DC Fire & EMS Department spokesman Lon Walls has been placed on administrative leave by Chief Kenneth Ellerbe following Walls' characterization of a January 24 protest by firefighters as "a racist act". The comments from Walls came on his personal Twitter feed and Facebook page and were taken down on Monday after he was questioned about the postings by Washington Times reporter Andrea Noble. Andrea Noble also has details of Walls' suspension:
D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe suspended department spokesman Lon Walls with pay in order allow tensions within the department to “cool off,” said Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray.
“Things were getting heated; things were getting personal,” Mr. Ribeiro said, adding the suspension likely would last “a couple days.”
Mr. Gray said Wednesday he did not support the characterization made by Mr. Walls.
“I didn’t write it. I wouldn’t have said it,” Mr. Gray said. “I don’t think it’s helpful.”
Noble is also reporting that Paul Quander, deputy mayor for public safety and justice, is backing the statements from Walls that a directive issued Saturday warning firefighters they would be punished if they acted up at Mayor Gray's State of the District address Tuesday night, did not come from management. IAFF Local 36 president Ed Smith and various news reports indicate the order was issued through the chain of command to firehouses and was entered into company journals throughout the city. Smith told Noble, "The guys didn't make that up".
In addition, Washington City Paper's Alan Suderman, who writes the column Loose Lips, has posted an article looking at the battle that has been brewing between Chief Ellerbe and Local 36. Suderman begins his article reporting that Tower 3, first due at The White House, with the assignment of positioning the bucket at the living quarters of the President, has been out of service because of mechanical problems 500 of the last 1000 days. In addition to looking at serious apparatus maintenance issues, Suderman gives an overview of the various skirmishes that have occurred since Chief Ellerbe took over the department 13 months ago.
The problems with the truck that’s supposed to save the president are small pieces of ammo in a growing war between Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and the fire union, along with a vocal group of Ellerbe critics in the department. The battles run from the trivial, like what logo firefighters can wear on their clothing, to the more serious, like what’s the best schedule for working firefighters and who is responsible for equipment problems like those of Tower 3’s. Throw in accusations of racism, a touchy subject for a department with several past discrimination lawsuits, and you’ve got a recipe for a potentially explosive situation.
Suderman, who was unable to connect with Chief Ellerbe for an interview, highlights some of Chief Ellerbe's history with the department, including the arrangement that allowed Ellerbe to be the chief of a Florida fire department while still on the rolls at the DC Fire & EMS Department.
The article closes with a quote from Phil Mendelson, who chairs the City Council committee overseeing the department:
He says the complaints he’s currently hearing from firefighters echo the same complaints he’s always heard, regardless of who is in charge.
“Every chief is the worst,” says Mendelson.
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