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Is it fraud or mismanagement? DC Council member asks for another IG investigation following testimony of Chief Ellerbe on mechanics’ overtime.

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The DC Fire & EMS Department seems to remain in the news these last few weeks with stories that linger. This one comes out of last week’s testimony by Chief Kenneth Ellerbe at a City Council hearing. Council member Tommy Wells has, for the second time this week, called for an inspector general’s investigation of the department. Wells wants to get to the bottom of an overtime list of mechanics at the department’s shop that became part of the questioning of Chief Ellerbe during the hearing. Reporter Matt Ackland at WTTG-TV/Fox5 has the story:

Why are D.C. Fire and EMS mechanics working so much overtime? Councilmember Tommy Wells wants to get to the bottom of it.

This week, Wells sent a letter to D.C.’s Inspector General asking for an investigation.

Wells told FOX 5, “It’s either mismanagement or fraud.”

Questions were raised last week when a report of the top overtime workers in the department was released. The top overtime earner, who works as a mechanic, made nearly $98,000 in overtime in 2012.

Wells also says there is a concern about worker safety if mechanics are working so much extra time around heavy equipment.

Council member Wells also wants the inspector general to look at sexual harassment complaints made by DC Fire & EMS Department cadets. Wells cited differences in accounts by the media and Chief Ellerbe as behind his call for the investigation.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Commenter

    Is anyone concerned with how non-secured those fire trucks seem to be? The FBI has a whole course on spotting ‘cloned’ utility & emergency vehicles — why bother cloning if you can just walk up to the DC shop and drive away in a “regular” fire truck. And then use that fire truck to access the Capital or White House. If 3 oz. of liquid explosive is enough to take down an Airliner, imagine what 500 gallons of it could do.

    So, my vote: another example of incompetence.

    • Anonymous

      Most of those vehicles are too broken to make it to the Capitol.

    • Gil

      You could but they probably wont start.

  • Ron Stuart

    Rumor is that Ellerbe walked Chief Branch’s retirement papers through this week… the shop obviously needs to be taken over by private industry, at least that way we can have some acountability AND decent work on apparatus. Only concern is that it will become another pathetic example like DC’s “OUC” which seems to be the WORST 911 dispatcher center in the United States.


    Kudos CM Wells for not only looking into this, but for looking into everything that has ELLERBE written all over it…With this particular issue, i think its a combo of both, however, blame goes to the inept person who calls himself a leader….Rumor has it that after this hearing, the DFC that testified was given a few choices….be demoted or retire…Knowing Ellerbe’s pattern of vindictive retaliatory style, I would put money on this being true…..

    Though I commend CM Wells for looking into Ellerbe..probably the biggest FRAUD in the entire Department, however, good luck on getting a honest, accurate and timely investigation from the Inspector General, Charles Willoughby….Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan Mcduffie is already looking into to him on why years have past without any reports being done on things his office has investigated…If you go to his website, you’ll see clearly who he goes after….the lil guy….the basment mail person in the DC Gov to the person who obtained fraudulent unemployment benefits…He’s not done one report into any agency head appointed by the Mayor…this includes past Mayor Fenty and the present nitwit…..Though said to be an independent agency, I believe the Mayors office has complete control over the IG’s office…..

    Then again, the ? many are wondering and that’s…why hasn’t KENNETH ELLERBE been disciplined for being found guilty by an arbitrator for retaliating against our Union President….Maybe if action was taken against him, as in terminating him….we might not have to see DCFD…oops FEMS in the news so often….

  • the ear

    How long is this incompetent going to be fire chief of a major metropolitan jurisdiction.The only thing he has done is dismantle the department which was one of the best in the country. He has killed morale and run off or transferred some top notch people to menial tasks. The feds ought to be looking at the DC administration from top to bottom.
    Enough is enough.


    Commenter…wow..I can finally agree with your comment…whew…anyways..on any given day the 1100 block of Half Street Street SW and the unit block of I as in Potato…(oops…been listening to the dispatchers at OUC to much) as in EYE, looks like a fire apparatus graveyard…but don’t worry Washington, DC…the batteries have (supposed to have) been removed from each and everyone of them……I HIGHLY doubt terrorists are intelligent enough or have access to batteries to which they could easily put in the apparatus and create holy hell in the Nations Capital….

    I can guarantee one thing…..when CM Wells visits the shop…it will be spic n span, everyone down there will be working and an oil change will take less than an hour…bet on dat slim

  • EastCoastFF


  • UsetobeDC

    To the DC Brothers paying attention. Realize something very important was said during the hearings and be afraid.
    The Deputy Mayor said “We may need to look at buying more ambulances than fire trucks”
    This means they are considering closing fire companies and replacing them with ambulances.
    The mistaken belief that more runs will keep firehouses open is eventually a loser for this reason alone.
    The Union and it’s members MUST begin to put forward the concept that the Fire Department is an INSURANCE policy.
    This is a much better argument to keep firehouses open.
    As to the productivity requirement from the bean counters the response is to ask them if they crash their car every once couple years to get productivity from their car insurance?
    Of course not.

    • Commenter

      DC has 53 fire trucks for 61 square miles, 632,000 population, and maybe 600 structure fires a year. DC never runs out of fire trucks, but runs out of ambulances, according to comments here, every day. The Deputy Mayor is correct.

      If the Department weren’t sending fire trucks on 4000 EMS calls per year, 40 Fire trucks, 40 fire department ambulances/medic units, and the ability to call private ambulances to transport stable patients would be sufficient.

      If the Department weren’t sending fire trucks on 4000 EMS calls per year,

      • Gil

        (DC never runs out of fire trucks) Do some more research.

        • Commenter

          Sorry Gil, but DC doesn’t need the same fire trucks as it did in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or 90’s.

          When was the last time that DC ‘ran out of fire trucks? When was the last time you ran out of fire trucks because all your fire trucks were fighting fires? Once a year? Once every few years? Call mutual aid. That’s what it’s for. Plus, it wouldn’t happen as often if you didn’t run 3000-4000 EMS runs a year with your engines. Apparently DC runs out of ambulances daily.

          Looking at your EMS run stats: your engines ran 72,000 EMS runs. At 20 minutes each, that’s 24,000 hours that engines were out of service – medical. I’ll bet your medical runs take longer than 20 minutes, especially your ALS ones. You’ve already proven that you can get by with fewer companies, because at any given time, 6-12 of them are sitting on medical calls.

          • Mike DCFD

            We have ran out of Companies, However they just hold the call till one comes avilable,It just seems like we never run out. We do call mutual aide. Look at New Years eve, we used it, But that was because “lrb” said to stop working people overtime and placed the citizens at RISK!!

          • Gil

            I am just saying you said never. And that wasnt true.

  • Anonymous

    I call BS on Wells call for an investigation. We all know he wants to run for Mayor and this an attempt to show that he’s tough on issues. Where was his “outcry” when the last administration was being questioned for the amount of money being spent on overtime?

    Don’t give me that “it was not his committee then” BS either. While we’re investigating alleged fraud, how about we investigate where the his “bag tax” money is going?

    I’m not trying to the Chief or anyone else, I’m tired of this sorry a$$ City Council grandstanding for their personal gains. Let’s have a Federal investigation on the entire D.C. Government and see who is really “squeaky clean”.

  • smokediver77

    There are NO mechanics at the shop anymore. They all retired or left 25+ years ago! It is the good ol boy network in reverse from years ago. Kenny WILL take care of his “SHINING STARS”. Standby , there will be more fraud to come.

  • haveyouseenmybaseball?

    I’ll be damned, I agree with you. That apparatus graveyard around the FD shop has been like that for YEARS and it’s only about 10 blocks from the stinkin’ Capitol! Good thing the batteries are out of all that apparatus, we all know how stupid terrorists are. I also find it laughable that people are calling for a FEDERAL investigation hahahahaha, does anyone honestly believe the federal government is competent?! They’re a joke too, hell, they can’t manage themselves either.


    Thanks EastCoast….i try every now and then to break out of my normal 3rd grade blogging mentality…ha

    Anonymous….lets hope not, but its something to think about….The DC Inspector General is a weak at the knees cowardly excuse for someone who’s job and only job is to investigate waste, fraud and abuse within the DC Government and those outside of it…ill put my next paycheck that Gray has already apoken to Mr. Willoughby

  • retired firefighter

    #1- create a priority ystem so critical vehicles are repaired first.

    #2- Vehicles that have “minor” issues could be repaired at the stations by a mobile repair unit thus stopping costly down time while crews swap rigs and transfer equipment before going back to their station. That is a cost (in terms of unit availability, longer run times, etc.) that is not usually considered but expensive due to a lack of productivity by that unit.

    #3- There is a break-even point where it is more efficient to hire more full-time mechanics rather than pay overtime to the current staff. With more bodies available to work on rigs, the repairs get done faster and units are not “down” for as long. This also translates into having a smaller “spare” fleet which is very costly to maintain, too.

    #4- It is no epiphany that sending large, costly rigs to EMS calls (which are much more numerous that fire/rescue calls will create more wear/tear and expenses (fuel, tires, etc.) You don’t have to be an accountant to understand that. Of course, some departments will use that extra wear to justify buying new rigs more often.

    The issue may be that sending a fire engine (or ladder truck) may simply be a way of sending help and “stopping the clock” when the lack of available ambulances is the real issue. Having literally run thousands of ambulance calls, it was very rare that we needed more than 2-3 folks to handle the vast majority of the runs (except cardiac arrests, MVA, etc.) Many other cities have “discovered” the effectiveness of sending 1-2 staff in an SUV or small squad to back-up the ambulance crew.

    #5- It would be interesting to see how much vehicle maintenance is also “outsourced” to private vendors and why.

    #6- Fleet shops need to have the apparatus vendors fulfill all warranty obligations for their product (with penalties for a lack of timely response AND resolution.) Some shops simply forego pursuing warranty repairs due to the perceived hassle, documentation, downtime, etc. That can add up to many thousands of dollars a month for large fleets- why bother asking for a warranty at all if you don’t intend to use it for the sake of expediency (or laziness?)

    #7- If the fleet shops have a large backlog of repair orders, consider bringing in extra help (maybe outside vendors) to work through the backlog and reduce the number of vehicles parked on the curb that are out of service? Isn’t the goal to get the vehicle back to its assigned station instead of sitting parked awaiting what might be a relatively simple repair?

    #8- Consider farming out basic services that take up time in the shops (like tire changes, oil/fluid/filter changes, etc.) to an outsourced vendor. Some departments have those kinds of vendors actually working “in house” doing these routine procedures.

    Didn’t Boston FD have a problem with their “shops” years ago where an inspection revealed many unsafe rigs (after a ladder company officer died in a crash?) They ended up changing their whole shop set-up?

  • Ol Skool 86

    It is both fraud and mismanagement. Since the policy has been enforced that no one can watch the progress of the repairs, the shop has done less work and earned more. No receipts are given as to the work that was done. Most of the time nothing is fixed and the truck is returned to you.its all a scam.

    The mayor and chief have people in place to cover their mistakes…’s getting old..

  • agree to disagree

    Agreed that apparatus doesnt need to go on every ems call, unfortunately the manpower is needed for many of the 4-8 story buildings without elevators, or winding tight stairwells. The amount of obese pts are also an issue, and of course Ive been sick for 6 weeks carry me down the stairs or I will call the fire chief

  • UsetobeDC

    Other cities have similar or worse issues and don’t send fire trucks on every EMS call.
    There are simple solutions.
    First put all paramedics back in ambulances.
    Then only send a fire truck on extremely critical EMS calls.
    Or only send them on critical calls if the ambulance will be delayed.
    Then put the fire truck in service if the ambulance gets there first.(unless the call is for CPR of course)
    If there is a need for assistance in carrying the patient down a fire truck can then be requested by EMS.
    There are also new stair chairs with tank tracks that make the carrydowns easier.
    If the DCFD leadership knew anything about EMS and would look at other large cities for ideas this would have been done long ago.
    Instead they want to reinvent the wheel and call themselves geniuses.
    Sending fire trucks on EMS runs is the biggest waste of manpower and money in the fire service today.
    And for those who say “We need to keep the numbers up” I direct you to my previous comment about “Insurance”

  • Commenter

    Quoth Alan Brunacini: “Delivering EMS by fire engine is like delivering pizza by cement trucks”

    Dedicate the proper staffing to EMS units, and use the rest of your budget for fire trucks. You have plenty.

    Better yet, establish some response standards — a beefed up 1710 for an urban area (6 or more FFs in 180 seconds, 15 or more in 360 seconds) and figure out how many fire trucks and ambulances you need to meet it, and staff that many. Manage for outputs and outcomes rather than for a fixed level of effort. Adjust your budget accordingly.

    If you’re running out of ALS, and your firefighter ALS needs to have firefighting duties in order to recruit and retain them, they need to be efficiently used. Assign 2 of them to each shift at every ALS station, and have them rotate between the EP and the M. Make them justify every patient they transport – like King County, WA. Do not allow BLS crews to turf patients to them, have clear, objective criteria for requiring ALS transport.

  • UsetobeDC

    Brunacini has done more damage to the American fire service than anybody else in the last 100 years.

    He is a snake oil salesman who wowed people with powerpoint presentations and changing nomenclature.

    Bottom line is the Fire Department is an insurance policy. Not the catch all department with too much downtime that needs to do busy work to prove it’s worth.

    There are standards of response but they were watered down for middle America. These standards are insufficient for a large northeast metropolitan area. Not to mention the issues with longer stretches and stand pipe operations with adequate size hoselines.

    • Commenter

      I get it. You want to be left alone until they call you for a fire. It’s not going to happen, not when citizens are paying you to be there. You can try to redefine yourself in the public’s eye, but you’ll have a hard row to hoe if you don’t believe in treating the people you serve as customers rather than potential victims. I’ve met Alan. He’s a nice guy, smart, too. The mistake isn’t his idea, it’s the idiots that don’t understand that while the lady who calls you is a customer, so is the 10,000 people who don’t call you, but expect that a fire engine & EMTs is available if they do.

      As for NFPA 1710 – while it may be ‘watered down’ very few departments in middle america meet it. You can adopt a more stringent one for the big city, like the one I suggested. But, at the end of the day, among other things, it’s how quickly you can get an effective firefighting force to the fire. How many firefighters you need might be more in bigger buildings. How fast you get there might need to be faster in buildings with physical security. The fraction met might be higher in high volume, high population areas. But the idea of having response standard, instead of a staffing standard is incredibly valid.

      The public doesn’t care if you have 33 fire engines in service, or 28, or 46. They care that you can reliably (90%+) get one with sufficient personnel to your door in a rapid manner (4 minutes). A standard like this makes the public want you to have fire engines AVAILABLE, not just in service and on a medical local.

  • haveyouseenmybaseball?

    Well, it didn’t take long Commenter. “Quoth Alan Brunacini…” What is he, some sort of god? Snake oil salesman is a good description… guess I’m just a dinosaur who thinks referring to citizens as “customers” only belittles them. I am so happy to be at the very tail end of my fire service career, I think I’ll have another beer.

    • Commenter

      I’ll bet you have a T-shirt that says “I’m here to save your @$$, not kiss it”.

      Furthermore, I’ll bet you can’t figure out why the citizens aren’t beating down the mayor’s door asking him to get rid of Ellerbe.

  • haveyouseenmybaseball?

    Hahaha nope, ‘fraid not. Nor do I have any tee shirts that say, “I fight what you fear”, nor do I have any with muscle bound Dalmatians, leprechauns, or bulldogs. The only FD tee shirts I have say DCFD on them because that’s what we were required to wear for the first 26 years of my career. Now it’s not so clear what we’re supposed to wear so I’ll just wear my uniform shirt, thank you very much. I’d also wager I have a much better clue as to why the Chief and the Mayor still hold their positions than you do. I have lived with this dysfunctional system since 1985 and I am convinced that everything in DC government is the way it is because that’s the way the yahoos in charge WANT it, much like Congress. It’s broken because the idiots running it WANT it that way. Meanwhile, you can continue making your proclamations from afar, gleaning your massive insight on the inner workings of DCFD from this site. You certainly are entertaining.

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