at the Pentagon is from American Airlines Flight 77 out of Dulles.
2:55 PM: Rear Admiral Stephen Pietropaoli, U.S. Navy Office of Information, tells us that in the recently renovated wedge of the Pentagon, where the attack occurred, there is blast resistant glass on the windows. In the days to come we hear from many who believe that this very expensive glass saved lives.
3:53 PM: Now briefing us at the Citgo press center, Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clark and Defense Protective Service Chief John Jester. Jester tells us the impact from the jet extends through to the C ring, the middle of the 5 rings of the Pentagon. All we see from our location, is that a portion of the E ring, the outer most portion of the Pentagon, has crumbled.
Clark admits she can’t confirm that all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are accounted for. That news is a bit unsettling. We also hear about a Navy captain who burned his hands rescuing others. Clark says that man is already back from the hospital and wants to be put to work again, helping at the Pentagon.
4:12 PM: Rumors have been spreading that the U.S. military brought down the hijacked plane in Pennsylvania. Rear Admiral Craig Quigley says, “That didn’t happen. I cannot explain to you the cause of the crash of the airplane near Pittsburgh, but it was not engagement by a U.S. fighter aircraft.”
The Pentagon now confirms all the Joint Chiefs are accounted for.
4:54 PM: The second Urban Search and Rescue Team arrives. This one is from Montgomery County, Maryland.
5:04 PM: I see International Association of Firefighters General President, Harold Schaitberger and his press person, George Burke arrive at the Citgo. I grab Harold for a live interview. Harold has been in close touch with his people in New York. We learn for the first time that more than 200 New York firefighters probably perished when the towers collapsed. He calls firefighters “our domestic soldiers”. Schaitberger says the civilian death toll will be in the thousands. Off camera he lets me know that much of FDNY’s command staff was lost, including the Chief of the Department and the head of Special Operations.
5:36 PM: Harold Schaitberger joins me again with the story of two Ft. Meyer firefighters who were at the Pentagon when the crash occurred. They were standing near the fire truck we saw burning this morning. Both men were knocked down and injured by the force of the crash. They helped rescue a group of people through some of the office windows, before the firefighters themselves were hospitalized.
6:42 PM: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield briefs the press. For the first time since the crash, the press conference is held inside the Pentagon. I watch it from our van. Pushed for a body count, Rumsfeld says, “It will not be a few”. The Pentagon “will be in business tomorrow”.
8:45 PM: New information has been slow in coming, but marching up Columbia Pike with the television lights reflecting off his orange vest is a member of Montgomery County’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team. Captain Scott Graham gives us the first solid information about the fire and rescue efforts. Scott becomes a lifeline for information in the days to come.
Despite the large fire still burning, Graham says the USAR team members are always optimistic about finding people alive. He says, “We have to look at it as a rescue effort for us. We have to look at it as a very unstable building. And our job, pretty much, is to take the name of the Pentagon off the outside of it and go in and rescue the people that are in there”.
9:52 PM: Another familiar face shows up at the Citgo. Ed Plaugher is the fire chief of Arlington County. The Pentagon is in Arlington County, Virginia and Chief Plaugher is the man in charge of the fire and rescue operations. None of the other reporters nearby seem to know who Plaugher is, or if they do, they don’t care. Ed joins me live at 10:00 PM with the first solid news about the loss of life at the Pentagon. There are no figures as of yet, but the Pentagon has given him a range to work with. Plaugher says it is believed that anywhere from 100 to 800 people work in the area where the impact occurred. While that is fairly large range, it lets us know that the death toll will likely be in the hundreds at the Pentagon, as compared to the thousands presumed dead in New York. Plaugher’s guess is, when it is over, the number at the Pentagon will be in the low hundreds.
Plaugher later receives some heat when his statements are taken out of context. Some news reports claim Plaugher estimated the death toll at 800. Days later we learn that 125 were killed on the ground and 64 perished aboard Flight 77.
On another topic Chief Plaugher says, “To be honest with you, we always were afraid of the Pentagon as being a target, but never in our wildest dreams to this extent. I am still in disbelief.”
11:03 PM: Fire has broken through in at least four places along the Pentagon roof. Chief Plaugher says aggressive interior firefighting operations will cease until daylight. But, crews overnight, will continue to pour in water from the outside to keep the fire from spreading further.
I relay a phone conversation with Scott Graham a few minutes before our 11:00 PM newscast. Scott and most of the USAR team members from Montgomery and Fairfax Counties worked very closely with Deputy Chief Ray Downey from the Fire Department of New York. Downey, commander of FDNY’s Special Operations, is unaccounted for after the towers collapsed. Scott says Downey commanded all the USAR teams in Oklahoma City after the bombing there. He says Downey wrote the book on urban search and rescue. Skills Downey taught will be utilized in New York and Arlington by hundreds of rescuers in the difficult days to come. His voice cracking, Scott tells me, “We lost a damn good man”.
We lost a lot of good men and women today.
October 27, 2001
11:15 PM: As I am looking back at September 11th, I have just spent a week covering the deaths of two Washington, D.C. postal workers, from inhalation anthrax. Others are hospitalized because of anthrax that was sent through the U.S. Mail. No one knows how this story will play out.
There is a lot of uncertainty since September 11th. Our war efforts, our security in public places, our ability to travel safely by air, our economic future. Like all parents, Hillary and I worry over what this will mean for our young son.
This much I’m sure of. Through the thick smoke hanging over New York and Washington, it became clear that some remarkable people walk among us.
Some are just ordinary citizens who put other people’s lives ahead of their own. Staying behind, trying to make sure everyone gets out.
Others are paid to protect us. But I don’t think anyone believes for a moment that a police officer, paramedic or firefighter’s modest salary is enough to encourage someone to walk into the places that these men and women did on September 11th. It takes much more than money. It takes heart, and courage, and a belief you can make a difference.
I know firefighters the best. Six years in a busy volunteer company during my youth, and almost 30 years making the fire service my beat as a reporter, have given me some perspective.
In many big cities, including our Nation’s Capital, the fire departments have long taken a back seat when it comes to funding. Citizens who can tell you how many times the police patrol car comes down their block, or how many officers are walking the beat, have no idea how many firefighters are on duty in the neighborhood fire station. Political leaders know this to be true and through the years have made drastic cuts in fire protection, often without protest from the public.
Through the years, I have reported many stories where citizens and firefighters have died because of these cuts. Just last week an understaffed ladder company became an issue in Houston, Texas, after a fire captain died in a high-rise apartment building fire.
Firefighters are can-do people. Their skills at making things work under adversity often hides from the public the shortcomings in their staffing, equipment and facilities.
Some of the good that has come from the sacrifices made by the 343 members of FDNY who died on September 11th, is the recognition, by the public, of what firefighters really do.
A recent trip to Arlington County Fire Station #2 brought this home. The firehouse is covered with cards and letters from all over the world. Many are from school children, with drawings of the firefighters in action at the Pentagon and World Trade Center. All say thanks.
Veterans of more than 20 years in the fire service are astounded by the reaction these days as they drive through local streets. People stop and wave. When the firefighters walk into a building in uniform, they are applauded.
On October 7th, I was at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Just two hours before military action in Afghanistan began, President Bush told the stories of some of the 99 domestic soldiers who died in the line of duty in the United States last year. I watched as spouses and children received a flag and a red rose, and heard a bell toll in honor of their loved one, our hero.
I have forced myself on most days since September 11th to read the New York Post, Daily News and Times and the accounts of the daily funerals of New York firefighters. It is difficult to read about the pain their wives and children are going through. It is the least, though, that we can do. It is important to remember this unbelievable sacrifice.
My hope is that people all over the United States are paying very close attention to these same stories of heroism. My hope is that they don’t forget these stories when someone is trying to save a little money and close down their local firehouse.
Right now when Sam sees a fire truck he says, “Evan”. “Revvin’ Evan” is the animated fire engine on that “Jay Jay the Jet Plane” cartoon show he loves. When Sam is old enough, I will make sure he knows a lot more about firefighters. I will make sure Sam understands exactly who those people were climbing up the clogged, smoke filled, stairways, as he sat in his high chair, watching the first pictures transmitted from New York, at 8:52 AM, on September 11th, 2001.
A surveillance video shows a group of teenagers who stole a plaque honoring a FDNY firefighter killed in the attacks of 9/11 from a community center on Long Island. The plaque has since been returned, but the focus now is on finding the teens.
The plaque honoring William Mahoney was removed, along with several flags, from the Connetquot Youth Association, overnight July 4, according to Mike Barbara, vp of the organization.
Surveillance video shows a group of teens lighting fireworks in a ballfield at the complex, then climbing on the roof and taking down the flags and plaque.
“They pried the plaque right off the rock,” Barbara said. “It’s terrible, for somebody that gave their life, you know, back on 9/11 and the place where his kids played and were brought up — for somebody to go and do that to somebody’s father is just sick, it’s not right.”
Barbara said after reports began to surface in the community about the vandalism, the plaque was thrown back over the center’s fence, wrapped in one of the flags.
The Bravo Network is responding to PIX 11′s questions about one of its reality shows by taking action. This comes after the family of a fallen hero says they felt disrespected by a recent episode that was filmed at the Jonathan Ielpi Memorial Park in Great Neck Plaza. Anger swept over Melissa Ielpi-Brengel while she was watching the Bravo reality tv show ‘Princesses: Long Island’, which follows six pampered Long Island women who live with their parents.
In Sunday’s episode, one of the so-called princesses who was doing a photo shoot to promote her product, incorporated a FDNY memorial and 9/11 statue from the Jonathan Ielpi Memorial Park.
The scene shows Amanda Bertoncini doing a photo shoot for her product (a piece of fabric that wraps around any sort of drink can or bottle) at the FDNY memorial where one of the models is hanging on the bronze statue of firefighter Jonathan Ielpi. You can hear the photographer tell the model, “Kiss the fireman, try to feed him the beer.” Then Bertoncini exclaims, “Yeah, feed him the beer! Then act scared.”
The New York Post’s Susan Edelman and Candice M. Giove, the same reporters who broke the FDNY EMS social media scandal stories, are again focusing on FDNY. But this time they are looking at FDNY “wannabes” in an article titled “Culture of FDNY groupies rages out of control as ‘badge bunny’ obsession turns scary”. Women who want to date New York City’s bravest and men who apparently want to be firefighters so badly that they become obsessed.
Sunday’s article focuses on 34-year-old Christine Cuocolo, an IRS employee, and two men she associated with who are fire buffs, Gary Battista and Scott Main. It’s a detailed article that shows a really dark side that resulted in pictures of firefighters wives and children being posted online, threats of physical harm to specific firefighters and even threats to blow up a firehouse.
Here’s an excerpt to get you started, but make sure you read the whole article:
Some buffs listen to scanners and chase sirens, taking spectacular action shots of blazes to display as trophies. “You guys are sooo awesome,” a female fan recently cooed on one page.
Cuocolo, who showed off a scanner, crafted YouTube videos and slide shows lovingly depicting her favorite engine companies.
She brought plates of cookies to firehouses to “show support because I respect them,” Cuocolo told The Post.
She also confessed to crushes on firefighters at Engine 65 on 43rd Street off Sixth Avenue — and a desire to date them.
But Cuocolo popped by so often — she also brought flowers and memorial plaques for the fallen — the crews grew uneasy. FDNY rules permit visitors inside firehouses only during “open houses”; they can’t just hang out.
When the firefighters finally told Cuocolo to stop the surprise visits and Facebook postings, her adoration twisted into obsession and fury, fellow buffs and firefighters said.
Cuocolo, the daughter of an ex-NYPD cop-turned-private investigator, dug up information on some firefighters and posted photos of their wives and children. At least one firefighter demanded she remove them.
Audio from firefighterdispatch. Above is the initial audio from the Boston Police Department and below is the radio traffic from the Boston Fire Department.
From the AP:
Two bombs exploded in the crowded streets near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing at least three people and injuring more than 130 in a bloody scene of shattered glass and severed limbs that raised alarms that terrorists might have struck again in the U.S.
A White House official speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still unfolding said the attack was being treated as an act of terrorism.
President Barack Obama vowed that those responsible will “feel the full weight of justice.”
The fiery twin blasts took place about 10 seconds and about 100 yards apart, knocking spectators and at least one runner off their feet, shattering windows and sending dense plumes of smoke rising over the street and through the fluttering national flags lining the course. Blood stained the pavement, and huge shards were missing from window panes as high as three stories.
“They just started bringing people in with no limbs,” said runner Tim Davey of Richmond, Va. He said he and his wife, Lisa, tried to keep their children’s eyes shielded from the gruesome scene inside a medical tent that had been set up to care for fatigued runners, but “they saw a lot.”
“They just kept filling up with more and more casualties,” Lisa Davey said. “Most everybody was conscious. They were very dazed.”
Authorities shed no light on a motive or who may have carried out the bombings, and police said they had no suspects in custody. Authorities in Washington said there was no immediate claim of responsibility. The FBI took charge of the investigation.
Police said three people were killed. Hospitals reported at least 134 injured, at least 15 of them critically. The victims’ injuries included broken bones, shrapnel wounds and ruptured eardrums.
At Massachusetts General Hospital, Alisdair Conn, chief of emergency services, said: “This is something I’ve never seen in my 25 years here … this amount of carnage in the civilian population. This is what we expect from war.”
Some 23,000 runners took part in the race, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious marathons.
One of Boston’s biggest annual events, the race winds up near Copley Square, not far from the landmark Prudential Center and the Boston Public Library. It is held on Patriots Day, which commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution, at Concord and Lexington in 1775.
Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis asked people to stay indoors or go back to their hotel rooms and avoid crowds as bomb squads methodically checked parcels and bags left along the race route. He said investigators didn’t know whether the bombs were hidden in mailboxes or trash cans.
He said authorities had received “no specific intelligence that anything was going to happen” at the race.
The Federal Aviation Administration barred low-flying aircraft within 3.5 miles of the site.
“We still don’t know who did this or why,” Obama said at the White House, adding, “Make no mistake: We will get to the bottom of this.”
With scant official information to guide them, members of Congress said there was little or no doubt it was an act of terrorism.
“We just don’t know whether it’s foreign or domestic,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
A few miles away from the finish line and around the same time, a fire broke out at the John F. Kennedy Library. The police commissioner said that it may have been caused by an incendiary device and that it was not clear whether it was related to the bombings.
The first explosion occurred on the north side of Boylston Street, just before the finish line.
When the second bomb went off, the spectators’ cheers turned to screams. As sirens blared, emergency workers and National Guardsmen who had been assigned to the race for crowd control began climbing over and tearing down temporary fences to get to the blast site.
The bombings occurred about four hours into the race and two hours after the men’s winner crossed the line. By that point, more than 17,000 of the athletes had finished the race, but thousands more were still running.
The attack may have been timed for maximum carnage: The four-hour mark is typically a crowded time near the finish line because of the slow-but-steady recreational runners completing the race and because of all the friends and relatives clustered around to cheer them on.
Runners in the medical tent for treatment of dehydration or other race-related ills were pushed out to make room for victims of the bombing.
A woman who was a few feet from the second bomb, Brighid Wall, 35, of Duxbury, said that when it exploded, runners and spectators froze, unsure of what to do. Her husband threw their children to the ground, lay on top of them and another man lay on top of them and said, “Don’t get up, don’t get up.”
After a minute or so without another explosion, Wall said, she and her family headed to a Starbucks and out the back door through an alley. Around them, the windows of the bars and restaurants were blown out.
She said she saw six to eight people bleeding profusely, including one man who was kneeling, dazed, with blood trickling down his head. Another person was on the ground covered in blood and not moving.
“My ears are zinging. Their ears are zinging,” Wall said. “It was so forceful. It knocked us to the ground.”
Competitors and race volunteers were crying as they fled the chaos. Authorities went onto the course to carry away the injured, while race stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site.
Roupen Bastajian, a state trooper from Smithfield, R.I., had just finished the race when he heard the blasts.
“I started running toward the blast. And there were people all over the floor,” he said. “We started grabbing tourniquets and started tying legs. A lot of people amputated. … At least 25 to 30 people have at least one leg missing, or an ankle missing, or two legs missing.”
The race honored the victims of the Newtown, Conn., shooting with a special mile marker in Monday’s race.
Boston Athletic Association president Joanne Flaminio previously said there was “special significance” to the fact that the race is 26.2 miles long and 26 people died at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Associated Press writers Jay Lindsay, Steve LeBlanc, Bridget Murphy and Meghan Barr in Boston; Julie Pace, Lara Jakes and Eileen Sullivan in Washington; and Marilynn Marchione in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
Don’t run. Don’t hide. Words to live by when you are a public official who has to deal with bad news on your watch. It’s very rare you will make the situation better by forcing reporters to do an ambush interview and then running away from them on camera. And probably more important than all of this, is finding a way to deal directly with a citizen who believes they have been wronged by your agency, especially one who has lost a loved one.
The man in the picture is Collier County, Florida EMS Chief Walter Kopka. He is trying to get away from a TV reporter outside a public meeting. Kopka has been dealing with the fallout from a delayed ambulance response in December when Charles Minard’s son died. Minard wants some answers and doesn’t think he is getting them. WFTX-TV reporter Matt Grant has also been trying to get answers. On Wednesday they both confronted Kopka at a public meeting and it wasn’t their first time. Click here to see the results. They aren’t pretty.
The only bright spot comes near the end when Capt. Andrea Schultz with the East Naples Fire Rescue District decides to step in and do the right thing. We certainly don’t know all the ins and outs of this story other than what WFTX-TV is reporting. But we do know who looks responsive to Mr. Minard, the TV reporter and ultimately the public and who doesn’t.
We also know that this story has been going on for almost five months with report after report. In the story before this, Walter Kopka called police to get Minard and Grant removed from the property. Here are links to the previous coverage:
There are many factors that could be behind the manner in which Walter Kopka is responding to this incident. Kopka could be under orders by a boss or legal counsel not to talk. It could be he is fed up with the father and the reporter. It could be ego and pride. But when bad stuff happens, until you admit mistakes were made, apologize, explain those mistakes and how they will be corrected to both the victims and the public, it isn’t likely you or your organization will be able to finally look at the bad news in the rear view mirror.
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.
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.”
Anyone who has heard my presentations knows my philosophy on ambush interviews of public officials by reporters. Because often they provide more theatrics than substance I tried to only use them when an official continuously refused to answer questions on important public issues. Apparently my friend Paul Wagner feels the same way. He has been trying since last week to get some answers from Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander about the state of the fleet of fire trucks protecting our Nation’s Capital. When neither man would respond to Paul Wagner’s requests for interviews he went in search of Paul Quander and found him.
The D.C. Fire Department admitted on Friday its ladder trucks had not been put through stress tests last year because there were no reserve trucks to take their place. An admission that came after FOX 5 aired a story with a claim by the firefighters union the annual testing hadn’t been done since 2009, risking the safety of firefighters as well as citizens.
The accepted protocol within most, if not all fire departments is that ladder trucks be stress tested annually because of the danger of collapse. It’s an industry standard.
On Friday the D.C. Fire Department admitted it had not tested the trucks last year and left the question of testing in 2011 and 2010 unanswered.
On Monday FOX 5 went to see the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety in hopes of getting some answers.
Paul Quander has so far ignored every single request for comment since the middle of last week.
At first we were told Quander was unavailable when he suddenly left the office and we tried to get some answers. The video reveals our exchange.
“Hey Mr. Quander can I talk to you about a couple of issues?
“(Quander) not right now I am going down to…(Wagner) “There are some serious issues about safety right now and you are the head of public safety in the city”.
“(Quander) as I said I can’t talk to you right now, I have a meeting I need to go to and you didn’t schedule anything”.
“(Wagner) But you ignore me sir, I email, I call, I’m looking for answers and you are not giving us answers, the fire department admitted Friday night Mr. Quander it didn’t have any reserve trucks last year and they are not testing these ladder trucks isn’t that a public safety issue? Isn’t that a public safety issue sir? You are the head of public safety, firefighters are possibly in danger who are climbing theseladders that haven’t beentested, how come you are ignoring me?
In the same press release from Friday the fire department said it had tested one truck on Monday March 11th.
“Well Paul it’s pretty disgusting because we had a firefighter fatality in 1999 on Cherry Road”, said Union President Ed Smith, “One of the recommendations in that report was to keep the reserve fleet ready and there was a truck out of service that night and there was a delay on the second truck responding, we had the same delay when four firefighters were hurt on 48th Place, so apparently we don’t ever learn our lesson and the city is putting everybody’s safety at risk”.
The after action report on the Cherry Road fire lists current Chief Kenneth Ellerbe as taking part in the report which recommends “the department maintain an adequate reserve fleet”.
Last year in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania an aerial ladder collapsed while fighting a blaze at an auto repair shop, seriously injuring one firefighter.
Later this week, perhaps by Wednesday, the city will announce the outcome of an investigation into why there were no ambulances to take an injured D.C. Police officer to the hospital in a hit and run crash March 5th.
One other note, City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said today he still has confidence in Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe but he needs to put the EMS transport problems and fleet maintenance issues behind him.
Mendelson says it’s unacceptable for a stroke victim to be taken to the hospital in a fire engine and if it’s best practice to stress test ladder trucks? Get it done.
Even with, or possibly because, of all the bad press and self inflicted wounds of the last few weeks, the Editorial Board of The Washington Post gave its own vote of confidence to Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. In an editorial posted online last night and in today’s print edition, the Post supports Chief Ellerbe’s idea of EMS redeployment and the proposed move away from 24-hour shifts for firefighters. The editorial gives the indication those are the solutions to what ails the DC Fire & EMS Department. The editorial does not cover any of the recent issues about the disrepair of the department’s fleet of ambulances and fire trucks and the questions surrounding Chief Ellerbe’s handling of that issue.
Here are the opening and closing paragraphs of the editorial:
Demand for ambulance service drops off at 1 a.m. and doesn’t pick up again until about 7 a.m. D.C. fire and emergency medical officials argue it makes sense to move some crews and equipment that are sitting idle to times when they are needed. The fact that such a common-sense change has yet to happen is testament to the dysfunctional politics that have brought the department to what Kenneth B. Ellerbe, chief of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, called a “tipping point.”
Mr. Ellerbe makes a strong case for breaking with tradition in how the department schedules and deploys its staff. The mission of the department has changed as the result of advances in building safety and fire prevention; more than 80 percent of calls are for medical emergencies, not fires. There is no understating the importance of firefighters or the considerable risks they take, and they have raised issues that bear scrutiny. But decisions about the direction of the department should be made by those in charge, based on what best serves public needs.
A little after noon today DC Fire & EMS Department Communications Director Lon Walls sent out a notification to the news media of a 2:00 press conference to discuss recent major EMS issues saying, “Kenneth B. Ellerbe, and other public officials will hold a press briefing in front of the Department’s headquarters.” But it turned out that Chief Ellerbe was not among the scheduled speakers. He spoke only when reporters made an issue of the fact that Chief Ellerbe was just standing in the background and hadn’t said anything.
As you will see below, WUSA-TV reporter Kristin Fisher used the word ”bizarre” to describe the press conference. Having watched the whole thing live on News Channel 8, I would say Kristin’s description is probably accurate. It wasn’t just Chief Ellerbe’s diminished role at the briefing. There was the ”system worked” comment from Dr. David Miramontes, an assistant chief and the department’s medical director that you knew as you heard it would be one of the headlines of the day. And then there was the image of both the chief and the doctor wearing sunglasses in front of the TV cameras. There were so many basic rules of PR/Media Relations 101 violated by today’s event and the entire week that if someone in DC attending EMS Today was paying attention they would have enough material to teach a whole class on just this for next year’s convention.
On the plus side, Deputy Mayor Paul Quander and Deputy Fire Chief Demetrios Vlassopoulos both did a nice and clear job of defending the decision of the crew of Engine 33 to scoop up a stroke victim last night and make a run for the hospital rather than wait for an ambulance that wasn’t going to make it to the scene anytime soon. Quander was also very clear in his promise that “everyone will be held accountable” from the front lines to management in the investigation of why so many ambulances were unavailable Tuesday evening when a police officer was struck on his motorcycle.
It took three days, but the District’s fire chief finally addressed why an injured police officer had to wait almost twenty minutes for an ambulance Tuesday night. That officer is still in the hospital in serious condition after being hit by a car while stopped on his motorcycle.
The remarks came during a bizarre press conference Friday afternoon. It was held at the fire departments headquarters, so you would expect the fire chief to do most of the talking. But that wasn’t the case. Chief Kenneth Ellerbe didn’t say a word until the end of the press conference when a WUSA9 reporter asked him to address his department’s response time Tuesday night.
“I tell you our department responded as best it could,” said Chief Ellerbe.
One of his Assistant Fire Chiefs went so far as to say, “Tuesday, the system worked.”
Edward Smith, the president of city’s firefighters union, disagrees.
“There was a delay of 8 minutes calling for mutual aid from Prince George’s County. Communications should have known right off the bat that there were no units available and that mutual aid was necessary,” said Smith.
To make matters worse, a stroke patient in Southeast had to be rushed to the hospital Thursday night on a fire truck. The closest ambulance was seven miles away.
“The reason an ambulance was selected seven miles away was not because we had numerous units out of service or broken. They were just running a lot of calls yesterday during rush hour because that’s when the demand peaked,” said Gerald Coles, Acting Assistant Fire Chief for Operations for DC Fire and EMS.
In an effort to ease the demand, the fire department announced Friday an EMS Redeployment Plan, which would keep two ambulances on standby at all times.
“The plan was implemented starting yesterday,” said Chief Ellerbe.
The Chief says they’ve been working on the plan for months, and that the timing is just a coincidence. But Smith says this is the first he’s ever heard about it and that the timing is highly questionable.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but two ambulances is not enough,” said Smith.
The District’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, Paul Quander, has launched an investigation into Tuesday’s nights lengthy response time.
“If there is responsibility at management, at supervision, or at the lowest level, everyone will be held accountable,” said Quander.
Quander says there’s also reason to believe that the person who hit the officer did so deliberately. Three people have already been arrested and charged in the hit and run, but more charges could be coming. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier declined to talk about the case, except to say that her officer has a long recovery ahead.
District officials are defending a decision to transport a 79-year-old stroke victim to the hospital on a fire truck.
The Deputy Mayor for Public Safety says there were so many calls for service Thursday night, there were no ambulances available east of the Anacostia River.
It is a fact that does not sit well with the man’s family.
D.C. fire officials say there were plenty of ambulances to meet demand in the city until about 4:30 p.m. Thursday when 911 was overwhelmed with calls for help.
Every ambulance was in service and assigned when Ida Sheppard called to say her husband was having a stroke. A paramedic was on the scene within three minutes, but the closest ambulance was over seven miles away.
Just after 5 p.m., Sheppard called 911 to say her husband, Morrison, was in distress and needed help right away.
A few minutes later, Engine 33, which happens to be just down the street from where the Sheppards live on Atlantic Street, was in front of the house and a paramedic inside.
“They said he needs to be taken to the hospital right away,” said Ida Sheppard in an interview Friday. “We are going to take him to GW because they have a stroke unit.”
Sheppard says she was fine with that and watched as the firefighters loaded her husband into the engine.
“They had to carry him out in their arms … He couldn’t walk,” she said.
Sheppard praised the care the crew on Engine 33 gave her husband, but she finds it upsetting an ambulance was unavailable.
“I would like the mayor to know there was no ambulance,” said Sheppard. “I planned on calling him … It shouldn’t happen here in Ward 8 where we are paying income taxes and real estate taxes.”
At a Friday afternoon news conference, city officials had nothing but praise for the firefighters on Engine 33.
“We had no units out of service (for) mechanical (reasons) yesterday,” said Deputy Fire Chief Demetrios Vlassopoulos. “No transport units, ambulances or medic units. They were all serving the citizens. They were all meeting the 911 demand. This incident yesterday was a good decision by the firefighter paramedic on the scene.”
At the same news conference, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety says he was still trying to determine why there were no ambulances available earlier this week to assist a D.C. police officer seriously injured in a hit-and-run.
Tommy Wells, the head of the D.C. city council’s Judiciary Committee, says he has told the deputy mayor and the fire chief he wants answers.
“I want to know exactly what is going on,” said Wells. “Do we have a staffing shortage? Do we have a problem with not enough ambulances? So I will give the administration two weeks to do a full search, report, investigation so we can get to the bottom of it.”
Wells says he will then hold an oversight hearing in hopes of getting the issue resolved.
The deputy mayor also said Friday the fire department has put into place a plan that will hold two ambulances in reserve every shift so if one breaks down, the crew will go to the backup.
Ida Sheppard says her husband is in stable condition and resting.
Last nigth at 11:00 PM, WRC-TV/NBC 4 in Washington did another story about EMS problems in the Nation’s Capital. This one is about an engine company transporting a stroke victim to the hospital because no EMS transport units were available for a while yesterday evening. As we relayed to you yesterday, Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has been quiet about the latest incident involving his department. That apparently will change at 2:00 this afternoon according to a notification sent out from the department’s communications director a short time ago:
Kenneth B. Ellerbe, and other public officials will hold a press briefing in front of the Department’s headquarters, 1923 Vermont Avenue, NW, to address concerns that have evolved regarding EMS response times.
District firefighters were forced to take a man suffering from a stroke to a hospital in a fire truck Thursday evening because the closest ambulance was seven miles away.
The incident comes just two days after an injured police officer waited almost 20 minutes for an ambulance.
Now, a top city leader is calling for immediate action, reported News4′s Shomari Stone.
The latest case involved a man in his 80s at a home in the 600 block of Atlantic Avenue SE. His wife called 911, saying the man was suffering from a stroke, said deputy fire chief Demetrios Vlassopoulos.
A fire engine staffed with paramedics responded to the scene within four minutes, and an ambulance was dispatched at the same time, Vlassopoulos told News4.
The closest ambulance, however, was coming from seven miles away — too far away to respond quickly in rush hour, Vlassopoulos said. A paramedic on the scene assessed the patient and decided he needed to go to a hospital immediately, so emergency personnel transported him in the fire truck.
This is the third time that an ambulance has been too far away to respond to a medical emergency in Southeast Washington this year.
District Councilman Tommy Wells told Stone that he would call a hearing into why it’s taking so long for some ambulances to respond in the Southeast part of the city. “We do not expect that there are any delays” in ambulance service, he said.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the delayed ambulance response for an injured D.C. police officer is focusing on 10 ambulance units that were out of service at the time of the call. The man in charge of the investigation told News4 he’s trying to find out why the units were unavailable and why they were all out of service so close to the end of their shifts.
The initial calls for a pedestrian down came about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night — just 30 minutes before the shift change.
“I want to make sure that in fact no one took themselves out of service without the proper authorization and especially when it came time to ending their shift early,” Deputy Mayor Paul Quander said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Thirty-nine ambulance units were on duty at the time of the accident, Quander said, and some of the 10 that were out of service had legitimate reasons for not being able to respond to the call.
“One of the things I need to find out from this internal review is what happened to 10 of the units that were not available at that critical time,” Quander said. “Some of them may have been on runs to hospitals. Some of them may have been being cleaned. There are others I need to focus on to see whether or not they took themselves out of service without authorization.”
The officer, identified as Sean Hickman, was eventually transported by a Prince George’s County ambulance with life-threatening injuries. He suffered multiple fractures to his left leg and has had two surgeries so far.
His recovery will be long, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
“He’s pretty badly injured,” she said. “He underwent 7-8 hours of surgery the first night and he has additional surgeries today.”
D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, who has oversight of the fire department, called the delay “unacceptable” and launched his own inquiry.
It seems the DC Fire & EMS Department has been in the news almost constantly for the last three weeks and little of it has been good news. It has gotten to the point that today reporter WTTG-TV/ Fox5 reporter Paul Wagner confronted Mayor Vincent Gray about he leadership of Chief Kenneth Ellerbe:
Wagner: Do you still have confidence in Kenneth Ellerbe?
Mayor Gray: Yes.
Wagner: You do?
Mayor Gray: Yes
Mayor Gray: I have confidence in our fire chief, is that your answer?
As for Chief Ellerbe, he has not been making any statements about the latest incident to put the spotlight on the department, the delayed transport for a seriously injured DC police officer. The chief is letting his boss Deputy Mayor Paul Quander talk with the press about this incident. Just two weeks ago Chief Ellerbe was more vocal, putting out three statements within 24 hours that addressed what the chief saw as inaccurate reporting on different stories about the department.
But Chief Ellerbe did talk with DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier about her officer being struck Tuesday night. Lanier, whose late dad was a chief officer with Maryland’s PGFD, talked with reporters today saying, “The last thing I want to think about it, you know is, a police officer who is injured that seriously to have to wait to get transported.”
The investigation into the delayed ambulance response for an injured D.C. police officer is focusing on 10 ambulance units that were out of service at the time of the call. The man in charge of the investigation told News4 he’s trying to find out why the units were unavailable and why they were all out of service so close to the end of their shifts.
The initial calls for a pedestrian down came about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night — just 30 minutes before the shift change.
“I want to make sure that in fact no one took themselves out of service without the proper authorization and especially when it came time to ending their shift early,” Deputy Mayor Paul Quander said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Thirty-nine ambulance units were on duty at the time of the accident, Quander said, and some of the 10 that were out of service had legitimate reasons for not being able to respond to the call.
“One of the things I need to find out from this internal review is what happened to 10 of the units that were not available at that critical time,” Quander said. “Some of them may have been on runs to hospitals. Some of them may have been being cleaned. There are others I need to focus on to see whether or not they took themselves out of service without authorization.”
The officer was eventually transported by a Prince George’s County ambulance with life-threatening injuries. He suffered multiple fractures to his left leg and has had two surgeries so far.
His recovery will be long, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
But it’s what happened after the collision that is now the subject of an ongoing investigation involving D.C. Fire and EMS.
The Sixth District officer, who has now been identified as Sean Hickman, broke his pelvis and one of his legs and was on the ground waiting for help for as long as eight minutes before paramedics on an engine arrived to render first aid.
The officer then waited at least 15 minutes more for an ambulance that had to come from Prince George’s County because there were no ambulances available in the District.
The long wait for an ambulance is now the subject of an investigation by the deputy mayor for public safety who says some of the ambulance crews on duty that night may have left the streets before the end of their shift.
“We had 10 medical units that were not available for service and I need to know why,” said Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander. “Some of them were on runs, some were in for cleanup after you do a run, but I’m also looking to see if some went out of service inappropriately without authorization. They may have left their shift before it was over, but these are some of the things we have to sort out.”
Officer Hickman was riding a scooter when he was hit in the intersection of 46th and A Streets in Southeast D.C.
The long wait for medical help has infuriated the police union, which is now pointing fingers at the fire chief.
“Here in the nation’s capital that we would not have an ambulance available is inexcusable and who’s to blame? The Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe is to blame,” said Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Kristopher Baumann. “This is his department and this is not the first time we have seen mismanagement with story after story of how he has been unable to make this a working department.”
Chief Ellerbe declined a request for an interview and said all questions would be answered by the deputy mayor.
“We had paramedics that arrived within eight minutes, which is well within the standard that we want,” said Deputy Mayor Quander. “What I also said is that the review will take a look at everything to see if we can improve, whether there was any impact to the officer’s care.”
On Thursday afternoon, FOX 5 asked D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray if he is concerned with the current state of emergency medical care in the city.
“With respect to the current situation, I’ve asked Paul Quander to take a look at it and he will have information and anything that will be broader than that, so let’s wait and see what he comes up with,” said Gray.
When asked if he still had confidence in the fire chief, the mayor replied “yes.”
The head of the police union in DC says his members will join IAFF Local 36 members in not attending Mayor Vincent Gray’s luncheon to honor city workers who helped safeguard the Inauguration. The FOP is taken this action because of DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. Kristopher Baumann told Washington Examiner City Hall reporter Alan Blinder, ”We’re not going to participate until this administration starts behaving like it’s run by adults and starts treating fellow workers with respect.”
IAFF Local 36 president Ed Smith also talked to reporter Blinder:
But Edward Smith, the president of the firefighters’ union, said taking part in the celebratory luncheon amid an ongoing review would have sent “a mixed message.”
“It definitely seemed inappropriate,” said Smith, who added that it “remains to be seen” whether the review will lead to discipline.
The White House flap is one of the news stories that prompted Chief Ellerbe to issue three statements within 24 hours last week (and here) claiming reporter accounts in each were inaccurate. One of the other stories was about sexual harassment claims made by cadets at the Training Academy against two instructors. The differences between the story reported by WJLA-TV/ABC 7 and information in Chief Ellerbe’s statement has Council member Tommy Wells asking for an inspector general’s investigation of the matter.
In a letter dated Feb. 26, 2013, Wells asks the inspector general to investigate the allegations. He states that there is wide difference between what fire officials say and what’s being reported by the media.
The story, which was an exclusive ABC7 I-Team Investigation, discovered looming sex scandal in the D.C. Fire Department involving female trainees. Multiple sources told ABC7 that two female cadets recently accused two training academy instructors of sexual harassment.
“We took immediate action to remove those members from the presence of our cadets and continued class,” says D.C. Fire & EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. “The ladies have asked that we keep this matter confidential and we’ve done our best to do that until this matter is completely resolved.”
Contrary to reports in local media, the DC Fire and EMS Department is not considering any disciplinary action against uniformed personnel for appearing alongside President Obama. At the request of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, DC FEMS is simply reviewing its internal protocols for such appearances to ensure that both the Department and its employees are fully informed.
We fully support the efforts of President to highlight the essential and life saving work that our first-responders do every single day, and welcome his invitation for our members to participate. We’re exceedingly proud of the men and women that wear the DC FEMS uniform, and thank the President for his support.