As someone who gives advice on dealing with the image of your department and for firefighters in general, I know it is always good to be reminded of the basics. That’s exactly what Fire Mike does in the video above. Fire Mike is Firefighter/Paramedic Michael Sedlacek and he didn’t like what he saw in Walmart a few days ago.
Read more DC Fire & EMS Department stories that reporters got wrong: here, here & here.
It was three-years-ago this month that I took a buy-out and ended my career as a TV reporter in Washington, DC. Looking at a series of stories this year, including the one above, I am starting to believe that local news coverage went into the dumper after I left. Apparently there isn’t a reporter who can get the story right on my old beat covering the DC Fire & EMS Department. I say this because every time I look around the chief or a spokesman for the department is telling a reporter their story is wrong. It’s a very clear pattern.
When Korff got word from the National Park Service (NPS) that the DC Fire & EMS Department had told NPS it did not have the EMS staff or apparatus to deal with the large crowds at the annual July 4th festivities on The Mall, Korff actually believed them (those reporters sure are gullible). And then Korff started getting all reporter like and had the nerve to ask questions about his “scoop” (he was probably foaming at the mouth at the time).
According to Korff’s self-serving report, those questions he asked brought a very sudden change of heart from the DC Fire & EMS Department with Chief Ellerbe getting personally involved in the situation. But before you start believing that, I should remind you again this information comes from a reporter who Chief Ellerbe told us got it wrong back in February. And guess what? Chief Ellerbe’s spokesman Timothy Wilson says Korff got it wrong again. Wilson’s statement reads, “Any allegation that the Department will not be able to fulfill its commitment and compromise public safety are speculative and without merit.”
See the pattern folks? It’s pretty damn clear.
Truth be told this pattern of poor reporting on the DC Fire & EMS Department goes back before the current administration. In former Chief Dennis Rubin’s book “D.C. Fire”, The Rube has a number of mentions of a local TV reporter who consistently got it wrong. Rubin describes the reporter as having a “reputation for being difficult for years” and that “he had been a volunteer firefighter for a few years, and then he worked as a fire dispatcher for one of the nearby Maryland suburbs”.
The good news is that former firefighter/dispatcher/reporter with this bad reputation is apparently no longer in the news business. I am sure if he was, Chief Ellerbe and his PIOs would be working overtime sending out even more corrections.
Since the posting on June 11 of the video from the day before showing Uniontown, Pennsylvania (Fayette County) Fire Chief Charles Coldren confronting self-decribed activist Chris Shellhammer we have received almost 800 comments on the blog and on Facebook. I have never seen so much agreement among our readers. With the exception of a very few people, everyone thought Chief Coldren’s actions were wrong.
For the most part, the small number of people who have defended Chief Coldren indicated they know him and pointed out that we don’t know what happened before that confrontation. Even Uniontown Mayor Ed Fike said Chief Coldren had to be provoked for him to react the way that he did.
Shellhammer and his family have indicated from the start that more video had been shot leading up to Coldren’s tirade. Well, here it is. It was posted yesterday to YouTube by Shellhammer. In the description Shellhammer writes ”Note the children walking through the ‘emergency’ scene at the 2:00 min mark.”
That I can see, the video is very boring. If there is provocation I am missing it.
“Nobody should judge me on one incident,” is the message TribLive.com reporter Liz Zemba got in a phone conversation with Uniontown, Pennsylvania (Fayette County) Fire Chief Chuck Coldren yesterday, three days after his tirade against a citizen with a camera was posted to YouTube. The citizen is self-described activist Chris Shellhammer who, along with his mother, has been involved in protests at the courthouse and police station and regularly videos police activity.
Uniontown Mayor Ed Fike, who says the incident will be investigated, reiterated what he told other reporters, “For him to come unglued like that, somebody had to provoke him.” But according to reporter Zemba, who has seen additional raw video shot by Shellhammer, there is no indiction of anything leading up to the confrontation.
“I’ve devoted 40-plus years of public service to the city of Uniontown,” Coldren said. “I’ve always been totally professional. People who don’t know me have no right to judge me.”
“They were at a bomb scare, where people are in harm’s way, and you’re trying to keep people out of harm’s way,” Fike said. “It’s not like Chuck is a mean, degrading, terrible person, because he isn’t.”
“There are two sides to every story,” Fike said. “We have to look at the video and talk to Chuck to get to the real cause of it to determine whatever the reprimand will be, if anything.”
Some thoughts on how Uniontown is dealing with this incident. When a man dressed in civilian clothes, screams “leave” to a citizen standing in an area that is not blocked off and the citizen asks who he is, if your first answer is “I’m the fire chief, do you want to f#$*ing argue with me?”, you should be throwing in the towel immediately. Stop trying to defend the indefensible, making excuses and looking for ways to justify the chief’s response and his apparent threat to do bodily harm to the citizen. All you are doing now is stretching this story into multiple days of news coverage and making sure that even more people see how stupid your fire chief looks and how lame your excuses are.
There should have been an apology from day one. With the apology should be an explanation from the mayor and fire chief that Uniontown and it’s officials recognize the rights of citizens to take pictures along with an announcement that guidelines are in place to prevent this from happening again.
If these leaders have any sense, something similar to that will ultimately occur anyway. It almost always does. Why wait and destroy your credibility and image further? Swallow your pride, get over yourself and deal with it like reponsible leaders.
In addition, if you are the person promising an investigation, when you make a statement that “somebody had to provoke him” when there is no clear evidence in the public record to back up that point, you are letting everyone know that getting to the bottom of what happened may not be your real goal.
There was a lot to learn in the original video showing the chief going nuclear and there is a lot to learn from how Uniontown is handling the fallout.
We introduced you to Chuck Coldren Tuesday night. He is the career fire chief of Uniontown, Pennsylvania (Fayette County) making a little more than $56,000 per year. The chief, wearing a t-shirt and shorts, let Uniontown resident Chris Shellhammer have it on Monday at an emergency incident. Shellhammer’s video is now making news. Local newspapers and at least two Pittsburgh TV stations did the story yesterday trying to get to the bottom of the fire chief’s tirade.
It turns out Chief Coldren missed his latest turn on camera because he is on vacation and reporters could not reach him at his home or office. This left Mayor Ed Fike to answer for Uniontown. Upon seeing the video, Mayor Fiske described Chief Coldren as a low-key guy who had to have been provoked to act that way. Shellhammer claims there was no provocation. The mayor told reporters there will now be an investigation and if an apology is warranted he is sure the chief will have no problem doing that.
The video has prompted lots of discussion with hundreds of comments posted on STATter911.com and related Facebook pages and many other forums. Only a couple of people have come to the chief’s defense so far.
Uniontown resident Chris Shellhammer likes to know what’s going on in his neighborhood. So when he saw police and fire vehicles near his home on Monday, he walked over to see what he could see. He also started capturing video with his cellphone.
In the video, Uniontown Fire Chief Charles Coldren approaches Shellhammer in plain clothes and ask him to move back, which Shellhammer does. Shellhammer suggests the area should be taped off if the public is not allowed. That’s when the encounter escalates.
“You’re not going to tell me how to do my (expletive) job. Now, if you want to keep running your lip I’ll have you (expletive) arrested. You can record me all you want. I don’t give a flying (expletive),” Coldren says in the video.
It’s important to note, Shellhammer described himself and his family members as “community activists,” and they’ve become known in the community as a result. Shellhammer said he’s skeptical of authority and often joins protests at the Fayette County courthouse. However, in the Internet video, Shellhammer’s responses don’t seem to warrant Coldren’s responses and, at one point, Coldren appears to challenge Shellhammer to a fight.
“You want to put that down and take it to another level?” Coldren said in the video. “Let’s go.”
Action News went to Coldren’s Uniontown home looking for answers but he didn’t answer the door. An employee at the fire station said he is on vacation until next week. Channel 4 was first to show Uniontown Mayor Ed Fike the Internet video, which has now been viewed more than 5,000 times.
“You only hear one side of it, not that that makes either side right,” Fike said.
As you watch this, I will be the first to admit, other than what is evident on the video, I have no clue what kind of scene this was or what the person with the camera did or didn’t do to warrant the expletives coming from the man who says on the video he is the “fire chief”. What I do know is that, much like Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Captain Greg Smart’s infamous on camera tirade, this is probably not the best way for professionals who deal with public to handle with this situation. Even if you are right, you undermine your own authority and reputation with actions like this caught on camera.
The description with the video from ccspagan simply asks, “Is this how public officials should treat taxpayers?”
The word “firefighter” is never mentioned in the article about the Hickory Street fire. Not once. Instead it says, “It was quickly controlled by responding rescue units.”
Let me make sure I have this right. All these “massive” fires the news media warns us about these days are apparently extiguished by “responders” and “responding rescue units”. I don’t know if I should feel more sorry for firefighters or for the news people who write this junk.
I am sure there will be a tear in my eye the first time I hear a little kid say, “When I grow up, I want to be a responder”. Excuse me. Must go. Dealing with a little reflux right now.
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.
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.
Fewer fires. More medical calls. Less money. Higher pension costs. Some of the factors NPR’s Planet Money cites as the reasons behind citizens failing to vote for a tax increase that could have prevented Contra Costa, California from having to close four fire stations.
Please take a moment to listen to the report titled, “How Much Is A Firefighter Worth?”. It talks a lot about the current perception the public has of firefighters and some of the reasons the firefighters failed to get the support of the community to stop the closings. Much of what you will hear is a story that firefighters all across the country can relate to. Many of you have been confronting similar situations over the last three or four years.
I am sure some of you won’t like what you hear and you may even think the reporters have parts of it wrong. But overall this idea of citizens possibly voting against their own safety in order to keep more money in their own pockets is the reality we are living with. The economy continues to shape the image of firefighters and the amount of risk to those firefighters and to their own families that the public is willing to accept.
Like the volunteer firefighter who lost his job as a truck driver while on a storm response, this is another interesting one from Sandy that is making headlines in New Jersey. Four volunteer firefighters from Manville, New Jersey were suspended because, on their own, they went to Toms River, the hometown of one of the firefighters, to assist in the aftermath of the hurricane. While the punishment for three of the four has been reduced, the fourth, Gary Barras, has been in a very public battle over this issue.
Manville officials are making the case that Barras misrepresented himself, got into a heated battle with his chief and violated established protocols for this type of response.
Barras argues that he as doing the right thing. Manville officials also believe they are doing the right thing, but understand the public relations problem that has resulted from appearing to punish someone for doing a good deed. Also, social media has played a role in this case with Barras’ picture on Facebook in Toms River becoming part of the evidence.
All but one of the four North End Volunteer Fire Co. firefighters who were suspended after going to shore to help with Sandy relief were reinstated Thursday night, according to Manville Mayor Angelo Corradino Friday morning.
The firefighters were originally suspended for not following orders and for misrepresenting themselves upon their return, Corradino said. But firefighter Gary Barras became “almost combative and unruly, and that’s why he was dismissed,” the mayor said.
Barras — the firefighter who spearheaded the trip to help out East Dover Fire Co., in Toms River, his hometown — had permission from Capt. Joe Barilla to leave town, but he did not have permission to bring three others with him, according to Manville Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Ken Otrimski.
The firefighters were in violation of the Fire Service Resource Emergency Deployment Act of 2003, Corradino said, which could subject Manville up to a $10,000 fine.
The disciplinary action, it was revealed Friday, was more than a local matter, involving officials as high up as the state Department of Community Affairs. The agency’s Northwest Regional Fire Coordinator Timothy Weiss emailed Somerset officials Nov. 4 to inform them that Manville volunteers had self-deployed to Ocean County.
The Manville volunteers had reportedly been spotted by Ocean County Fire Coordinator Brian Gabriel, who told them to leave because they had not been deployed through the proper channels.
Manville officials, however, also dialed back the punishments. Two firefighters who had been suspended for six months were reinstated on probation. Another firefighter who had resigned is welcome to rejoin, officials said. But Barras is likely to remain a man without a fire station.
I credit the YouTube clip above with inspiring me to come up with a term to describe what I witnessed in the video and many other times in recent years: Social Media Assisted Career Suicide Syndrome or SMACSS. This video involves a story that first surfaced last week when Prince George’s County (MD) Police Department Chief Mark Magaw announced in a press conference that the two officers appearing in the video ”could be fired”.
The short film is titled “Driving While Black” and is a satirical look at the issue of racial profiling during traffic stops. As Chief Magaw described, the video uses “demeaning language, racial slurs, and crude stereotypes.” The latest development surrounding the video is that the head of the local chapter of the NAACP, Bob Ross, does not believe the officers should be fired. Here’s what he told reporter Andrea Noble of The Washington Times:
“I would agree with a suspension rather than firing because they are young and immature,” Mr. Ross said. “If they had done that without the uniforms and without the police car, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal. … It really was a good skit but when you have government employees doing it, it’s a different story.”
We likely won’t know whether these two officers end up losing their jobs until they get their day in court, or at least a trial board. Fraternal Order of Police President Vince Canales, who condemned the video during the chief’s press conference, told Noble, “These officers are entitled to due process and we are going to let the investigative process play out.”
But I have to ask this question: How can these officers really expect anything other than having to find alternative employment?
They used a real police car belonging to the department (likely a take home vehicle of one of the officers), real uniforms with the department’s patch and real department issued police equipment. They simulated traffic stops with lights and siren along public roads in public view as they appeared as actors in a video not sanctioned by the department. The video spoofs a real concern that police are having to deal with nationwide and one that has been a source of serious image problems for the officers’ own department for decades.
I ask again: How can anyone expect to hold onto their job after doing all that?
And I have another question. How did they think they were going to get away with it once the video was posted on YouTube or distributed by other means?
I think I already know the answer to question two. All rational thinking seems to go out the window for too many people when it comes to social media. They somehow have been led to believe that whatever they want to put on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter is just fine and should be without consequence. And when it involves someone in public safety, they often give the impression they believe there are no special responsibilities that come with being a police officer, firefighter, EMT or paramedic.
Let me make it clear that this column isn’t really about these two officers or the video ”Driving While Black”. What I am writing here should not be seen as an opinion or a prompt for a discussion on the issue of racial profiling. My focus is on this video being the latest outrageous example of SMACSS. While this one may be especially sensitive for some because the topic of the video involves race, SMACCS cuts across many other topics and impacts public safety workers of all races, creeds, religions and ethnic origins. Just click on this link and scroll down. You will see plenty of other cases STATter911.com has covered where careers have been cut down because of bad judgment in using social media.
The best I can tell is that the underlying cause is pretty universal among law enforcement, firefighters and EMS who have contracted SMACSS. It comes from a belief that a person can post whatever they want, whenever they want. Uniform and public trust be damned.
While legislation in the form of a department’s social media policy may catch some cases before they happen, there is really no known cure. As long as there is social media and the Internet there will be those who can’t avoid contracting SMACCS. But it can be prevented through education.
It’s a really simple lesson, though a hard one to follow for those who were brought up to believe that everything in their lives must be shared with the world. But once they can fully understand and accept that there are legitimate ethical and legal issues where social media and public safety intersect, the chances for a long career will increase, while at the same time the likelihood of catching SMACSS will decrease.