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DC Fire spokesman Lon Walls suspended after Tweets that DCFD protests were 'racist act'. Mayor distances himself from comments. City Paper profiles Chief Kenneth Ellerbe's battles with IAFF Local 36.

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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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Comments - Add Yours

  • mark

    I'm sure this is purely symbolic, but humorous none the less.

  • 1dctaxpayer

    Nice! this guy gets a paid vacation,.Hopefully  Mayor Gray is starting to notice the real issues within the D.C. Fire Department it's not about patches, and jackets. We need some leadership.

  • Hydro Engineer

    Suspended with pay? Are you kidding me? Mr. Walls should be fired! He does not have an office and does most of if not all of his so called work form his Twitter and Facebook account. So how is this hurting him? His day is no different from any other day. He is still getting payed, he just can't Tweet for a couple of days…. Really!?

  • me

    Is what the title should read.

  • oldhead

    I bet if I had made the comments Mr. Walls made and then posted them for the ENTIRE PLANET to see I would get dragged to a trial board and suspended WITHOUT the paid unscheduled vacation.  In fact, I'd probably be fighting just to keep my job.  The rot truly does start at the top.  That's OK Lon, now we know how you really think and we're starting to find out what "One City"  really means.

  • Brooks

    OK Dave, as an expert on the First Amendment, social media, public perception management, and how they relate to the Fire Service, you *have* to weigh in on this.
    Is Wall's speech 'protected'?  Is it of 'Public Concern'?

    • Midwest FF

      Great question.  Dave…

    • Legeros

      I am reminded of the early days of e-mail, and the best advice on etiquette at the time: don't put anything in e-mail that you wouldn't want to see on a billboard or read on a newscast. I think the same thing applies to social media channels. Sure the speech may be protected, but you can't undo audience/public reactions.

    • Elvis Picasso

      Distasteful as it may be, my opinion is that it is protected speech (see how I made it my 'opinion'?).  

  • Kenny C

    Being placed on leave without pay is like having a mini vacation.  What a JOKE!

  • Sharppointy1

    Walls needs to be fired for stirring the pot with his ridiculous complaint of racism.  
    DCFD, we in the hinterlands are still backing you guys, and feel badly that you have clowns in your leadership.  Hope improvment comes soon.

  • disgusted

    What a joke! Free vacation…..another strike for the Chief!

  • What a Joke…

    Most often…the one who cries racism is often the racist himself. All you here is how they've been done wrong. Respect is earned…if Ellerbe wants respect…you gotta give too.

  • 1dctaxpayer

    One D.C.= Friends and family   Transparincy = You can't see what Im doing.                      Shining star= Im so hot you can't touch me.      We gonna make it fair = for all my friends.     Where do you live =  I already know where you live I just want to see the reaction on your face when I tell you that you are gonna loose your job.                                                                     That was my accountants fault = I got caught trying to cheat the system again. And yet the lies will continue!

  • Anonymous

    Social Media is a cool thing for most. But in today's fire service, I would be real cautious on what you put on blogs, FB, Twitter, etc. Somehow the comments will always find a way to come and bite you in the ass!
    A FF recently posted something very derrogatory about a retired Fire Chief and a class he was teaching on another FF website. Those comments have been removed and he is under scrutiny from his dept.

  • Hydro Engineer

    Tele-Shaft APPROVED unscheduled Leave?? Wow! If you need the weekend off just post something bad on your Facebook account.

  • Anonymous

    So does this establish a "past practice" and open the door for DCFD members to make similar comments cause obviously all they will get is a 5 day paid rip.  Anything more would constitute unfair punishment.

  • Scooter

    Paid Administrative leave = paid vacation with no time off charged.  Wow what a deal come on man and man up…. Strike Da Box! K

  • Fire21

    May I ask a question?   If you have worked since 2007 without a contract;  If you cannot do anything legally to enhance your working conditions (such as a strike);  If you cannot get decent apparatus;   If you have such rotten leadership;  If you cannot adequately protect the President from fire:  What good is the union doing you?  
    I'm not trying to badmouth your union.  I'm just wondering what authority they have to do anything for you.  I see all of you paying dues and getting, apparently, little to nothing in return.  Please don't think I'm anti-union, I'm not.  But I just don't see where DCFD is getting anywhere with what you have.    Can someone explain this to me?

    • Anonymous

      I would think that the first due apparatus to the White House would be the newest and/or the best maintained in the department
      unless the department is squandering homeland security funds on patches

  • Anonymous

    Gee Pete, I beat your glad they moved you out of there!

  • Inept Subordinant…

    I love how if you oppose something that a Black or Hispanic  “Leader" does; then you must be a racist. I mean it couldn't possibly be the fact that the person is completely inept at their job. No, it's not their fault, it's your fault, you must just be a racist. It is a really weak mind person who throws down the race card as a defense for indefensible actions.
    This shouldn't really surprise anyone though. Actions like these start all the way at the top. From the horrible President in office right now who cried racism when his buddy was arrest by CT police officers (oops, i must be a racist for not liking the President's actions), to the horrendous D.C. City Mayor and the blatant corruption of his entire administration (Oops, more racism). Better sign me up for some of that Paid Leave.

  • oldhead

    Inept Subordinant:
    I don't think a paid vacation will do you or Mr. Walls any good.  What you both need is a good sensitivity class.

  • Hydro Engineer

    Our contract was updated to 2010 and was signed off. Nothing was changed and we did not see a pay raise because Fentey would not give us one. This contract is good till a new one is signed and we will not settle for one without a ADEQUATE RAISE ! As for our Union they are doing a Great JOB!!. Just come to a Meeting if your a member and see, ask your questions there. This Board answers questions members ask without asking them how much time they have on. They are on top of all issues. They do not go to the public as lrb has to discuss Contract issues. They are doing it right.

  • Barney Miller

    Well please be gentle to Mr. Walls, he had to step down as CEO of Walls Communications to take this great Government job and be vetted by TWO  "alpha" fraternity brothers.I heard Mayor Fenty was faulted for giving work to his Frat brothers, but I fully believe this administration would not do the same. This info was courtesy of his public FB Page which I have preserved for all time to avoid being accused of slanderous posting. Have a better day!

  • oldhead

    Fire 21:
    Thank God for Local 36.  True, we haven't had a contract since 2007 and no we cannot strike, in fact, you would be hard pressed to find any members who would be morally willing to strike no matter how bad it got/gets.  As for the condition of the apparatus, that is soley within the city's purview, we as a union can make recommendations as how to correct the situation but they don't have to listen to us.  As for Tower 3, yes, its main purpose, when responding on a box to the White House, is rescue of the POTUS and the first family, however, if  Tower 3 is on another response when the box for the White House is filled  another truck company will assume its duties, and you can darn well bet that %99.99999 of the time that if there is a fire or other emergency whereby the POTUS and his family have to be rescued from the White House the Secret Service will get them out by any means necessary.  The main issue is how long Tower 3 has been out of service, as well as numerous other Engines and Ladder Trucks, and the fact that our fleet is in such bad shape that we don't have nearly enough reserve apparatus for a call back of off duty personnel to ride on should there be an emergency of that magnitude.  Again, it's a city/management issue.  So what does the union do for us?  First and foremost, they negotiate our pay and work schedule, and no there have been no negotiations for the last almost five years because the previous administration stated to ALL the city unions that they would have NO negotiations with ANY city union, so we're not the only ones stuck in this situation.  The only thing we could do was wait them out.  All of our union contracts with the city also have a clause that states that if the current contract runs out for whatever reason it will stay in effect until a new one is reached.  Our turnout gear and SCBA's are some of the best in the business and this is a direct result of the city collaborating with Local 36.  As for our work uniforms, it's pretty pathetic, all we are issued are two pairs of fire retardant pants, two long sleeve fire retardant shirts and a black belt if it's in stock.  That's it. Obviously that's something that needs to be worked on as well as other issues and this administration, to it's credit, has begun some anemic overtures to restart the bargaining process.  The flip side is, where would I be without my union?  For starters I'm pretty sure that without Local 36 starting pay for Firefighters would probably be $10,000.00 a year, we'd still be working the  3-3-3 shift that mr. ellerbe is so fond of, he must have LOTS of great memories of THAT, and we'd probably still be wearing nomex turnout gear with demand SCBA and steel cylinders.  So yeah, we're definitely better off with our union than without, there's a lot going on behind the scenes you don't see and isn't "newsworthy" like DCFD logo changes,  a fems administrator who wants desperately to go backward in time to the glorious days of 3-3-3, and a PIO who has no business being in the position he's in.  Hope this clears it up.

    • Fire21

      Thank you, that helps a lot.  Still, it does leave you relatively powerless as regards the administration and how they deal with you.  I guess you can always pray for "hope and change".  (Does this make me a racist?

  • the ear

    This guy Walls is a racist and so is his boss LRB. They are promoting a hostile work environment and it looks as if discrimination is taking place. Not being a legal expert I wonder if legal action could be taken against the regime.
    It seems to me that the press is not giving the full picture of what is going on in the TV accounts of this fiasco.Also I would think LRB did something illegal when he took the chiefs job in Sarasota County Florida without retiring from DCFD. 
    We are behind you Local 36 and it is time to bring on the pressure. It is evident that the city will NOT negotiate a contract in good faith.

  • RJ (in florida)

    Dave just curious was ELB ever certified as a firefighter in the state of florida? if not he was in violation of the law because a certificate of compliance is required to be titled as fire chief
    if he got away with it through a loophole i would not be suprised

  • DCFD

    I'm not suprised that he's suspended with pay. How else is he supposed to pay his 200K debt to the IRS???

  • UsetobeDC

    Note to Councilman Mendelsohn:  Perhaps the reason the firefighters complain about the fire chiefs and "everyone is the worst" is because YOU ON THE COUNCIL HAVE FAILED MISERABLY IN YOUR OVERSIGHT!!
    You have allowed unqualified clowns to be hired as the fire chief of the DCFD and you should be ASHAMED OF YOURSELF!!
    It would take very little effort and research on your part to realize that hiring chiefs from smaller, less busy fire department means they are IN OVER THEIR HEADS before they  even start. 
    Wake up and do what the people of the District have elected you to do.  Be their voice and insist that only QUALIFIED people be appointed chief of the DCFD.  Again it would take very little research and some commmon sense!!
    Now have a nice cup of STFU until you do your job adequately!

  • On the dcfd list

    Is it legal for them to not hire off an active list that they currently have. I am on the current dcfd list and I am hearing they hired random residents and not people on an active list that they have. I emailed the your union a couple weeks ago and got no response from them. I know things aren't so good for the department right now and there are other issues at hand. I just don't think its fair that I slept out in the street to get on this list they were 20 away from my number and my only dream since I was a kid was to be a firefighter and they didn't even give me a chance. I just want to know if it is illegal what they did any info would be appericated and I hope the dcfd the best. 

  • Mack Seagrave

    When will folks cease throwing the race card out there everytime anyone disagrees with a person who happens to be black?

  • Anonymous

    to On the dcfd list:  the dept. did not hire random residents, they just restarted the fire cadet program which is for DC High School students that live in the city.

    • Annie Nonamous

      and if you do a little research the Washingtimes ran a story a few years ago how the DC High School and have to live in the city was not  really enforced

  • SkidMarks

    First and foremost:
    My thoughts and prayers go to those affected by the lose of our brother accross the river. God's speed.
    Transparency? If LRB was referring to fairness, it's easy to see through what doesn't exist.

  • Anonymous

    Wow…..if things are so bad why don't you look for a new job? Maybe at one of the surrounding jurisdictions that provide everything that the District doesn't provide, or maybe in the community where you live.

    • KenzOUT

      Maybe because I DO live here and this IS my community. 
      As a citizen I do not want a chief that tried to steal $600,000 taxpayer dollars, lied to the IRS about residing in the city to get a tax break, and allowed the city council to change the law on salary caps so he could get a raise all while simultaneously using "budget concerns" to attempt to eliminate 25% of the department that responds to emergencies involving me and my loved ones.
      As an employee I do not care who he hires or where they come from so long as they are the most qualified person  for the job who I can count on to have my back in a fire when it IS a matter of life and death, will have the knowledge to treat me appropriately if I get hurt or I'll, and will show  up to work as assigned and treat the members of MY community with the same devotion and respect as they would their own family. 
      Luckily I can say that male/female, black/white, resident/non-resident I am proud to serve with ALL of my brothers and sisters that make up my DCFD FAMILY. They truly make DCFD the BEST department in the world. I would not want to work for anyone else and as a citizen I would not want anyone else protecting me. 
      Unfortunately, I see the effect this incompetent chief and his tactics of harassment and divide and conquer combined with his attempts to misinform and outright lie to the media and citizens is having on the morale of the department and it saddens me. I fear that the end result will be that many of the best and brightest of the department will soon leave for the better compensation and treatment in surrounding departments that welcome them with open arms (see the current mass exodus of paramedics) leaving this once great department a shell of what it was and leaving me, my family, and my community at risk. 

  • anonymous

    Because this is where I'm employeed currently and we ALL have the right to be treated fairly regardless of where we reside. Based on your train of thought, I assume you think it would be fair to have a different pay scale for DC residents vs. non DC residents?  We were ALL hired through a competetive test proccess(i.e., e.g. the best person for the job). If residence is not a requirement(which by LAW it's not) for employment, it should not be one for anything involving employment.

  • Anonymous

    " I fear that the end result will be that many of the best and brightest of the department will soon leave for the better compensation and treatment in surrounding departments that welcome them with open arms (see the current mass exodus of paramedics) leaving this once great department a shell of what it was and leaving me, my family, and my community at risk."
     Not gonna happen….where else are you or any of the others going to make the money that you're making with a GED/High School Diploma?
    For every one of you that leaves there are three just as well trained/qualified waiting to take your place and could give a rat's a$$ what it says on the back of their shirts.
    If you're so concerned about the citizens,visitors and family members of the city….quit bitching, let the UNION do it's job and YOU continue to do yours.
    A Fire Chief cannot "allow" the City Council to do JACK! As far as raises are concerned…were you aware that while the members were being offered a raise of 1+1+1 by Rubin, he, Schultz, Sa'adah and Brian had their salary increased by $30,000?
    But I guess that's not an issue for you.

    • KensOUT

      It may surprise you to know that many of us "dumb firefighters" actually have bachelors or masters degrees. However, a firefighter paramedic with 5 years experience, even with no degree, can easily go to a surrounding jurisdiction and make the same money running far fewer calls and dealing with far less incompetent leadership. Don't believe me? Ask any of the medics who have left. Even the ones taking pay cuts initially will make up the money quickly. 
      As for the ones waiting in line, that argument is old. Every time a major city is hiring people line up, literally, for the opportunity to take the tests. However, if given the choice between a job here or a surrounding department most, especially ALS providers, will choose somewhere else. So while people lining up to take my job will never change, what will change is that the quality of those lining up will go down as other jurisdictions become more desirable.
      As for what is on the back of my jacket, I couldn't care less what it says. While I prefer DCFD because of its proud tradition and the fact the people immediately know who we are and what we do, I will war any acronym the department wants so long as it is provided to me.
      And yes, I am aware that Rubin changed the patch without anyone complaining. Not because he was white or because we didn't like him, but because his change did not prohibit us from wearing items we had paid for, it simply required property to give us the new patch anytime we exchanged the old patch and required new purchases to have the new patch without rendering what we had  paid for in the past useless. 
      As for his raise, yes we were pissed. And no we didn't like him or Fenty for that matter. But unlike Ellerbe, who has made every bargaining issue public in bad faith negotiation, the majority of our duspleasures were dealt with without media involvement. When we did speak up it was at the polls, voting Fenty out in favor of Gray, and forcing Rubin out with him. 
      Unfirtunately Gray has been a monumental disappointment, with himself and the rest of the council seemingly involved on never ending scandal and continuously hiring unfit divisive people to lead agencies they are not qualified to lead and in the case of Ellerbe all to further their own political aspirations ( which you will note he would not deny)

  • oldhead

    It WAS an issue and there WAS plenty of bitching about Rubin et al.  Sorry they're old news, now the courts can sort THAT mess out.  As for leaving DCFD, we can go to surrounding jurisdictions and get paid MORE with LESS of a call load.   I for one don't care what it says on the back of my shirt or jacket, oops that's right, I don't get one of those, BUT I'M SICK AND TIRED OF PAYING FOR IT WITH MY MONEY AND THEN HAVING THE RULES CHANGE ABOUT WHAT I'M ALLOWED TO WEAR 5 STINKING TIMES IN ONE STINKING YEAR.  In almost 27 years I have NEVER seen a fems administrator make so many changes on ONE order, and believe me, DCFD has had some of the most incompetent chiefs around.  Hell, he can't even put out a transfer/promotion list without 3 or 4 revisions, it smacks of pure incompetence.  Alas, that appears to be a requirement to "lead" the department.   As for bitching, we're allowed to do that.  All Americans are.  If you're tired of it, change the chanel.

    • Anonymous

      Tthat bitching wasn't done on this forum nor in the mainstream media. As far as I can remember….there has been several transfer/promotion lists put out by ALL of the former Chiefs that had 3 or 4 revisions.
      I doubt it. As far as your bitching…..sad to say it is expected.

  • oldhead

    Sure didn't pay 5 times.  Did pay once for another jacket, and now it's "illegal".  I just find it odd that people think it's OK we have to supply our own winter outer gear and rain gear.  We work primarily outside.  MPD gets winter outer gear and rain gear issued to them.  Hell, even the guys who ride on the garbage trucks get outer gear issued to them.  And I'm sure they get more work uniforms issued to them than we do.  We get 2 pairs of fire retardant pants, unhemmed, 2 long sleeve fire retardant shirts, and a black belt if it's in stock.  That's it.  And we have to pay for any alterations that are needed.  Is this really bitching?  The city sure wouldn't point out that this is a gross inequity amongst other agencies.  This and all the revisions that seem to come out with every order are minor incompetencies compared to the fems administrator's proposal to reduce the department by 400 members.  Do you really think there'll be no reduction in service?  The FD's budget is fully funded for fiscal year 2012, and the mayor has announced a 240 million dollar surplus in the city's budget.  During the 2012 budget hearings the fems administrator was told that in the past 10 years all budgets for all departments in the city had increased, some as dramatically as 50% (?!) yet the FD's budget had remained pretty much the same.  Councilman Jack Evans asked the fems administrator TWICE if the budget he was proposing was enough and all he could say was, "The budget is ample."  Councilman Evans then asked him if he had a wish list for the department,  what would he ask for, and the fems administrator merely repeated his previous statement.  He couldn't come up with ANYTHING off the top of his head.  So is this incopetence or is it something else?  And is this really bitching?

  • Anonymous

    So……it's been this way for the twenty+ years you've been on the job and you've just decided you can't take it anymore. 

  • Old head

    Nope.  Its just that this incredible world wide web has been around a lot less than 20 years.  You just never heard the complaints.

  • Truckie

    Oldhead, pay no attention  to Anonymous, it's just kenzin or one of his tarnished stars.  Go Coolidge Colts! lol

  • Anonymous

    "It may surprise you to know that many of us "dumb firefighters" actually have bachelors or masters degrees"
    Don't recall anyone calling Firefighters dumb….perhaps I missed it.
     "So while people lining up to take my job will never change, what will change is that the quality of those lining up will go down as other jurisdictions become more desirable."
    Even though they too may have "bachelors or masters degrees"?
    "While I prefer DCFD because of its proud tradition and the fact the people immediately know who we are and what we do, I will war any acronym the department wants so long as it is provided to me."
    Not gonna happen…..never has, never will.
    "Unfirtunately Gray has been a monumental disappointment, with himself and the rest of the council seemingly involved on never ending scandal and continuously hiring unfit divisive people to lead agencies they are not qualified to lead and in the case of Ellerbe all to further their own political aspirations ( which you will note he would not deny)"
    And we all know that there has never been a "scandal" or the hiring of "unfit divisive people" among the firefighters.



  • xray

    Anonymous i couldnt agree with u more, although I agree the department should issue out winter jackets to everyone. Now it kills me to hear people say oh we got use our government pay check to purchase a jacket. Im quite sure members on this department waste more money on less important  things than  a 100.00 jacket. People will bitch and complain no matter how good or bad they have it point blank. If those of you think turning your back on the top brass in front of everyone to see was smart and productive, than we really have idiots on this job. That debacle will make thinks worst for everyone, that wasn't cute or brave, it was plainly idiotic. Just remember you can get more bees with honey than vinegar, an old saying but it's true. One more thing whats the purpose of having a union if members are going to go forth to the media addressing their concerns, I THOUGHT THATS WHAT WE GAVE DUES FOR. I have never seen this much defiance towards a leader in my career, nor have others I talk to in their 15- 20 plus yrs. This job comes down to perception depending on who you talk to anyone can be worst person or someone who is revered. So nothing is the gospel what people write whether here or other forums. So Anonymous stay on course with your opinions and thoughts, it carries as much weght as anyone else