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The latest from DC: Battalion chief threatened with demotion over beer in firehouse incident. Plus, 'DCFD' removal at Engine 7.

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More on proposed demotion of BC Richard Sterne

Painting of bay doors at Engine 7

Previous coverage of Chief Ellerbe

Previous coverage of beer incident

The Washington Times seems to be staying on top of many of the developments and battles within the DC Fire & EMS Department. Reporter Andrea Noble filed the story that Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has made moves to demote Battalion Chief Richard Sterne to the rank of captain over Sterne's handling of discipline in a well publicized incident involving beer left by a citizen at the quarters of Engine 9.

In short, the battalion chief reprimanded the firefighters instead of suspending them for a 24-hour shift.

According to Noble, Ellerbe wrote to Sterne on February 9:

Your failure to hold the members accountable for their receipt of the beer in violation of the Rules of Conduct brings into question your ability to exercise proper judgment in the performance of your assigned duties.

I have concluded that your actions are a detriment to effective workplace operations and have resulted in a loss of my confidence in you and belief that you cannot be relied upon in your current position.

Ellerbe declined to comment because it was a personal matter. But Sterne and his lawyer spoke to Noble:

“Our contention is there was no cause to take this action against him,” said Chief Sterne’s attorney, James Pressler. “He exercised really sound judgment. Apparently, for whatever reason, the fire chief thought there should be some more discipline.”

“I’ve been making life-and-death kind of decisions for thousands of incidents, and no one has ever doubted my judgment before,” he (Sterne) said.

The beer incident made news last September when Chief Ellerbe says he visited Engine 9 and happened to find two 12-packs of beer in the refrigerator. The chief shut down the fire station and ordered testing of all the firefighters to determine if any alcohol had been consumed. The beer had been a thank you gift from a citizen.

Make sure you read Noble's story for more background on the incident.

This follows a short story with a bunch of pictures on Friday by Matthew Cella at The Washington Times. The pictures show a painter covering up the letters on the two bay doors at Engine 7 on Half Street, SW. The letters on one door were "D" and "C". The second door had the letters "F" and "D". Put them together and you have an acronym that has been banned by Chief Ellerbe.

Click here for the story and the pictures.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Stuart

    I don't get the chain of command here. These individuals are accused of violating a pretty serious rule of conduct. The idea of alcohol in the stations is a hot potato that could cause a whole lot of problems for a department….regardless of the real reason it was there to begin with. So, the Chief found it. The Chief acted that evening by closing down the station and testing everyone. OK….why did the Chief then leave the final discipline to the Battalion Chief? 
    Alcohol in the station is serious enough to be result in termination in some cases. If a company was caught here with beer in the fridge….I guarentee you their discipline would not be handled by their district chief (battalion). Their hearings would be handled by no lower than the deputy (head of operations) or the Chief of the department. 
    If he wanted them suspended…he should have done it himself or at least told the battalion chief he expected them to get some days.

    • Andy Nonomous

        Basicly DCFD discipline system in cliff notes form is as follows: any infraction where the penalty is up to 72 hours suspension is handled by a Battalion Chief conference, 72 to 120 suspension is handled by a Deputy Fire Chief Conference, anything where the proposed penalty is over 120 hours suspension goes to a Trial Board which is composed of 2 captains and 2 battalion chiefs. 

  • Stuart

    As for the guy painting the DCFD over…there is nothing else going on there that's more important than that? They don't have a need to fix, paint, or re-condition ANYTHING else in the city? Crazy how big of a deal those four letters have become for the administration and the rank and file. 

  • Brokenhearted

    Love how our guy falling through a floor on a multi alarm fire didn't get reported.

    • dave statter

      I saw it on a bunch of the local TV stations. But if you are talking about me, no I did not report it.

      I was moderating a seminar all day on Friday while that was going on. By the time I got back to the computer I saw it was well reported by the local and fire service media, so I opted to put some stuff on the site that had not seen the light of day.

      I had planned to use it as part of my Quick Takes on Monday, but my entire staff forgot to remind me (I fired them all).


      • Legeros

        Sounds like the making of a television series. Fire Blogger Apprentice.
        Wonder what your catchphrase will be?

        • Joe Paczkowski

          You're hosed.

  • Gil

    He also has the shop stripping the apparatus of any thing that says DCFD and company patches. I guess its enforce what you know.

  • Just Curios

    Chief Sterne, who received the notice Feb. 9, said demotions from that rank are “unheard of” and is fighting the action
    But Captain Coleman was demoted 2 ranks and nothing was said?

    • Andy Nonomous

      A battalion fire chief is not covered under the bargining unit (local 36) so a demotion is unheard of.  Several years ago when then mayor Sharon Pratt-Kelly was trying to RIF a BFC was going to be RIF'ed(ie: laid off) because supposedly he could not be demoted to captain but captains and Lt's where being demoted. The ranks of firefighter to captain are within the bargining unit and can be demoted by virture of the discipline process or RIF process as outlined in the DPM and collective bargining agreement.  I am not saying it is fair or taking sides, just providing the facts.

  • D Pfeil

    Instead of "4" letters that iiratate the "BIG CHEESE" Chief, he should worry more about a 6 letter word…..STUPID……

  • imnotleavingdbag

    Ms. Coleman went to two seperate trial boards and her situation is still in litigation.

  • Hydro Engineer

    This fems Administrator is SO CHILDISH!! Has this Mayor seen enough yet?? I know I have! Maybe LRB told the Mayor his Father is bigger than his and he will meet him in the parking lot. LOL!!!! Grow up!!

  • Former Chief

    It is such a shame what Ellerbe is doing to this FD.  I would assume Chief Sterne could retire if he wanted to and I'll bet that is what Ellerbe is counting on.  Interesting that someone who commented on the Times article said there needs to be a BFC vacancy so that Ellerbe can promote his brother?!  Hang in there DCFD.


    To find a positive in this, you have to hope in the ranks of the DCFD, there is a young Officer, or FF even, who someday will be Chief of Department somewhere.  That future Chief is being tutored with a long list of "what not to do" actions.

  • Justice

    Ms.Coleman was demoted for refusing orders twice and then SHE RESIGNED>>>>>Case closed,  she also had a decrimination case pending against her for religious battering of a subordinate while a "Capt" @ E21

  • Anonymous

    Ellerbee you are without question an ignorant,stupid individual who has absolutely no concept of real Leadership-Time Management and of equal importance TEAM BUILDING. Your Racist Black Panther Mentality will catch up to you. The incident at Engine 9, last fall should have been handled in a more thorough Managerial style. One of your Puppett Tattletales went tou. You came on like the big stupid bully that you are. Why not did you make your displeasure known in a dignified Professional fashion. Let the BFC handle whatever Discipline was deemed appropriate at the time. It is called the CHAIN OF COMMAND. I realize coming from the hood you never learned that. BFC Sterne is a Good and Decent Man. He has something you donot have, nor will you ever. TRUST AND RESPECT FROM HIS OPERATIONAL PROFESSIONALS. It's obvious you're waiting and hoping to promote your stupid brother. Back off Ellerbee, GROW UP start conducting yourself like a Professional, something you are not. ie; Rewmoving letters DCFD from Front Door Engine 7, Emblems off the Apparatus, 30 Paramedics quit. The Citizens of the District of Columbia will feel the actual eresult with minimal ALS Providers. Reserve Apparatus needing Mechanical Repair. Did it not ever occur to you, that your Racist Mentality can be a valuable tool in determining whether or not the District of Columbia receives long overdue, and deserved Statehood and Vote in Congress? WHAT IN THE WORLD IS WRONG WITH YOU ELLERBEE?  Climbout of your sand Box Recess is Over

  • first hand

    Ellerbe is an ignorant racist!! This is just part of his way to get the white guys out, if it is changing the schedule-most of the guys coming from out of the city to work are white, the majority of the fireman living in the city are black, hence why he wants to keep the ones living in the city. White men within the department who are more than capable to be promoted are not given the rank, instead the promotion is given to black men who can't read or write. And causing BS like this with what happens to be a white BFC. For all wondering if the Mayor has had enough, nothing will happen there either since Idiot Ellerbe only has this position because his buddy Mayor Gray gave it to him! The Mayor and Chief both need to be terminated from their positions, this is a disgrace to the Nation's Capital!

    • T9

      Now you have gone too far! The qualified officers who this chief has promoted are competent and highly capable at performing the duties assigned! These men can read, write and ignore racist bastards such as you who are angry that the "Jim Crow" ruling policies of the previous administration are out the window!

      • xray

        Amen to that truck9, we all know the real reason for this unpresidented defiance to the leadership is coming from. Cant have your cake and eat it to.

    • DC Firefighter

      First Hand, you sir are an IDIOT! Oh yea, and a racist as well! You and LRB should both go away!

    • play4keeps

      "the majority of th firemen (with an "e") living in the city are black."  Please think about what you are writing more carefully.  The majority of the BLACK firefighters DO NOT live in the City. The Chief/FEMS Admin is an equal opportunity distroyer.
      "Instead the promotion is given to black men who can't read or write. "
      Wrong.  All his promotions to BFC have been equal black and white.  All have college education.  The fact is more blacks that are elgible for BFC have higher education than the whites. I am not arguing about credentials or capability for the spots, just stating facts.
      One of the big problems is that chiefs are outside the competitive promotion process and this has created accusations of nepotism and cronism for the past history of the DCFD.  Also, the acting positions are a carrot and stick without compensation up to the 60 day limit.  This is one of the few organizations that does so.  It is a farce but has never been challenged among the bargaining leadership.
       Ironically, Rubin implemented a  testing process and created a list, which is no longer in effect.  Not saying it would have mattered, according to the DPM, the Fire Chief has management rights to ultimately promote who he/she wants.

    • Marty

      As a white fireman in the District of Columbia you are an embarassing representative of my race.  Competency and leadership don't come from race or geographics.  If you want higher rank, stop riding on coat tails, get a degree then come back and belly up to the table like a man.

  • http://yahoo Sick and Tired of being Sick and Tired

    Hold on there, First Hand! I'm an African American DC Firefighter that was born and raised in DC. I am not supporter of the current Fire Administration. But, for you call the Ellerbe a racist and not yourself is being hypocritical. Your rant was just as bigoted. I am not naive to think there are members who think that because of their race that makes them a better firefighter. Son, I have fought fire besides some of the baddest brothers and white boys and we get along just fine. I passed my promotional exam way before you even learned how to pee standing up. You can come from Sticks and Twigs Pa. or Congress Hgts. DC. I don't care as long you know how to do your job. 

    • DC Firefighter

      WELL SAID MY BROTHER! First Hand is not a true member of our Department, he may get a paycheck from the District, but he is not DCFD!

  • Anonymous

    sick and tired,
    I agree 100%. We are a brotherhood of firemen it doesn't matter your color if you know, love, and respect this job. There are losers on this job of both races and great firemen of both races.
    I once heard a saying that holds so true for both.
    Not every white man is your friend and not every black man is your enemy. OR
    Not every black man is your friend and not every white man is your enemy.
    Which ever applys.

  • Just Curios

    B.F.C. Stern is the same chief that was the incident commander on 4th street and firefighters got burned and almost lost their lives, He was the same incident commander on 48th place and firefighters got burned and almost lost their lives and he was the same chief who chaired the trial board 2 years later when the Lt. stopped to put out a fire and Local 36 advised him that the trial board was illegal.  What good for the goose is good for the gander.  See you Chief take care

    • Somebody

      Just curious, To try to put tragic accidents such as the 4th St and 48th place fires on the shoulders of BFC Sterne is a cowardly move. This a dangerous job, and if you don’t want to be a part of it, then you sir, take a hike. Chief Sterne is the most senior BFC in the department. You’d need quite a few hands and feet to count the seamless firegrounds he ran. As far as the LT you are referring to, although he is known for being a good fireman , is infamous for a lot of negative things as well. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. For the racist banter earlier, that too needs to get outta here. Thank you Sick and Tired for setting that crap straight. All in all, we do a pretty good job embracing each other’s backgrounds and cultures. While others, such as the FEMS Administrator simply cannot see past it, don’t worry the rest of us will hold this place together. DCFD!

    • DCFD

      I was burned pretty seriously on one of those fires you're referring too. Last time I checked Chief Sterne didn't throw us into the burning house. In fact, I thought he ran a good fireground.

  • fyrecapt

    I'm not sure, but I think he was thinking more down the line of "progessive" discipline which includes, fact finding, interviews and then making a decision based on the facts.
    If I'm not mistaken, progressive discipline is something used by almost every facet of business and government

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  • 8truck

    What are the odds that the Chief just happened to show up at the house? Does he go around and inspect them or does he just randomly show up? I find it funny that he happened to come by. I wonder how the citizen feels that dropped off the beer.

    • Brokenhearted

      There's no odds, he was tipped off by one of his Cronies from 33 Engine working overtime, who instead of following the rules and regs and handling the alcohol situation himself, proceeded to jump the chain of command and call Ellerbe via cell phone direct.  I wonder if he is charged with anything?

      • dave statter

        And Brokenhearted, I had to kill your more recent remark about me (not that it was bad at all, I just am keeping the four letter words at bay for a while longer … though they don’t offend me).

        Those who expect better of me are almost always dissapointed. Just ask the two people I live with. Though I appreciate and understand your sentiment.

        I don’t report on anything anymore. I link, excerpt and comment. Interesting stories in DC and the surrounding jurisdictions usually get priority around here. They always have. But the staff that let me down on the Anacostia story is a staff of three: me, myself and I.

        I will try to do better in the future, but if I were you I wouldn’t count on it.

        Still, always feel free to give me grief or that other word you used. It keeps me honest and I appreciate that you are enough to read this junk and write a comment.

        I never take it personally, even when I should.


  • bereal2us

    So how about this scenerio.   How many firehouses have cooking wine in them.  I bet most of us have some.  So does the chief have an issue with that being it is alcohol.  What sort of dicipline does he shell out.  This is a joke.  Our profession is being hijacked by chiefs like this.  It seems to be happening all over & the common theme is these chiefs were never fireman or know what it is to beone.  Stay stong DCFD.

  • Robert

    The actual issue should be the intentions of the crew with the beer in he refrigerator, not the fact that it was in there and that is perhaps why the BC counseled instead of suspending.
    I know we have gone to the store and bought beer on duty to cook brats or beer batter fish.  Additionally, perhaps it was just in the fridge to have it cold and ready for a day off trip te next morning.
    This is what is wrong with today's fire service.  It's black and white alright, but in rule and regulations.  Common sense is gone and if someone dislikes you or you cause a wave for the Administration, a broad, ambiguous rule(s) is slapped against ou and you ate guilty regardless of circumstances.

  • Inside looking in

    What is the problem???? The  DCFD/DCFEMS "tradition" meteing out unfair punishment has been around long before the Ellerbe administration, and the "tradition" will continue after he is gone. If you believe none of any those future chiefs in waiting riding on the right side of your apparatus don't have personal agendas also. I have some beach front property on Rock Creek I can sell you. If you call yourself a supervisor/leader and turn a blind eye to someone getting shafted who doesn"t deserve it, you are just as guilty as the person doing the shafting.

  • Legal Beagle

    Hey Just Curious I did some checking with friends of mine and they confirmend your posting they also stated that Capt. Stern also is the official in charge of the LT. who was sent home yesterday for wearing the improper jacket.  He also stated the 48th place fire Capt. Stern who was in charge and the SAME Lt. who wore the wrong jacket, that a internal report thats is due to be released found the LT. was found to be at partial fault. 

  • Amazed at Beagle’s thought process

    Beagle, watch it now!!!  It is obvious that you are a Fireman in the District….watch what you say slim!!!  Watch who you call out, when you obviously are just trying to point out your own blury view!!  When a few of our "brothers" get burned, it is not wise to attempt to use that to project your ridiculous views. 
    Times like these make me wonder how in the world you have made it around here.  I know you wouldn't last three minutes in my firehouse….turning your back on your brothers…to support someone who has turned his back on everyone!!!  Come no now!!!  I am not throwing stones dude, I just don't understand how anyone can continue to support this clown. 
    I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he came back, I said give the man a chance.  Well he has had his chance, and he has taken a crap on every single one of our heads.  Take notice, for you may be next slim! 

  • Legal Beagle

    Just confirmed that Captain Stern told the Sgt. at the time on 4th Street who was burning to calm down is this correct?  Is the sign of a leader just wondering?  Believe me if I were a fireman in the District I would be at all of the rally's to support the Chief.  You guys need to pick and choose your battles and come together on the ones that matter.
    Bullets says

    This particular Lt. knows what the department policy has changed too, and he conticues to violate it. He knew full well what he was risking, and it is his fault for violating policy.

    Seems like he has uniforms on underneath the coat. Why cant he just change the patch on the shoulder of the coat? Any decent uniform shop or dry cleaner can do it for like $6. If he chose to get the DCFD screen printed on the back, then thats an issue, but any decent job shirt or denim chore coat only needs a patch change.

    These DC firefighters are getting really ridiculous with their complaining. Every chief is the "WORST" chief and any change is meet with screaming , crying, and hand wrinning. They are proving the old mantra, "100 years of tradition unimpeded by progress"

    on February 22, 2012 @ 10:40 am.Reply