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DC Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe now gets his say. His views on going to 12-hour shifts for firefighters. Plus the chief is getting a lot of heat. Read the comment cards.

Read entire opinion by Chief Kenneth Ellerbe

Previous coverage of Chief Ellerbe's plan herehere, here and here

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On November 30, DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe really stirred things up by officially telling DC City Council members he wanted firefighters to move from four platoons of 24/72 to three platoons on 12-hour rotations with three shifts of day work, followed by three shifts of night work, followed by three days off (3-3-3). Since then, there has been a lot written about this subject in the Washington Post.

It started with a Post editorial generally supporting the chief's plan. That was followed by an op ed piece by IAFF Local 36 President Ed Smith who supports the status quo of 24/72 and believes 12-hour shifts would not save the city money and would cause firefighter fatigue. Then Marcus Rosenbaum, the brother of former New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum, had an op ed piece saying both the 24/72 and 3-3-3 shifts were not compatible with having alert firefighters, paramedics and EMTs working the streets of the Nation's Capital. 

This weekend Chief Ellerbe gets his say in the Post. Here are excerpts:

Firefighters would work a 48-hour week, while EMTs and paramedics would continue to work 42 hours. Additionally, EMT and paramedic start times would be adjusted to increase the number of employees on duty to provide “peak load staffing” of ambulances during our busiest times.

The result would be more personnel available during each shift, reducing the need to pay overtime to fully staff fire trucks and ambulances during vacations, illnesses and training. Over several years, the department would be able to reduce staffing through attrition, eventually reaching the optimal number of personnel to meet our service obligations — without closing fire stations or cutting services. We think the savings from this strategy could exceed $30 million annually by fiscal 2017.

There are arguments to made regarding how 24- and 12-hour shifts affect job performance. But working 24 hours straight is too long for employees of the department, given our extremely heavy call load.

My priority as chief remains utilitarian: providing the best possible service at the best possible price.

Some of our employees may consider the changes we are discussing to be a hardship, but this department’s commitment to D.C. residents remains unchanged. I remain hopeful that executive managers and the labor organization can come together to accomplish this.

Chief Ellerbe received a lot of positive reaction from members of the City Council when his plan was first presented. But many firefighters continue to criticize the chief in comments sections of various websites and on Facebook about the shift plan, his banning of outerwear with the DCFD logo and other issues.

One of the most recent criticisms came from the blog, Raising Ladders. Written by a DC firefighter and paramedic, the latest column focuses on comment cards that are to be handed to patients the department comes in contact with. Below is the real card and below that a modified version posted on Raising Ladders. Click here for the commentary that goes with the cards


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Comments - Add Yours

  • DCFDmember

    A similar comment card attempt was made years ago (I think it was when Ronnie Few was the chief) but it was highly unsuccessful and only lasted for a very short time.  One problem is that you are handing these to the people at the end of the incident.  They are going thru a difficult time and the last thing on their mind is a comment card.  Even though we may be going back in service from the run, that person is still dealing with the situation.  So, while that person is sitting in the ER concerned about their health issue the last thing they want to concern themselves with is a comment card.  Most likely it will get discarded, and if they do fill it out they will have done so while they were under stress from the situation they were dealing with.
    Though, this is par for the course as it's something we did in the past, and that is all LRB knows is what was done in the past.  He is taking the department backwards 20-30 years.

  • SrFireOfficial

    Mr. Ellerbe still doesn’t get it; he cannot definitively point to a scientific study that promotes firefighters working a 12 and 12 work schedule versus a twenty four hour shift. And currently, the United States is seeing a marked trend towards a 48-96, especially in Northern California and Oregon.  For example, the City of Sacramento operates 23 fire stations staffed 48-96 where the busiest company sees 40 calls in a 48 hour period while the slowest sees 3.  And the Sacramento FD handles all ALS transports within the city.
    If Mr. Ellerbe wishes to put “peak load” transport units in-service during high demand periods, hire the personnel on overtime.  I know for a fact firefighters-EMT’s would sign up for that stuff.  Instead of toying with the lives and work schedules of the Firefighting Division, Mr. Ellerbe should focus on:
    Ensuring all personnel receive adequate, realistic quality training to perform all aspects of their job functions to the best of their abilities;
    Ensuring that all reserve apparatus is safe, functional and ready for deployment; 
    Ensuring that all DC firehouses are provide a safe and comfortable environment for all personnel to work, live and train in.
    To my brothers and sisters in the DCFD; I have voiced my concerns in writing over this and the uniform issue to all members of the City Council.

    • DC Firefighter

      Thank you SrFireOfficial! Those of us who work for DCFD are very thankful for your support. I hope it doesn't fall on deaf ears….

  • RJ (in florida)

    time for that confidence vote…not that it will change anything. when is management gonna realize that you need to work with the troops instead of trying to rule over them
    stay strong DCFD

  • RJ (in florida)

    followup question Dave: how many dept's in the US are on a 333 system and are DC's size and its working? if there are no depts on a 333 system that is DC's size…how's it working for them anyway?

  • Anonymous

    The Response Times for DC Fire and EMS are Excellent. Except when a Fire call has escalated to a raging event after 911 call. To define what this means, There are a lot of older Row Houses and other Structures which have deteriated over the years. Some Residential Structures donot have working Smoke Detectors, which History can/will confirm. The Response times for EMS does vary due to overwhelming call Load. The Goal for a Respectable Response Time for EMS could be  "Six Minutes" after the initial 911 call has been made. With all the publicity that has been done, it would seem Reasonable to have Paramedic Engines to Respond initially to stablize any citizen's Life Condition. Recently it has been noted some 30 Paramedics have Quit DC Fire and EMS. Is it a result of the schedule? No not specifically the defining factor. It takes quite a number of Training Sessions both Class, in the field and ER Hospital Training to bring about well Trained paramedics. Doesnot it seem reasonable Ellerbee should be focusing his efforts on retaining Paramedics and getting new Paramedics Trained?  Again the unfortunate loss of Mr. Rosenbaum's Life, may the Good Lord Rest his Soul, resulted in failures both by DC Fire and EMS and HUH. Transporting to closes appropriate Hospital is an absolute must. Ambulance responding from Providence Hospital to 38th & Gramercy Streets NW was an absolute shameful disgrace. Gramercy St to Wisconsin Ave to M St to Pennsylvania Ave to 23rd St @ GW Hospital/ TRAUMA CENTER. Serving the citizens and providing the best Life sustaining efforts pre hospital is of the utmost importance. The question here has/is Ellerbee doing anything to enhance and ensure the Taxpaying Citizens of this important Public Safety? In reading the questions on Ellerbee's survey  it would seem the primary concern is LOGO and schedule changes. Come on Ellerbee wake up smell the coffee. Climb out out of your sand box, recess is over. Grow Up.
    Thank You

  • Bill

    Unsure how he figures this will save money. More shift changes will cost more in overtime due to a greater chance of members being on calls when the shift change occurs and being held over. If the firefighters are going from 42 hours a week to 48 hours a week they will need to be compensated for this change either by being paid overtime or adjusting their base salary. On top of pay adjustments there will be a substantial amount of money spent on attorneys and man hours of city staff to re negotiate these changes. 
    Furthermore there are plenty of studies that show the 24-72 schedule is the most cost effective for sick and injury time. There are less chances a member will be sick when on shift due to being scheduled for fewer days (even though they are scheduled the same amount of hours). Goign to a 3 on 3 off schdule will double the days they are obligated to be at work and double the chances they are sick when they are supposed to be on shift. 
    The studies also show that the more consectutive days you work the more apt you are to become injured. Each consecutive day worked greatly increases the likeliehood of being injured by a substantial percentage. 
    More firefighters being injured does not help anyone. Coupled with the increase in sick time  and the increase in number of shift changes these factors will certainly increase overtime.

  • Exhaustedfromitall

    I am to the point where I am just tired of hearing it.  I mean seriously, this was old the first time it was mentioned.  This guy has 0 leadership skills, an education from crackerjack U, and a peanut sized brain.  Only in DC could he ever really be given the opportunity to lead and multi million dollar agency.  Anywhere else, he wouldn't even be able to manage a newspaper stand.  Well then again, DC or Sarasota I guess.
    It is time for him to just pack sand, and get someone in charge of our Brothers in DC that has at least a clue.  If not, I feel the citizens and visitors to DC are in for a rude awakening by the events that are forthcoming.  I know if I worked there, I would do my job, and only my job.  I wouldn't do a single thing extra….and we all know what that can lead to.  I am not talking about hurting anyone, just saying, I wouldn't go out of my way to go overboard…..I would treat it just like this retard is trying to make it….a J O B!!!
    I guess he forgot that being a Fireman is not a job to us……
    Good luck to all of you in OUR NATIONS CAPITOL!!!!

  • DCFD4

    He got the survey card idea from IHOP while he was enjoying a nice big juicy retard sandwhich. Next we'll have door greeters since he obviously spent some time greeting people at walmart.

  • UsetobeDC

    This loser has already passed Latin, Alfred and that other guy for worst Chief in DCFD history.  He may well be the worst in US Fire service history.
    To propose cutting 1/4 of the DCFD at a time of higher call volumes.  And there are still fires in DC on a regular basis.
    Hopefully the members stop being relieved before change of tours to show how much having 2 shift changes a day will cost in overtime for late runs etc.
    Shameful!  Absolutely shameful!!
    Hopefully the Mayor and City Council are getting phone calls so they can get rid of the worse Administrator of ANY agency.
    Stay strong and unified, brothers!!!

  • Jacob

    Not really related, but here in the suburbs we used to mail a comment card and request for donation after calls. It was a good source of income and useful feedback for many years, until the county computerized the run reports and we no longer had access to the data to do the mailings.

  • AND EMS!!!

    Hey Statter!  Ellerbe is the DC Fire AND EMS chief!!!  Didn't you learn anything from the great FEMS logo change of 2012?  Next thing you know you'll be calling him Chief of DCFD.   Shameful…

  • Task Force Needed

    That's true Dave.  Your going to have to fix the heading of this article at your own expense.  I understand that the Fleitz-Wines Task Force is already looking into what shift you've been working.  It's reported that the 2 hours on and 22 off shift is an unsafe shift for bloggers.

  • DC Firefighter

    Hey AND EMS!!!, Not sure what your angle is -if your serious or are just messing with Dave, but even the 'Great LRB' (insert sarcasm) refered to our Department in the title of his own editorial as the DC Fire Department, not the DC Fire & EMS Department, and he used the Rubin Patch in the photo attachment. So before you go assaulting Dave has you uphold the so called virtues of LRB I would take a look at the mistakes in the man's own editorial before I began harassing Dave for how he posted his headline. After all he was merely paraphrasing what LRB used in his own headline.
    I find it ironic that the Washington Post (a paper clearly in LRB's corner and against the Member's of Local 36) would use the New/Old/New-Hell, we'll just call it the LRB patch-in the other articles it has recently published, and yet for his own editorial they use the patch that he despises, the Rubin patch. Oh life's little ironies. Oh and BTW both patches include both Fire & EMS in the Department name, just in case your keeping score on that as well.
    And of course if you were not serious and just messing with Dave then, I bit, you got me.


    @dcfd firefighter…  I was being VERY sarcastic.  DCFD forever here, brother…  Just messin with the good Statter…

    • dave statter

      Are yuou talking to me?

  • Jim

    So DCFD is too busy for the 24 hour shift, so instead you'll work a night get 12 hours off, then be expected to work another night, then get 12 more hours off and do it a final time. That doesn't make any sense at all. Stop lying and just admit to wanted to screw with people.

  • Anonymous

    Dave:  regarding the Post comments after the editorials by the board and Marcus Rosenbaum.  
    After the last editorial by Marcus Rosenbaum there were 4 posts quite eloquently explaining the negatives of a shift change and how that had no effect on the mortality of his brother.  One also explained how the officers and battalion commanders on each shift managed ambulance details on an 8 or 12 hour with nap intervals all very effectively.  This was stopped because either the previous administration might not want to ceed autonomy to the lower level of authority (namely the ret. AFC-O, although we can only guess).  Having the company level officers set the EMS details, especially on the busy units, worked well and was consistent with the Rosenbaum TF recs.  The single houses paired up on the details, with the exception of special ops, who only had to ride a single ambulance (becasue of the daily training regime).  
    Anyway, these comments were removed.  Four comments stating this fact and the false pretense of the current FEMS Admin, Kenneth Elllerbe were removed within 6 hours.  There was nothing offensive nor derogatory except a counter opinion to the Posts editorial board.
    Do you think the Post has a bias  toward supporting its editorial opinions and actively selects the comments it wants to show?  This would be a process of actively controling the feedbak toward the readers.  This is very troubling, IMO.  There is obvioulsy a PR battle going down.  I will say, fortunately, there is your web site and the Watchdesk.  However, this is preaching to the choir when the target audience only looks at the Post.  
    Over the years, Local 36 could petition the Hill and had great success with the Washington Times that took an actively critical view of DC City Government.  The way I see it, the Post has never backed the Wash, DC FIrefighters.  

  • pipeman

    I hate LRB. Come find me a******.

  • Brokenhearted

    "Chief Ellerbe, we have extra money is there anything else you need?" (City Council offers blank check)
    "What we have is adequate."
    Fast forward a year and he'd like to lay guys off and change the shift to save 30 some million dollars.  Let this speak for itself.

  • Engine Forever

    This is typical of any new chief, We had one a while back. His first order of business was to change the logo on the rigs from our dept emblem, which is also our patch, to a generic one that came from the Galls catalog. Then he went on the hunt for anyone caught outside the firehouse without thier top shirt and badges on. It's so easy to major on the minor while the real issues just  keep getting worse. Sort of like the kid who starts a fire in the closet and shuts the door hoping it wil go away. He questioned the tatics on every working job and had no real firefighting experience from his previous jobs as he had spent very little time on the business end of the rig and more time climbing up the career ladder to be chief. Just be patient. This guy is most likely a short timer just like the one we had. He was gone after about 6 years to another dept. He's now gone from there also.

  • Commenter

    I had a comment "fail to post" in the comment section of the rosrenbaum editorial.  I contacted the ombudsman.  They contacted the web team.  My post was marked spam, as were two others I had submitted to the other shift opinion pieces.   All were posted, all we're critical.   They assured me , convincingly, that, as long as the posts don't violate their policy, they get published.  I believe them.  If you lost a post, contact them.  If you believe they are filtering the news to affect public policy, contact the ombudsman.   He is independent of the editorial board.  

    • dave statter


      Thanks for the info. It is as I suspected, and it was smart to call the ombudsman.


  • DC Firefighter

    Six years isn't exactly a short time…That's far longer than anyone wants to spend with this guy at the wheel.

    • Engine Forever

      DC Firefighter,  hopefully he won't last as long as ours did. Those were just a few of the idiotic things the one we had did while he was here. As soon as he left, we put our dept emblem back on the rigs.

  • Just sayin

    Just a couple of points to earlier comments … To SrFireOfficial – thanks for all of your support to our brothers and sisters in the DCFD – the points you make are all valid, however the Administrator LRB couldn’t care less about any of them as they do not affect him. To one of the Anonymous posters re the loss of 30+ paramedics since Administrator LRB took over – see above, doesn’t affect him so he couldn’t care less. To Bill – you falsely assume that there will be an increase in pay … The only thing that Administrator LRB has said is that DCFD members will be paid for every hour they work … They are already paid for every hour they work, they will just be paid less because Administrator LRB appears to think that their time is worth much less than his … also it is not a 3 on, 3 off shift it is a 6 on, 3 off shift … just my 2 cents worth … stay strong Local 36

    • Anonymous

      This is a critical point.  The Fire Chief states there will be a pay raise for the additional hours.  Unless it is a salary increase, taken into retirement, it is only an hourly wage and nothing more, except working more hours.  If one could quantify the costs based on 1. the 2nd worse traffic and commute in the US and 2. the loss in an definitive shift friendly child care and related issues, the compensation would have to be about 30% (plus or minus).  Anything less than 10-10-10 or 30% salary increase is not going to work. Period.  And this does not even begin to address the health, safety, and emotional stress of the rotating shift. 
      Of course, he's crazy (and so it the Mayor for condoning this absurdity) but it is what it is…

  • Truck Dude

    LRB is a politician. I think that he wants to be a city council member or even mayor. He is doing everything in his power to impress city residents. The loss of 30 medics is of no concern to him because they are not city residents. He wants all members of the department to be residents, and is making all of these changes (FEMS, patches, uniforms, shifts) to destroy the rich firefighting heritage of the DCFD in order to discourage non-residents from seeking employment with the department and/or staying with the department. Just look at the latest city slogan ", One city – one hire." I believe his plan is to do a away with the dual role -cross trained firefighter paramedics an go back to the single role paramedics, all of whom will have to be city resident. He did this several years back when he was interim chief after Tippet resigned. Six of the bls units were manned by firefighters, but he gave all of those positions back to the civilian EMS employees. He will be very popular with the voters if he accomplishes this, but he will absolutely destroy this department in the process. I don't think even cares how effective and efficient the department is (this is evident in the fact that we have had absolutely no formal in-service firefighting training since he took office). I think he only cares about his vision of what he wants this department to be – a department composed entirely of city residents.

    • me

      He only wants certain city residents.

  • DC FF

    12 hr shifts plus 1hr or commute time each way plus 8 hours sleep = a wopping 2 hrs I get to spend with my family for 6 days in a row!!! That sounds so awesome! 

  • I dont wanta hear it

    How many years did we hear about how bad Dennis Rubin was? Couldn't wait to get rid of him. Now you got a new guy and you can't stand him. All's we heard from HOOKMAN was how corrupt and how bad Rubin was. Looks to me like you guys won't ever be pleased. Was Rubin perfect? Absolutely not. But chalk this one up for a class in "be careful what you wish for". LRB is playing you guys like a cheap broken down fiddle,and Dennis Rubin is laughing at all of you. I guess old Dennis is loking real good right about now. Too bad , so sad. 

  • oldhead

    I don't wanna hear it,
    Yep, we bitched about Rubin, and the guy before him, and the guy before him, and the guy before him…  See the pattern?  After almost 27 years, I've resigned myself to the fact that DC can only attract guys who want to eff with the troops which is no big deal, I'm used to it, but you can damn well bet, whoever the Chief/Fems Administrator is, we will call them out on it when they screw up.  The sad part is, we are a department that is viewed by prospective chiefs as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.  No one wants to stick around and make any changes for the better, they just want to keep moving up their career ladder.  I have been through 8 (?!) Fire chiefs while I've been with DCFD.  I've lost count of the number of medical directors who've come through, but it's easily twice as many as Fire Chiefs.  This is just how DC government rolls.   If you don't wanna hear about it, change the channel.

  • Jordan

    @ I dont want to hear it…..
    Maybe they keep complaning about it because they deserve a GOOD fire chief. Of course nobody is perfect but they deserve better than they have had. These guys put their lives on the line everyday and should not have to deal with this bullshit espically the FEMS and shift changes. 
    I am not a DCFD member myself but I do volunteer with several of them. I'm just looking from the outside in. No disrespect to the DCFD members but im glad im not part of that mess right now. I think once they do get a good chief that supports their firefighters then the complaints will (for the most part) stop.