D.C.'s fire chief wants to reduce the size of his department by more than 20 percent and make changes to the schedules firefighters now work.
Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told Mayor Vincent Gray and the D.C. Council Wednesday he wants to reduce the number of full-time employees by 475, shrinking the department to about 1,625 employees. Ellerbe also wants to move from 24-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts, more than doubling the number of days firefighters work each month.
"It's an absurd idea," says Ed Smith, president of the D.C. firefighters union. Smith says he doesn't believe Ellerbe's assertion that the moves will save taxpayers $36 million.
"I'd like to see the data on that," Smith tells WTOP.
Ellerbe says the shift change would encourage firefighters to live closer to the District.
"Forty-one percent of our members live between 30 and 100 miles away," Ellerbe told elected officials at their monthly breakfast meeting. "That creates a homeland security challenge if we have to recall our entire workforce right away for an emergency."
Ellerbe says some members of the department live as far away as Delaware, North Carolina and South Carolina. Gray agreed that's an issue of public safety.
"It's very much of a concern," Gray said after the briefing. "If there is a catastrophic event people will be challenged to get back into the city."
Gray said reducing the size of the department and what impact the move would have on public safety also is a major concern.
"We're not going to sacrifice, under any circumstances, public safety," Gray said.
D.C. firefighters currently work a 24-hour shift, then have three days off. Under Ellerbe's proposal, firefighters would work three 12-hour day shifts, then have 12 hours off before returning to work three 12-hour night shifts. They would then have three days off.
Firefighters in the District have not had a raise since 2006, and their union contract expired in 2007. Union officials expect to begin negotiations for the new contract soon, but say they'll reject the proposed shift changes.
Only 25 percent of D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services employees currently live in the District.
D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told city leaders on Wednesday that he wants to cut the number of city firefighters by nearly 30 percent in order to save the city potentially $32 million over the years.
Ellerbe said his goal is to reduce the firefighters from 2,200 to 1,600 total, but said there was no hard deadline yet to reach that staffing level. He said he hoped to achieve that throught the department's attrition rate, which he said he did not have immediately available.
WTOP Radio reporter Mark Segraves (@SegravesWTOP) was at a monthly DC City Council breakfast this morning attended by Mayor Vincent Gray and some department heads. Among them is DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe who has been hinting about moving the department away from 24-hour shifts for some time. Segraves' Tweets from the meeting (below) indicate Ellerbe is now doing more than hinting about this significant change in the structure of the department. Read them from bottom to top: