This evening there are two separate stories questioning the readiness of the DC Fire & EMS Department. In the story above, WTTG-TV/Fox 5 reporter Paul Wagner, who has broken most of the stories about the poor state of the fire department’s fleet, tells us that two reserve ladder trucks recently failed aerial ladder inspections. You may recall Wagner’s previous report that the department did not conduct ladder inspections last year. Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told Wagner in a statement then that the inspections weren’t done because of a lack of reserve trucks. Now that those inspections are happening, Wagner reports problems are being discovered, including the damaged cable seen below.
At WTOP radio this afternoon, the city’s former director of D.C.’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Pete LaPorte, was interviewed about Washington’s ability to respond to an attack like the one yesterday in Boston. LaPorte was asked about the impact of the fire department’s fleet problems on the City’s readiness. Here’s LaPorte’s response:
I think there is a lot of mutual aid but I think it’s a true concern. I believe that the city has a great deal of reserve money right now. and I truly believe it would be a wise investment to reinvest in our fire equipment and resources. You remember after 9/11 there wasn’t a dollar that … couldn’t be had for our response. We literally got all new fire trucks, all new ambulances, throughout the city. It seems like we’ve lost some of that level of response and we certainly need to upgrade it. And I think that would be something that Chief Ellerbe wants to be looking at quickly, is to make a request. To look for a capital investment in the equipment there.
There are new concerns the D.C. fire department is taking risks with its ladder trucks after two of them failed stress tests this month and were taken out of service.
One of the trucks had frayed steel cables used to raise the ladders into the air.
According to the firefighters’ union, that truck, a reserve that has been responding to emergency calls on Capitol Hill, failed a stress test Monday morning and was immediately taken out of service.
It is a discovery that raises questions about the safety of the entire fleet.
“Absolutely, and unfortunately, I don’t believe it’s the only truck running calls that probably wouldn’t pass an aerial ladder test,” said Union Second Vice President Dabney Hudson. “It’s going to continue to put the citizens and the firefighters who ride it in jeopardy.”
When FOX 5 first aired the union’s concerns on March 18, a spokesman for the fire department said the stress tests had not been done in 2012 because there were no reserves to take their place.
Then two days later, fire officials told the city council the tests had not been done since 2008.
“If the cables snapped, it would have caused a catastrophic ladder failure, the ladder would completely fail … it would have come crashing to the ground,” said Hudson.
The truck with the frayed cables was running calls on the hill because the truck normally assigned to the hill, Truck 7, has been out of service, parked at fleet maintenance on Half Street since early April.
The new reserve taking its place in the firehouse on 8th Street in Southeast D.C. has issues as well.
Photos obtained by FOX 5 show rust and corrosion on the base of the aerial ladder. It is a condition the union feels would likely lead to a failed stress test as well.
Last year, an aerial ladder in Alliquppa, Pa., collapsed while fighting a blaze at an auto repair shop and seriously injuring a firefighter.
As of March 20, the fire department reported to the city council’s judiciary committee it had 16 trucks and one reserve ladder.
In an email sent to FOX 5 Monday night, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe confirmed one front line truck and two reserves have been given stress tests since early April, with only the front line truck passing.
The chief said the reserves will be repaired in about two weeks.
On Tuesday, the chief declined an interview request.
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.
STATter911.com June 2009 reporting on this issue here & here
Some background from Dave
On the morning of July 2, 2009 I was tuned in to the most listened to radio station in the Nation’s Capital when the city’s fire chief told an interviewer that some of my reporting on a major news story was not true. Something like that gets the attention of a reporter.
While I was taken by surprise, like most people in the news business, it’s something I’ve dealt with before in my career. I did what I always did when such a claim was made. I rechecked the facts and tried to do as honest an evaluation as possible to see if I was being fair to all involved. The next day I posted all the details as I knew them, including the chief’s comments and an on the record statement from the fire department PIO, who also heard the broadcast. The spokesman directly contradicted his boss.
Now, more than three-years later, the same chief has written his own column about the news media and that same incident. In it, the chief now verifies most of what his PIO said and what I reported, in direct contrast to his words in 2009.
I fully expect some will accuse me of trying to settle an old score and others will find this absolutely boring. But I think it’s important to my credibility to once again place the facts as I know them before you and let you be the judge. It should also give you insight into how sometimes decisions are made about public information during a crisis, based not on good policy, but on a political leader’s ego.
1. Keep providing the information to the media, even if it is “stale” and already discussed items. Shutting the “news tap” off altogether is never a good idea.
2. The local media felt shut out when the national folks arrived (typically from their parent companies). I should have made extra efforts to include the local folks in every aspect of the media presentations. Remember that when the national and international press go home, you are left with the media locals, and they are always watching your department. Adding the local folks to a discussion wouldn’t have taken anything away from the reports and would have allowed the hometown media to feel a part of everything.
You will get no argument from me about keeping the information flowing and taking care of the local news media. I also made those exact points on the very day Chief Rubin’s column was posted while leading a class for a group of visiting officials from Southeast Asia. The topic was handling the press during critical incidents. In fact, I used the Metro crash as an example of how not to do deal with the news media. The incident has been a part of my presentations around the country during the last two years.
Better late than never
I need to thank Chief Rubin for writing this column. For the first time, in a very public way, he has acknowledged that some of what he said about me, my blog and his own public information officer 11 days after the crash was wrong.
In his column, Rubin now confirms that an anticipated press conference by Mayor Adrian Fenty completely stopped the information flow in the second hour of this developing incident. This, despite the public being hungry for details due to much of the region’s transit system shut down at rush hour and many people worried about the fate of their loved ones.
Chief Rubin also now admits it was wrong for the mayor and chief to provide interviews and information to CNN’s Larry King and national fire/EMS publications without also taking care of the local news media.
Above, Chief Dennis Rubin on WTOP Radio, July 2, 2009.
What Statter reported & the chief said in 2009
These same two issues were brought up in my TV and STATter911.com reports in the days immediately following the incident (here & here).
I also had many discussions about these concerns with the DC Fire & EMS Department’s media team of Deputy Chief Kenneth Crosswhite, Billy D. Hayes and Alan Etter and left a message on the chief’s cell phone. All of them heard an earful from me that Rubin and his command staff talked about the handling of the incident with FirefighterNation.com/ Fire Rescue Magazine, Firehouse.com, FireRescue1.com and JEMS.com, but were under orders to turn down interview requests with local reporters.
I know Mr. Statter had described that fact and that just simply isn’t true. The other side of it is, though, if we were to shoot from the hip, I think instead of being here today saying why did it take a bit to learn the number of folks, to have some notion as to what occurred here. Instead of that, I think we would be under the gun, why did you give us such inaccurate information?
I know there were some comments made about the number of cell telephone calls that were made. I never received a one from Mr. Statter and I know he is the person that’s complaining the most. But I would have to give us a very high mark, that of course is, the mayor’s management consequence team that worked at that event providing accurate timely and effective information.
Rubin now admits there was a 45-minute gap in the flow of information and that it was done because “the mayor’s office directed the fire department PIO team to prepare for a mayoral press conference.” If you look back at my reporting you will see I also wrote the order came from Mayor Adrian Fenty’s office but that the gap was about 70-minutes long.
We’re getting closer. Our only disagreement now is 1525-minutes and some specific instructions with that order.
Above, Chief Dennis Rubin with WUSA-TV photojournalist Keith Williams, July 2, 2009.
I reported the mayor’s office said there were to be no further interviews at the scene until Mayor Fenty speaks. Rubin said that was not correct and told my Channel 9 colleague Keith Williams right after the WTOP Radio appearance, “There were no restrictions or controls placed on fire and EMS by anyone.”
But Rubin’s own PIO at the time, Alan Etter, who was in the process of leaving the department, contradicted the chief. Here’s what I reported:
Etter confirmed, on the record, that it was accurate. Etter said at about 6:10 PM, 70-minutes after the crash was reported, he received a page from Mayor Adrian Fenty’s press office ordering that he give no further interviews about the collision. According to Etter, the page indicated Mayor Fenty would be speaking at 7:15 PM.
Until that page came Etter had worked very hard in making sure the local news media and the public were being informed about this important story. Then suddenly there was a news blackout along with later orders not to upstage the mayor with local interviews in the days following the crash.
The mayor and the fire chief talking with the press at the Metro crash scene from WashingtonPost.com.
For the record, we have never indicated the stopping of the information flow came on orders of Chief Rubin. It wasn’t his style of handling information at or following a major incident. But it certainly was the style of his boss, Mayor Fenty. The Washington Post made note of that two days after the Metro crash in an article by reporter Nikita Stewart titled, ”D.C. Mayor Tries Too Hard to Control the Message, Critics Say“.
In the old STATter911.com articles you will see there were other missteps in handling the media that day, including a bit of a heavy hand from the police department.
It’s sad that any of this even became an issue, because it distracted from the expert job Chief Rubin and the men and women of the department did that day in handling a very high profile and difficult mass casualty incident.
And a final word
When you read Chief Rubin’s article, which I urge you to do, you may note he has the Metro crash occurring a week after the date I am using. For the record, June 22, 2009 is accurate.
I can tell you even a small error involving details of a rail incident is very uncharacteristic of Dennis Rubin. During a panel discussion we both participated in at the National Fire Academy a number of years ago I just happened to mention the 1987 Chase, Maryland Amtrak collision. Off the top of his head he rattled off all of the pertinent facts and figures of that incident, including the exact date. Quite impressive. I believe Chief Rubin told me his dad was a railroad man.
Vanessa Coleman, a former captain for the DC Fire & EMS Department who claimed department officials violated her First Amendment rights and ordered her to undergo psychological evaluation as part of retaliation against her has had her lawsuit dismissed.
This is the case that revolves around the major fire at a Mt. Pleasant apartment building on March 12, 2008. Firefighters failed to discover in a timely manner that the fire began in the basement of the building. That failure was blamed on Captain Coleman who was in charge of Engine 21 at the time of the fire. The department’s SOP makes checking of the basement the responsibility of the second due engine. That engine is assigned to the rear of the structure. Capt. Coleman contends the radio traffic from the night of the fire shows her crew was ordered by the IC, Battalion Chief John Lee, to cover the third floor.
The controversy became public about eight months after the fire when the Government Accountability Project (GAP) took on Vanessa Colesman’s case. GAP is a whistleblower protection organization located in Washington. Click here for GAP’s summary of the case.
Many disputes then ensued, as the department tried to figure out what happened and as then-Capt. Coleman made public her position. Chief Lee subsequently accepted an official reprimand. Coleman did not; she fought on.
Some of Coleman’s public comments were incendiary, and her bosses ordered her to undergo a pscyhological evaluation. She called that retaliation and refused. The department fired her in October 2009.
Judge Lamberth goes carefully through each element of the complaint; illustratively, he reasoned:
“Defendants claim that they acted in response to plainitff’s erratic, paranoid, and otherwise worrisome behavior – as manifested in the ‘barrage’ of dozens communications and memoranda which plaintiff documents in her filings in this case. These filings, as well as plaintiff’s other behavior, gave the defendants legitimate concern about plaintiff’s mental state, and her ability to safely command her company.”
On Monday, GAP announced in a press release it was in court that day with Theresa Cusick the former legal counsel for the DC Fire & EMS Department. Here’s how GAP describes Cusick’s case:
Cusick served as FEMS General Counsel until 2007, when she informed an Assistant US Attorney that a FEMS officer – who the attorney had been working with – was under investigation by the Washington, DC Office of Inspector General (DC OIG) for his alleged involvement in a cheating scandal at the FEMS Training Academy. Cusick raised concerns that neither FEMS nor the Office of the US Attorney should rely on the officer until he was cleared of any involvement.
Cusick also blew the whistle in 2007 to the DC OIG that then-Assistant DC Fire Chief Brian Lee ordered her not to communicate with either the DC OIG or the DC Office of the Attorney General (OAG), and attempted to cover up the fact that a fire investigator was being investigated by DC OIG.
After reporting Lee’s actions to DC OIG, OAG and DC Fire Chief Dennis Rubin, Cusick was transferred from her position as General Counsel purportedly at the request of then Fire Chief Dennis Rubin.
While we have not been able to find any coverage of Cusick’s day in court, it made news in 2009 when videotaped depositions of Chief Dennis Rubin were released by GAP.
Above is an excerpt of the deposition provided by GAP (more excerpts from the deposition here and here). Below is my coverage of the story for WUSA-TV which includes the response from the DC Fire & EMS Department.
Above is the video from what I believe was one of the strangest DC City Council hearings I had covered in my 25 years as a TV reporter. The contentious April 1, 2009 hearing before Phil Mendelson's Committee for Public Safety and the Judiciary had then DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Dennis Rubin and his staff on the hot seat about a used city fire engine and ambulance that had been donated to the city of Sosua in the Dominican Republic. Trying to get to the bottom of this supposed good deed by the administration of Mayor Adrian Fenty was not an easy task. A series of reports were issued. Links for some of those reports are above.
Top members of the Adrian Fenty administration violated District regulations when they developed plans to donate a used D.C.-owned fire truck to a Dominican Republic city, a D.C. inspector general investigation has concluded.
"The lack of proper oversight allowed private parties … inappropriately to influence the activities of District government employees," the inspector general wrote. "This further resulted in a waste of District government resources."
One of those cited for violating city rules is a deputy fire chief. Here's a summary from the report:
B. The Deputy Fire Chiefs Conduct
Fire truck #S-104 and ambulance #S-671, which ultimately were designated for donation to Sosua, were not identified for decommissioning and disposal until after the Nonprofit 2 Founder rejected fire truck #S-194 and the first ambulance. The Deputy Fire Chief, without regard to District decommission and disposal procedures, selected vehicles that had not yet been identified for decommission and disposal and expedited the process so that the vehicles were available for donation in less than 1 month, instead ofwithin 60-75 days as he initially indicated. 19
Accordingly, the OIG finds that he used his position as a FEMS employee to benefit a private interest and expedited the decommissioning and disposal of the vehicles without following proper procedure.
After being invited by the former DMPED DOD to a Super Bowl party in Sosua, the Deputy Fire: Chief informed FEMS that he had scheduled training for SosUa fire officials. This resulted in the • Deputy Fire Chief obtaining authorized paid leave from FEMS for his time in Sosua. He then traveled to Sosua, at District government expense (costing more than $800 for his airfare and per ' diem), accepted a free meal and transportation from Sosua officials, and accepted a plaque from Dajabon officials. Therefore, he violated the DPM by accepting gifts from prohibited sources because Sosa and Dajabon were attempting to obtain property from the District, specifically FEMS.
Accordingly, the issues of whether the Deputy Fire Chief violated DPM § 1803.1 (a)(1) (Using public office for private gain); § 1803.1 (a)(2) (Giving preferential treatment to any person); § 1803.1 (a)(3) (Impeding government efficiency or economy); § 1803.1 (a)(4) (Losing complete independence or impartiality); § 1803.1 (a)(5) (Making a government decision outside official . channels); § 1803.1 (a)(6) (Affecting adversely the confidence ofthe public in the integrity of government); § 1803.2 (A District government employee shall not solicit or accept, either directly or through the intercession ofothers, any gift from a prohibited source); and § 1803.6 (An employee shall not accept a gift, present, or decoration from a foreign government), are SUBSTANTIATED.
Pretty awesome early video from 4th alarm in Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania: A neighbor was rolling well before the first alarm units arrived to this fire around 3:30 Sunday morning at 350 W. 4th Street. Make sure you take a close look at the video at 5:49 and 8:43.
Just when we thought things had calmed down between the fire chief and the councilmember: DC City Councilmember Phil Mendelson has asked the chief financial officer to look into how DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Dennis Rubin is overspending his budget. Mendelson wants action taken against Rubin that could include firing under the city’s ant-deficiency regulations. Read Bill Myers’ story from The Examiner. Click here to read the letter from Mendelson.
Garage explosion video: We have the full raw version with slo-mo and the short clip of an explosion as Lake Stevens, Washington firefighters stretch to a garage fire. Well worth seeing. Here it is.
Is checking for holes in your eyelids wrong?: The Fox TV station in Detroit certainly thinks so. Our audience isn’t so certain. I even have a few comments and questions about the story of two supervisors with Detroit EMS. One of the supervisors shown with her eyes shut is the wife of the city’s EMS chief. The chief responds to a reporter’s questions. Check out the story and the comments.
Fire engine taken out by flood waters: Shelby County, Tennessee Engine 69 was down for the count as the crew responded to one of many flood related calls on Saturday. Also, watch as a house (actually a portable classroom) outpaces cars and trucks on a highway. Plus more video of firefighters in action during the flooding. Click here.
Female sues lieutenant over sexual harassment. He claims she is just as raunchy: Pretty detailed sex talk coming from Reading, Massachusetts after a veteran female firefighter files suit. The lawyer for accused Lieutenant Richard Puopolo says that Firefighter Lisa Palermo ”gives as good as she gets”. Click here for all of the lurid details.
The house comes tumbling down: Within 30-minutes of a fire being reported in a 150-year-old wood frame house in North Attleboro, Massachusetts it was on the ground. Click here to see the collapse.
They say comedy is tragedy plus time: Carol Burnett is credited with that quote (if you don’t know, ask Firegeezer who she is). Apparently 51-years is not enough time for me to have the slightest bit of fun with an absolutely wonderful film from a New Jersey volunteer fire department. A little interaction between a bay door and a fire truck is caught by the camera. It reminds us that bay door collisions are universal and have been happening since the first fire truck went behind closed doors. Here’s the film.
Thieves target fire stations: Two nearby firehouses have been hit in Kentucky. The men responsible for an attempted break-in of a storage shed in Rowan County were caught on video. It shows the three men in masks and hoods. It is believed an alarm system scared them off. In Lewis County a generator and other equipment were taken.
Multiple vehicles burn in front of motel: Firefighter Spot found this one first. The cars were burning at the Comfort Inn off Scott Avenue in the Morgantown, West Virginia area on Monday.
Radio traffic from fire engine crash in Baltimore: Baltimore City Fire Department Engine 36 and Engine 14 both were responding on the box at 1223 Mosher Street when each rig ended up on the northeast corner of Edmondson Avenue and N. Fulton Avenue. We have details, some pictures and two versions of the radio traffic (one on the collision and the other focusing on the fire, which went to two-alarms). Here is our coverage.
The chief and the council chairman have a civil public meeting.
A veritable love fest: One of my favorite TV shows are the episodes of the DC City Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary where Chief Dennis Rubin is the guest star. For more than a year it has been the place to go if you like public hearings that aren’t dry and boring. Even when they have dealt with the type of budget minutiae that puts many of us in the mood for a power nap, Chief Rubin and Chairman Phil Mendelson have kept the conversation quite lively. Basically they just don’t get along. But if Monday’s hearing on overtime is any indication, maybe these two may have buried the fire axe. In one hour and fifteen minutes of facing each other there was none of the fireworks that we’ve seen in the past. Check it out yourself. Also, here is Chief Rubin’s written testimony explaining the issues behind over budget overtime spending.
Judge reverses arbitrator leaving Buffalo firefighters having to pay back the city: On average, firefighters could be out $230 each month to reimburse the city for a pay raise a judge says they shouldn’t have received. That’s on top of rolling back the increase. The union makes the case this could actually be a good thing. Here’s the story.
Union president fired, two others suspended over spreading of information about chief and his wife: This is an update on a story we previously told you about in Jackson Township, Ohio. Despite support coming from as far away as Colorado, the town trustees fired Scott Harr, who is president of IAFF Local 2672. Two other firefighters were suspended. They are accused of leaking details from an incident report about a response to their chief’s home involving a domestic issue. Even though there is a union, the firefighters do not have collective bargaining under Ohio law that exempts unincorporated areas of less than 5,000 people. Read the latest.
One of the more amazing stories in recent days: Firegeezer takes a close-up look at how that trucker in Dallas, Texas escaped his rig during a fiery crash that left the flaming wreckage dangling over a bridge. Take a look.
The two District of Columbia City Council reports released late last week looking into a controversial, aborted deal to donate a fire engine and ambulance to a resort town in the Dominican Republic have reporters taking a second look at the April 1, 2009 testimony of Chief Dennis Rubin. While the testimony thrust Chief Rubin into the limelight early on, making him the face of the growing controversy (not that anyone else was taking responsibility for the mess), in the end, the role of the DC Fire & EMS Department was almost secondary and not the main issue for those critical of the arrangement to use a non-profit group as a middle-man to broker the deal.
But, that doesn’t mean the role of Chief Rubin didn’t raise a few eyebrows once the reports were released. The reports include emails and other information showing that Rubin was aware and involved in the various forms of the planned donation going back to November, 2007. Eighteen months later, the chief told Committee for Public Safety and the Judiciary Chairman Phil Mendelson that he knew very little about the deal and was “clueless”.
That testimony had some very heated and pointed exchanges between Mendelson and Rubin. You may also recall during that hearing Chief Rubin said a number of times “I take full responsibility”, but Mendelson was skeptical and ultimately correct that the responsibility for the deal actually belonged elsewhere in the administration of Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Two reporters who have covered this controversy from the start, have taken a closer look at the fire chief’s testimony in light of the council reports and wondered if the chief failed to tell the truth under oath. Each article was published Friday.
Fire Chief Dennis Rubin was directly involved in the District’s donation of emergency vehicles to the Dominican Republic, newly released e-mails show, but the chief claimed under oath to know very little days after the deal fell apart.
DeBonis, who writes the column Loose Lips (LL), further dissects the exchanges during the April 1 testimony and how they relate to the emails provided in the report. His conclusion:
… from what LL sees, there’s nothing that would indicate the Rubin ever intentionally lied to Phil Mendelson’s public safety and judiciary committee.
As for Phil Mendelson’s take, he tells DeBonis, it’s not clear cut:
The at-large councilmember passed on the question of whether Rubin lied under oath, calling it “not clear-cut.” Mendelson said he’d reviewed the tape in the course of his committee’s investigation but did so some time ago.
“I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and I don’t have an answer,” he says. “It is a good question.”
STATter911.com has learned that Deputy Chief Kenneth Ellerbe resigned from the District of Columbia Fire & EMS Department on January 15. The resignation came a month and a day after it was first reported by David Lipscomb of The Washington Times that Ellerbe was both the chief of the Sarasota County Fire Department and on leave without pay from DC.
That revelation was followed by our report there was a signed agreement between the two jurisdictions that allowed this unusual arrangement. Numerous sources indicated the deal was an effort to let Chief Ellerbe stay employed by the DC Fire & EMS Department until his 50th birthday in April, providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional retirement benefits.
DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Spokesman Pete Piringer confirmed Kenneth Ellerbe’s new status today.
Still unanswered from anyone in the District government is exactly why this arrangement was made and what advantage there was for the city in facilitating such a deal.
STATter911.com learned on December 16 that the official “Personnel Exchange Agreement” was approved in DC by Assistant Fire Chief Brian Lee and Director of Human Resources Brender Gregory. The Department of Human Resources denied a Freedom of Information Act request by STATter911.com for paperwork and correspondence related to this agreement.
As we reported last month, DC Fire & EMS Department sources indicated when the arrangement was first presented to Chief Dennis Rubin he refused to sign off on the deal. In June, when the department was questioned by STATter911.com about a possible deal to help Chief Ellerbe with his retirement, the word from a spokesman was that Chief Rubin said there would be no special arrangements for Ellerbe. The fire department sources, who are not authorized to speak on this matter, indicated in December that Chief Rubin said he only recently had become aware that Assistant Chief Lee signed the exchange form.
New – Firefighter burned battling blaze in own home: Williamsburg, Virginia firefighter Mike Trombley and his wife had just put up the Christmas decorations in their Gloucester home on Friday. The next thing they knew the living room was on fire. After hustling the family out of the house, Trombley tried to keep the fire in check while waiting for the fire department. Read the story.
Police and fire together – chiefs announce retirement rather than face budget cuts: In Saratoga Springs, New York, the police chief and the fire chief announced together at an emotional news conference yesterday they were both retiring by the end of the year. Police Chief Edward Moore and Fire Chief Robert Cogan were each going to face staffing cuts of 20-percent or more. They blame city politics for not adequately addressing the needs of protecting the public in tight budget times. Read more.
Investigation underway sparked by firehouse visitor getting lost on the way to the bathroom: A rude awakening for a career firefighter in Montgomery County, Maryland. The firefighter’s bed was mistaken for a toilet by the date of a member of the Burtonsville Volunteer Fire Department. That date apparently turned into a firehouse sleepover. Internal Affairs for Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service has the investigation. Click here to watch and read the story.
Click the image for some must see video from Tennessee as a tanker backs into a man at a church fire.
The doctor is out. DC once again looking for a new medical director: Dr. James Augustine cites health issues for his decision to pull out of the DC Fire & EMS Department after 17 months. That isn’t the only change facing the EMS side. Click here for the details.
Baltimore mayor guilty: Mayor Sheila Dixon is found guilty of taking gift cards intended for the poor. It could force her from office. Read the details.
Woman with firefighter charged in his shooting: We told you yesterday morning about an off-duty Jacksonville, Florida firefighter found shot to death at a gas station. An 18-year-old woman with 21-year-old Emanuel Porter says she didn’t know the gun was loaded when she pointed it at him. Here are the details.