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.
The D.C. Fire Department found itself in a crisis situation New Year’s Eve when more than a 100 firefighters called in sick. At least 11 ambulances went unstaffed and supervisors were forced to ask for help from Prince George’s County.
One man died waiting for an ambulance and a stabbing victim was transported to the hospital in a fire truck.
The Firefighter’s union denies it was behind a coordinated sick out and says the trouble New Year’s Eve could have been avoided if the department had staffed up as it did in recent years.
Ed Smith, the head of the union, says the department is choosing cost cutting over public safety.
That’s a claim the chief denies.
If you called for an ambulance in the District of Columbia New Year’s Eve you were likely left waiting for quite some time.
Multiple sources with internal department documents to back it up say ambulance crews were in constant motion crisscrossing the city trying to keep up with the demand.
On Lang Place Northeast, Fire Engine 30 transported a stabbing victim to the hospital because an ambulance wasn’t available. It’s highly unusual for a patient to be transported on a fire truck.
At a home on 44th Place Southeast it took 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive from Prince George’s County for a man in cardiac arrest.
A relative says the man later died.
Chief Kenneth Ellerbe declined to point any fingers over the large number of firefighters calling out sick but admitted it was highly unusual.
“Today we have 26 people out sick” said Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, “but it could be members waited because they have an option to use sick leave three times a year without going to the clinic, it’s called our minor illness program, New Year’s Eve, it could be our members wanted to be off or they were sick.”
Chief Ellerbe described the man power shortage as a challenge rather than a crisis and says he attempted to find replacements.
He asked the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety to waive the cap on overtime that prevents some firefighters from working extra hours.
“My understanding is he talked to the mayor and (City Council Chairman) Phil Mendelson” said Chief Ellerbe, “and there was an agreement that if we relaxed the cap we would do it for just this instance but as it turned out only two members took advantage of it so it doesn’t make sense for us to talk about those kind of things as opposed to just working together to make sure these things don’t happen again.”
Chief Ellerbe says when the department went looking for extra help New Year’s Eve 48 out of 50 fire fighters turned the department down.
It’s no secret the firefighters union and the Fire Chief have been at odds.
It was just about a year ago a room full of firefighters turned their backs on the Chief and walked out of a state of the department speech he had just given.
In 2010 the District put a law into place limiting the number of overtime hours a firefighter can work.
A law the firefighters union would like to see abolished.
The union says firefighters who want to work are prevented from doing so because of the law.
FOX 5 has obtained an internal document showing five medic units and eight ambulances needed for staffing News Year’s Eve for a total of 13.
Washington Times reporter Andrea Noble gathered reaction to a recent arbitrator’s ruling that DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe retaliated against IAFF Local 36 president Ed Smith by transferring Smith from Rescue Squad 1 to Engine 7 in July 2011. The man whose committee has oversight of the department, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson told Noble the ruling was “sobering” and “not good for the department”. Here’s more from Mendelson and others:
“I have not read the decision, so I can’t speak to the reasoning there,” he said. “But the fact that the arbitrator did conclude that the transfer was improper, I think is sobering and suggests that the fire chief needs to be careful in his personnel actions.”
Others see the ruling as an indication of lingering issues that can bring more harm to the department if government officials from outside the agency do not step in.
“It hurts public confidence when arbitrators make these type of findings,” said Terry Lynch, an activist who heads the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. “I think the mayor and his team, they all need to step back, take a deep breath and just be fully engaged in civic services. It’s possible we need a change at the top of some of these agencies.”
Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, said Wednesday that the administration had no definitive reaction or plans to take action as a result of the arbitrator’s findings.
“It’s really a personnel matter with the FEMS,” he said. “It’s something the chief needs to address.”
In Brevard County, Florida the city of Rockledge is wrestling with an issue that fire departments across the country have dealt with. If your policy is to allow firefighters injured off-duty to be given non-firefighting assignments until they are fit for duty, should you do the same for those who become pregnant?
Firefighter Geri Miller has gone public with that question in a TV interview after the city’s lone female firefighter, four months pregnant, says the fire chief forced her to go on maternity leave. We are only getting one side of this story because neither the chief or city officials will comment, telling WFTV-TV they don’t want to see personnel grievances on “trial in the media”.
“I’m not looking for preferable treatment,” said Miller. “I’m not looking for that. I’m looking to be treated fairly.”
The city fire department’s union agreement gives “up to 180 days of unpaid leave” for maternity, but said nothing about what kind of work pregnant firefighters should get until they take maternity leave.
Miller said male firefighters were given light duty after being injured off-duty.
“If you can give light duty to someone else, why can’t you give light duty to me?” asked Miller.
A previous DC fire chief had an absolutely mind boggling policy of ordering female applicants to take pregnancy tests and dealt with claims that a supervisor was telling rookie EMS employees to have an abortion or lose you job. As you can imagine, Chief Ronnie Few’s policy quickly went down in flames after I reported that story. There was also an earlier case of a female paramedic who wanted to stay on full duty and keep riding much longer than the fire chief wanted her to.
My point in bringing this up is that despite decades of women riding fire trucks this is still an issue for a number of fire departments. If your department is struggling with a policy, there are plenty departments that have come up the right answer that you can learn from. Not having a clear and fair policy will likely bring your department a fair amount of bad publicity.
And if your policy is clear and fair, get out there and make sure the public understands it. If you can’t or won’t defend a pregnancy policy or any other issue publicly when questions arise, maybe it’s time to change that policy and move on.
D.C.’s fire chief continues to parry criticism against him, citing what he says are inaccuracies in recent media reports that the city failed to vet harassment claims against him and that protective gear sitting in storage could have saved firefighters from injury.
In an interview with WTOP Monday morning, Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, who was tapped for the position by Mayor Vincent Gray in December 2010, claims scathing reports by Washington Times against him are “unfair,” “not accurate” and “sensationalist.”
The Times recently reported Ellerbe was not properly vetted before taking the job as chief of D.C. Fire & EMS, and that the city overlooked sexual harassment claims at his former position in Sarasota, Fla. where he also served as fire chief.
“Those articles coming out of (The Times) have been fraught with unproven allegations and inaccuracies,” he says. “I think they have not been fair and accurate in their reporting, but sensationalism sells stories.”
Ellerbe says he does not recall “undressing someone with his eyes,” per the Times report that he “leered at female employees and intimidated other employees,” adding he wouldn’t know how to undress someone using only his eyes.
He also denounced ever referring to himself as a “vindictive ‘expletive deleted.’”
“I would never refer to myself that way,” he says, “nor would I call anyone else that.”
The chief has also caught flak from an Examiner.com report that he kept $70,000 worth of fire-resistant shirts in storage because they did not align with the firefighters’ uniform. These could have been used to protect firefighters, the report claims.
Ellerbe said Monday these specific shirts don’t have any protective qualities, and are solely designed not to melt onto the firefighter’s skin if the protective outer jacket and pants fail.
He confirmed the shirts, which do not conform to the uniform, are sitting in the warehouse for the department while it looks for a way to repurpose or sell them.
“This is the deal when we take these leadership positions: We have to understand there’s going to be some resistance sometimes, especially if change is involved,” he says. “If you can’t take the heat, these aren’t the positions for you.”
D.C. firefighters and councilmembers are asking if protective shirts have been sitting in storage instead of being worn by firefighters–because the shirts didn't have the right patch.
Veteran D.C. firefighter Chuck Ryan was the most critically injured of five firefighters in a house fire that flashed over last April.
Today, only on ABC7, he talks about the recent report in the Washington Examiner that fire-resistant shirts designed to prevent burn injuries were sitting in a fire department warehouse last year when Ryan and four others were burned.
With second and third-degree burns on 40 percent of his body, Ryan is still on the very long road to recovery.
The Examiner reports the shirts were in storage and not handed out because the protective clothing didn't have the correct patches. Almost $70,000 of polo shirts bore logos designed by the previous administration. The shirts didn't have the new department logo ordered by current Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, so the shirts stayed in the boxes, according to the Examiner.
Councilman Phil Mendelson's office has been asking the department for months about rumors that the protective shirts were available. But he says he was always told the shirts didn't exist.
"It was disturbing after a year to find out they do exist," Mendelson says.
"We work in the best city in the nation," Ryan says. "Why wouldn't we have the best equipment available?"
"The temperature got so hot the uniform melted into my skin," Ryan says.
If he wasn't wearing the best gear–because of a patch–that's disheartening, he says.
Ryan says the shirts now in storage might have helped lessen the burns on his upper arms and back. But he says we will never know how much.
Did former DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Dennis Rubin or his administration resort to trickery when 1700 polo shirts made of 100 percent cotton were ordered for firefighters at a cost of $70,000 to taxpayers? Current Chief Kenneth Ellerbe raised that possibility in an interview with WRC-TV's Darcy Spencer as he explained why those shirts have never been used by firefighters. The report gave no specifics on what kind of trickery Chief Ellerbe was referring to.
Chief Ellerbe banned the use of the shirts because they came with a patch introduced under the Rubin administration that Ellerbe has now banned. The shirts are in a warehouse where they have been for many months. According to news reports, firefighters will continue to wear uniforms made of polyester and blends that can contribute to burns instead of the new shirts.
The very existence of the shirts, until recently, was a mystery or secret. So much so that DC Councilmember Phil Mendelson indicated at a hearing that he had not been getting the straight scoop from Chief Ellerbe when he previously asked about the shirts.
“I don’t want to waste anything, but I don't want to be responsible for something somebody else ordered that they know we’re not going to use, either,” he said. “Sometimes there's trickery in terms of one administration to another, as well.”
"It's been a huge push for my membership for fire-resistive station wear, and we’re not backing off of that,” union President Ed Smith said. “As long as it’s provided – these shirts have been paid for by the taxpayers, and they should be in use.”
Chairman Phil Mendelson was obviously frustrated over getting the runaround about the polo shirts, which he had been told didn’t exist.
“This has been a big rumor, and there have been a lot of complaints about it,” he said.
Fire officials said they've received inquiries from D.C.'s Inspector General's Office about the shirts.
Chief Kenneth Ellerbe was interviewed this morning on Fox 5 Morning News about the Washington Times article this week outlining allegations of sexual harassment that occurred when Ellerbe was chief in Sarasota County, Florida. Click the player above to watch the video.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Wednesday offered a vote of confidence to D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe after a report detailing sexual harassment and intimidation complaints against Chief Ellerbe at his prior job in Florida.
Mr. Gray said Chief Ellerbe remains a qualified pick for the top post at the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services based on his extensive knowledge of the agency’s duties and operations.
“I think that Chief Ellerbe has done an exceptional job as fire chief,” Mr. Gray said.
Fire-resistant shirts designed to prevent burn injuries when a firefighter's outer uniform fails were sitting in storage last year when five District firefighters were injured during a two-alarm blaze.
The reason the shirts were in storage rather than on firefighters? The clothing didn't have the correct D.C. Fire and Emergency Services patch, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe testified at a hearing Wednesday. Ellerbe added that the order was placed before he started his job last January.
"There were held because of the logo and it's a polo shirt [so it's] not a uniform shirt," Ellerbe said at a D.C. Council Judiciary Committee performance hearing.
Nearly $70,000 worth of brand-new shirts ordered by the District’s fire department have gone unused because they are adorned with the wrong emblem, fire officials testified Wednesday.
The shirts were delivered early last year. But because they are polo shirts, which Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has said can no longer be worn as part of the uniform, and because they are embroidered with an old emblem that the District's Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department no longer uses, the shirts have sat boxed in a warehouse, fire officials admitted.
“Chief, I have asked you many times, have I not, about the truth of the polo shirts? And every time I’ve asked until this week the answer was been, ‘There are none,’” Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said during the hearing.
The Washington Times published a lengthy story this evening looking at allegations of sexual harassment against DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe while he was chief in Sarasota County, Florida. The article, by Andrea Noble and Matthew Cella, also takes a closer look at the unusual arrangement that allowed Chief Ellerbe to still be a deputy chief in DC while employed in Sarasota County.
The reporters are asking the administration of DC Mayor Vincent Gray why Chief Ellerbe was not fully vetted and why his personnel file was not obtained from Sarasota County. They also asking why there was no national search for a fire chief.
Chief Ellerbe says the allegations were properly investigated by Sarasota County and denies there was any sexual harassment. He blames the complaints on the union in Florida.
The article is so detailed it is difficult to provide excerpts that would be fair to all sides. I suggest you read it in its entirety.
At issue is Rubin's claim that the city would contribute 14 percent of his salary (165K) each year. Suderman points out that is a little more than $80,000. The suit is for $150,000.
From Suderman's article:
Rubin says in court records that the District "failed to contribute" the 14 percent and didn't answer his requests for payment in "a substantive and productive manner." Reached by phone, he declined to offer any additional comments.
DC Councilmember Phil Mendelson (below, with Chief Rubin), who had many very public run ins with The Rube over a variety issues including the amount of overtime the department spent, is not sympathetic. Unlike the former chief, Mendelson is talking about the suit:
Mendo says he's miffed that Rubin has the nerve to ask for more money after he "refused to work with the council to control spending" and "refused to respect the budget."
It's an interesting statement of fact that reporter Liz Farmer wrote in an article on Wednesday for The Washington Examiner following the latest in a long series of DC City Council hearings on the amount of overtime money spent by the department. The theme of the article was, that despite DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe cutting overtime by more than 50 percent, the department is still $1 million over the 2011 budget.
It is this sentence that caught my attention when I read the article this afternoon: "Ellerbe in January took over Fire and Emergency Medical Services, a department with a history of overtime being abused and going notoriously over budget."
As I was reading the rest of the article I was hoping to find out who exactly in the department was abusing overtime. That's a pretty big charge to make, so I was looking for something to back up what reporter Farmer presented as fact in this article. I didn't find it.
Overtime paid to firefighters has been a hot button issue in many jurisdictions throughout the country. It is often been being used as ammunition to cut firefighter pay and other benefits. The public doesn't like to hear that firefighters are the highest paid government employees in their town, city or county, especially the way it's often portrayed by those who want to make big cuts in the department's budget. The issue has a tendency to take on a life of its own in a way that is sometimes based more on emotion than fact.
So, Liz Farmer, who exactly in the DC Fire & EMS Department has been abusing overtime? What exactly is that "history" you speak of? Where is the attribution for that statement? Was there some overtime scandal that you aren't telling us about that had firefighters putting in for overtime they didn't work? Was there a scheme to steer overtime to favored firefighters?
Maybe, Ms. Farmer, it isn't firefighters you are talking about. Was it former chiefs who abused the overtime? For themselves? For firefighters? Is Chief Ellerbe abusing overtime when, as he testified, part of that $1 million overrun was to make sure the department was able to handle the earthquake and hurricane that occurred back-to-back?
Could it instead be that the abuse isn't even within the department? Could it be that the City Council or the mayor didn't properly budget enough overtime to meet staffing requirements? Could it be that because the city leaders haven't filled positions overtime is required to keep the fire trucks and ambulances safely staffed?
Not being a reporter on this beat for about 15 months and not following the department in detail the way I used to, I can honestly say I don't know the answer to any of those questions. If you do Ms. Farmer, don't you think you should share it with your readers?
Being over budget on overtime, even on a regular basis, doesn't always mean something sinister is going on. In other words, use doesn't equal abuse. Once a phrase like "overtime abuse" is in the public record, it is often repeated as fact with little in the way to support it. My point Ms. Farmer, is that when you make a charged statement like that you should back it up with some facts for your readers.
For all I know, I may be the only one who is riled by those nine words. I am sure there are a lot of DC firefighters who are much more interested in the other part of Liz Farmer's article. I am referring to Chief Ellerbe's efforts to drastically change the work schedule of firefighters. Here's what Liz Farmer reported on that issue:
Meanwhile Ellerbe outlined his proposal to switch to 12-hour shifts from 24-hour shifts. The proposal essentially would have firefighters working shorter shifts, but more often, reducing the need for overtime shifts.
The department would have to renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement with the union to implement any schedule and pay changes. (Local 36 president Ed) Smith said the two sides plan on discussing the proposal and there is no deadline for reaching a new agreement.
Without the changes it would be impossible to slash overtime down to the council's $2.9 million allotment for this fiscal year without cutting service, Ellerbe said.
As we first told you Tuesday evening, DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has made changes to the light duty policy that will impact pregnant firefighters and employees who become injured or ill while off duty. After IAFF Local 36 complained that 30 days of light duty was not enough for pregnant firefighters, Chief Ellerbe tripled the time frame to 90 days. The union says that isn't enough and still wants the same policy offered to DC police officers, which allows pregnant cops to remain on light duty through their pregnancy.
In an ongoing dispute between the DC Fire Department and the union representing firefighters, the DC Fire Fighters Association is applauding Chief Kenneth Ellerbe's decision to increase the number of light duty days to which a member can be assigned.
The chief has increased the number of light duty days from 30 to 90. But the firefighters union says the change in policy is still not sufficient for pregnant firefighters to tend to the needs of their unborn children.
Pregnant firefighters had to use their own sick leave after the 30 days ran out. Once their sick leave ran out, they would be without pay until they were able to return to full duty.
DC firefighter Melissa Davis said, "I'm concerned that it's not quite enough."
Davis is still eight weeks away from her due date, but she's already been off the job for more than two months after her light duty assignment expired just 30 days in.
About Thursday's change, Davis shared, "Three months is great. It's better than 30 days. But for an average healthy pregnancy, a woman would need five months that she would be eligible to work a desk job and then two months before she returned to full duty."
The president of the DC Fire Fighters Association agrees with Davis saying that "the change in policy will still force our pregnant female members to exhaust their sick leave and forgo a paycheck in the interest of their unborn children."
But Fire Chief Ellerbe says the department needs to be fair to all firefighters, especially since there's a limited number of light duty jobs.
"Any member who desires to be on limited duty beyond 90 days will have to submit a request and the request will be either granted or not granted based on a case by case basis," stated Ellerbe.
This new policy applies to all firefighters whether they're pregnant, sick or injured. Davis and her union, however, want the department to make a distinction.
"There's definitely a huge difference between a injury and an illness as opposed to a pregnancy," said Davis.
Chief Ellerbe says if the department does that he's worried it will be opening the door to discrimination lawsuits. But keep in mind, the Metropolitan Police Department already lets its employees do limited duty work throughout their entire pregnancy, which is the kind of policy that the firefighters union says it wants.
Ten-days-ago one of the big local news stories in the Nation's Capital was the pregnancy light duty/leave policy for the DC Fire & EMS Department. Here is how WUSA9.com described it:
Female firefighters in the District used to be able to switch to a desk job during their pregnancy. But under a new policy, they're forced to use their own sick leave. It means some female D.C. firefighters have no money coming in months before their due date. They also don't have any maternity leave after they give birth.
Andrea Noble of The Washington Times is reporting that Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told her on Wednesday that "he is mulling a change in policy that would offer 90 days rather than 30 days of limited-duty assignments to all sick, injured or pregnant firefighters and paramedics."
At the same time the chief is mulling that over a department press release was issued saying the chief would announce changes:
At 11:00 a.m., on Thursday, June 30, the District of Columbia’s Chief of Fire and Emergency Medical Services (F&EMS), Kenneth B. Ellerbe, will outline key changes to the department’s limited leave policy for representatives of the local media at a press briefing that will be held at the Fire and EMS headquarters building, located at 1923 Vermont Ave., NW.
Chief Ellerbe will be available to discuss the current policy and what the changes will mean for all members of his Fire and EMS team. The briefing will be held in the F&EMS Headquarters second floor conference room.
DC Council member Phil Mendelson gave the department until July 12 to change the policy or he would try to do it for them through legislation. Mendelson believes the policy already in place with the Metropolitan Police Department is a good one:
The Metropolitan Police Department’s pregnancy policy allows women to stay on limited-duty assignments throughout their pregnancies, said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat.
In an interview, Chief Ellerbe said he worried he would open the department up for discrimination lawsuits by creating separate distinctions for employees on limited-duty assignments. Instead, he said the department was more closely exploring the option of offering the 90-day limited-duty assignments. Even that change would not be without ramifications, he said.
“My concern is that overtime would increase,” he said of a change from the current policy of 30 days to a policy of 90 days.
If I learned anything in the news business it's that history really does repeat itself. Especially with the DC Fire & EMS Department where things seem to happen in threes.
In three different decades, starting in the 70s, the department tried rotating closures to save money. Each time the policy ended when there was outrage about fire deaths near closed companies. Three times, also beginning in the 70s, firefighters prevailed in similar First Amendment lawsuits against the city. And now, for the third time in a decade, the department's policies on pregnant workers is being tested.
We will let the reporter who was given the assignment today at WUSA-TV, Kristin Fisher, deal with that one in the video above and the copy below. Rather than judge the merits of the current issue, which I know little about, let me provide some historical perspective about the other two cases, which I covered when they occurred.
A week before the attacks of September 11th I reported on a pregnancy policy for civilian EMS workers that was nothing short of outrageous. While I can't find the Channel 9 story on the web, I found this summary from Andrew DeMillo in the September 5, 2001 issue of The Washington Post:
D.C. officials say they are reviewing a policy that requires all female applicants who want to be emergency medical workers or firefighters to take pregnancy tests. The review comes as city investigators are trying to determine whether a 21-year-old rookie with the District fire department's Emergency Medical Services was told to have an abortion or lose her job.
Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety, said the city will review its policy after a WUSA-TV (Channel 9) report yesterday that Fire Chief Ronnie Few has been sending letters telling female applicants that they must have pregnancy tests — and that any job offers will be "held in abeyance" if the test is positive.
Two months later, Chief Few answered questions about that policy and other topics in an online discussion with columnist Bob Levey (here).
As you might imagine this policy soon became the subject of a lawsuit. That suit was settled in favor of three female EMS workers. You can read the details of the settlement here.
I don't have the date on the other case, but it was around the same time period. As I recall, Keisha Olsen was a civilian paramedic assigned to ride Engine 28 in the early version of DC's paramedic engine companies. Despite being pregnant, Olsen had hoped to continue riding and doing the job she loved for as long as possible. The department had other ideas and placed her on light duty.
AFGE Local 3721 went to work, claiming Olsen was being discriminated against because of her pregnancy and argued that there was no indication Olsen was incapable of doing her job. This one was settled rather quickly and Paramedic Olsen went back to work until shortly before her child was born.
So that brings us back to round 3 and today's story. This time it is about three female firefighters and the battle is being waged by IAFF Local 36.
It's hard enough to hold down a normal job while you're pregnant. But imagine being a pregnant firefighter running into burning buildings, hauling heavy equipment. Three pregnant D.C. firefighters are now joining forces in hopes of changing what they call an "unfair pregnancy policy."
Female firefighters in the District used to be able to switch to a desk job during their pregnancy. But under a new policy, they're forced to use their own sick leave. It means some female D.C. firefighters have no money coming in months before their due date. They also don't have any maternity leave after they give birth.
"I feel the department is basically telling the women on the job not to get pregnant," said pregnant D.C. firefighter, Sholanda Smith.
"It's almost like you're being punished for starting a family, said another pregnant D.C. firefighter Melissa Davis. "There's a lot of heavy lifting. I have to lift and drag quite a load."
For that reason, Davis' doctor advised she go on a "limited duty" assignment at four months pregnant.
"I was given thirty days of a desk job," said Davis.
Three weeks in, she got a letter from D.C. Fire and EMS which said: "Although you have not recovered from your illness/injury, no employee will be permitted to remain in a limited duty assignment for more than thirty days."
"My initial reaction when they said that my desk job was ending was, they can't do that. That couldn't be legal," said Davis.
Davis needed about six months of sick leave if she wanted to get paid.
"I didn't have enough leave, so I went on leave without pay," said Davis. "It's been very stressful. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know who to call. I'd never heard of this happening before."
It's also happening to two other pregnant D.C. Firefighters, including Smith.
"I don't know how I'm supposed to survive as far as maintaining the household and also preparing for a new baby," said Smith.
Smith, Davis, and the D.C. Firefighters Association are now taking the fight to the D.C. City Council.
"I believe it's not fair and the rest of our membership believes it's not fair," said Ed Smith, President of the Local No. 36 D.C. Fire Fighters Association.
In a letter to the D.C. Council, Acting Fire Chief Kenneth Jackson says the department changed their limited duty policy in January 2010 "to address excessive overtime expenditures and to reduce costs associated with backfilling positions of temporarily disabled employees."
In a statement released Monday, Jackson said: "Our pregnancy policy is in line with federal law and district guidelines."
But D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson says the fire department is "wrong on the law." For instance, both D.C. Police and Montgomery County Fire allow limited duty work for pregnant employees throughout their pregnancy.
Councilman Mendelson and Councilwoman Cheh are currently in talks with DC Fire and EMS to amend their policy. If that fails, Councilman Mendelson has said he would move on legislation next month.