The Washington Times is reporting that DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe is moving forward with the demotion of Battalion Chief Richard Sterne over Sterne’s handling of punishment for two firefighters who put beer brought by a grateful citizen into a refrigerator at the quarters of Engine 9 last September. Reporter Andrea Noble says Sterne received reduction in rank papers, effective April 8. The demotion to captain will cost Sterne about $12,000 each year. Sterne’s attorney is planning to appeal the order to the Office of Employee Appeals.
The firefighters, who refused to accept the beer, put it into the refrigerator to get it out of public view after the man left it anyway. The beer was found by Chief Ellerbe on a visit to the station. The chief ordered the station closed for two hours requiring firefighters to be tested for alcohol consumption. The tests were negative.
Punishment of 24-hour suspensions was proposed for two men working at the station, but disciplinary action was left to Chief Sterne. He issued reprimand letters to the two men after determining that “no intentional misconduct” occurred.
“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,” Chief Ellerbe wrote to Chief Sterne in a January notice advising him of the proposed reduction in rank.
Chief Ellerbe previously declined to speak about Chief Sterne’s proposed demotion because it was a personnel matter. He did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.