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.
Stabbing victim transported in DC fire truck New Year’s Eve. Ambulances & medic units not staffed. Lack of planning & high sick leave use cited.97 comments
Candidate for St. Louis mayor: ‘ … the firemen in the county don’t really fight fires. They get a call and watch the building burn..’25 comments
Happy Thanksgiving to all. I am always thankful and appreciative of the support you have shown STATter911.com through the years. The firefighters who read this site are the best and bravest firefighters in the world. Those who don’t are a bunch of cowards who would be scared to death to set foot in a burning building.
Pretty harsh, huh? Pandering to my audience, aren’t I?
Of course, I didn’t mean any of that other than sending along my best wishes and sincerely thanking you for your support. I would really have no way of knowing if those who read STATter911.com are the best and the bravest (though I do suspect they are the smartest).
It’s just my way of showing how inane the comments are that St. Louis aldermanic President Lewis Reed made in his efforts to seal the support of IAFF Local 73 firefighters in his run for mayor. Reed said the following at a neighborhood meeting Monday that was also attended by the local’s incoming president:
“And the firemen, the firemen in the county don’t really fight fires. They get a call and watch the building burn. Now they make sure nothing else catches fire, but they don’t go in the building.”
I have no clue about how good city firefighters are versus county firefighters in the St. Louis area. But I do know it’s one thing to highly praise a group of people as you lobby for their support and a very different thing to trash another group of people in making your point.
Reed probably didn’t need to go this far, considering the incumbent mayor he is running against, Francis G. Slay, has been at odds with the firefighters over pension issues and news reports indicate Local 73 has invested in Reed’s campaign.
Already this candidate for mayor is backpedaling just a bit. Here’s an excerpt from Joe Holleman’s “Joe’s St. Louis” column at stltoday.com:
Reached later Wednesday, Reed said he was not criticizing county firefighters’ dedication or professionalism, but merely pointing out the different strategies adopted by the respective departments.
“The city has adopted a more aggressive approach to fighting fires, and we tend to have the (manpower) to do that,” Reed said. “I didn’t mean that county firefighters do not fight fires.”
“That statement was taken totally out of context and is being used by the Slay camp to drive a wedge between the members of public safety (departments) and myself.”
So, if Reed becomes mayor, how will this comment play in any city/county relations?
‘The fire chief needs to be careful in his personnel actions’. Advice from DC Council Chairman after ruling that Chief Kenneth Ellerbe retaliated against union president.14 comments
DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe at a hearing before Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.
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.”
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Arbitrator rules DC fire union prez unlawfully transferred by chief. Capt. Ed Smith says Kenneth Ellerbe ‘is about retaliation’.23 comments
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Capt. Ed Smith, president of IAFF Local 36, told reporters Andrea Noble and Matthew Cella of The Washington Times, “It’s not about me, it’s about the union as an organization and our protective rights.” The comment came following a recent arbitrator’s ruling that Capt. Smith was unlawfully retaliated against by DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe when Smith was suddenly transferred from Rescue Squad 1 to Engine 7 in July 2011.
Last Friday FireLawBlog.com’s Curt Varone first published the 29-page report from the arbitrator. Now the reporters have interiewed the union president and attempted unsuccessfully to get comments from Chief Ellerbe.
Arbitrator Leonard Wagman with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service wrote the report. Here are some excerpts based on Wagman’s findings following the testimony from Smith, Ellerbe and others:
I find that Chief Ellerbe’s and the Department’s responses to Captain Smith’s request for an explanation were evasive, amounting to a statement that “we did it because we can.”
I find that the real reason was to retaliate against Captain Smith for engaging in union activity as president of Local 36, the exclusive collective-bargaining representative of the Department’s employees.
In his efforts to come up with a lawful explanation for his decision to transfer Captain Smith, Chief Ellerbe hastened to Smith’s firehouse on Sunday, July 3, in the midst of the Independence Day weekend, to search for some flaw in the Captain’s performance of duty
In its effort to escape a finding that its decision to transfer Captain Smith was motivated by his protected union activity the Department has gone from evasion to shifting reasons for its conduct.
The article brings up other instances where DC Fire & EMS Department officers have claimed retaliation by the chief. These include the cases of Lt. Robert Alvarado, Battalion Chief Richard Sterne and Battalion Chief Kevin Sloan. More from The Washington Times:
While the ruling in Capt. Smith’s case illustrates the most clear-cut charge of retaliation by the fire chief that has been upheld, other firefighters have made similar complaints about retaliatory behavior.
The arbitrator’s ruling in Capt. Smith lends more credibility to the other complaints, Capt. Smith said.
“It’s solidified all these complaints on the chief,” he said. “They have been upheld by a third-party arbitrator. He is about retaliation.”