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More from DC: ‘Confidential’ letter on staffing from Chief Rubin to Chief Ellerbe. Report says DC having trouble finding all its ambulances. EMS union head speaks. Details on another inspector general report of department.

DC Breaking Local News Weather Sports FOX 5 WTTG

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Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/Fox 5:

The D.C. inspector general has beugn an investigation into the D.C. fire department’s staffing levels to see if it can support around the clock emergency response.

The probe was launched in late January after a hundred firefighters called in sick on New Year’s Eve.

The investigation, by FOX 5’s count, is at least the fourth conducted inside the fire department in the last year.

In a letter sent to Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, the inspector general made several requests to include the list of all ambulances and other apparatus that were taken out of service on December 31, 2012 due to the reported staffing shortage.

The letter also asks for the names of all employees responsible for staffing.

On New Year’s Eve, the EMS system was stretched to capacity with one man losing his life after waiting for an ambulance that finally came from Prince George’s County.

FOX 5 has also obtained a document showing the fire department is looking for 20 of its ambulances.

In an email, sent by Deputy Chief John Donnelly to as many as seven other officials in the department, asks for help in locating the rigs.

Donnelly is conducting an audit of the department’s entire fleet after FOX 5 reported last Wednesday the number of trucks and pumpers given to the city council were false, and that as many as six pumpers and two ladder trucks claimed as reserves in the city are no longer in the fleet and have actually been sold. Still, others were unaccounted for.

And there is more. The inspector general has already completed an investigation into the fire department’s fleet, which according to sources is now being reviewed by Chief Ellerbe.

That probe began after an investigator was shown all of the stored fire equipment parked in and behind a building on Gallatin Street in Northwest D.C.

At his bi-weekly news conference Wednesday, the mayor declined to directly address the issues.

“I think you know that I have asked the deputy mayor, who happens to be ill today, that’s why he is not here, I’ve asked him to conduct a review of a number of issues in FMES,” said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. “The report will be out this week. It probably would have been out [Wednesday] if he hadn’t taken ill, but it will be out before the end of the week and I think I would rather wait until we get the report.”

On the staffing issue, FOX 5 has also obtained a letter marked confidential from former Chief Dennis Rubin to Chief Ellerbe as he was about to take over the department.

Rubin complains about staffing in the letter saying 603 people were hired during his administration, but they lost 336 people.

In the letter, Rubin wrote: “Unfortunately, my administration always needed to fill vacant seats on ambulances and fire trucks using overtime, and I found myself under incredible pressure to reduce overtime spending from all directions.”

In a statement, Chief Ellerbe said, “We welcome a review by the Office of the Inspector General of this unprecedented event where more than a hundred firefighters called in sick this past New Year’s Eve. We will cooperate fully with this investigation and look forward to its outcome.”

As for the ambulances the deputy chief was looking for? Just after 6 p.m. Wednesday, a spokesman for the mayor said all of the ambulances had been accounted for.


Two weeks ago, a D.C. motorcycle officer waited nearly 20 minutes for an ambulance after he was struck in a hit-and-run. Officials have since focused on why and how one of their own was left helpless.

The leaked report of Deputy Mayor Paul Quander’s investigation into what happened found there were three ambulances at fire stations in the vicinity of the accident.

ABC7 spoke with D.C. EMS Union officials who say the crews in question never heard a call.

“If they were available why weren’t they dispatched?” ambulance union president Kenneth Lyons asks. “I think that’s the question you have to ask … why weren’t these two units dispatched?”

Lyons tells ABC7 that the crews of two of the ambulances in question that he represents were monitoring the dispatch channel two weeks ago when the police officer was struck in a hit and run on his motorcycle and lay on the ground 20 minutes until an ambulance from Maryland came to get him. The two units were in a delay status, but could have been called.

“Units don’t self dispatch just because you hear a call, especially at a busy time of day,” Lyons says. “We’re not allowed to do that.”

Fire union president Ed Smith blamed a computer glitch for the fact the third ambulance crew he represents was not listed among available units.

“They realized there was a problem, went to jump in an ambulance and go on a run, and it wouldn’t start,” Smith says. “So now w’ere back to mechanical issues again.”

When reporters tried to ask the Mayor Vincent Gray about the report today, he said Quander was sick today and until Quander officially releases it, he’ll not comment.

The fire union blames Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe for poor equipment and staffing and are holding a no confidence vote Monday.

Asked about Ellerbe, Gray says, “I’m delighted to work with him.”

When the call was dispatched on March 5, D.C. said they had no available EMS units to send. An ambulance from Prince George’s County arrived 20 minutes later. Nearly an hour passed between the time the officer was struck and his arrival time at MedStar Washington Hospital.

“There are at least three units that I am focusing on that were listed as out of service inappropriately,” D.C. Deputy Mayor Paul Quander said during a press conference earlier this month.

Sources say that of the 39 ambulances scheduled as on duty that night, nine were listed as out of service. Of those nine, six were valid mechanical issues, but three were improperly taken out of service.

One crew didn’t log back into the system properly and were off the dispatcher’s radar. But the other two were considered to be in “delayed relief mode” and had been told to “monitor the radio” should an important call be dispatched.

Regardless of what led to the breakdown, D.C. residents say the lack of response is still concerning.


Comments - Add Yours


    Quote of the century “I’m delighted to work with him”

    Holy cannoli….did Count Gray just say that about Chief Screw Up….yes he did….only in the District of Corruption….well run Shadow Campaign Vince…well run…

  • peak

    I am not real familiar with the no confidence vote. So I have a couple questions on the matter.
    Who votes?
    If the majority agrees that this guy is not capable, what happens to him? Will it force a resignation, cause embarrassment and allow him to continue to work or will the district be forced to terminate him?
    I have been following all of these issues in DC and would love to see someone else take over leading that department just to see if this guy is really that bad.

    • agates1272

      No confidence votes have no real effect, other than to show the membership’s displeasure to those who care to notice. Ideally, an overwhelming vote of no confidence would cause the mayor to realize that he needs to make a change in leadership, but I’ve rarely seen it happen. Keep up the good fight DCFD.

    • Anonymous

      The short answer of you question – NOTHING. It is symbolic until he becomes a political liability to the Mayor or resigns.

  • haveyouseenmybaseball?

    I will try to answer your questions as best I can.
    The membership of Local 36.
    No. NOTHING can embarrass these guys.
    He can work in DC as long as the mayor is delighted with him.
    The ONLY qualification to be the Fire/EMS Chief in DC is to be pals with the mayor, it’s an appointed position. Technically all mayoral appointees must be vetted by the city council, but since they just rubber stamp everything anyway, they don’t matter. mayor vinnie isn’t going anywhere and neither is mr. e.

  • Rescue Boss

    I’m not familiar with the way DC EMS works so can someone explain why the individual crew is left to determine this “But the other two were considered to be in “delayed relief mode” and had been told to “monitor the radio” should an important call be dispatched.”
    Should this not be the job of the dispatcher to know that these units are on a ‘Delayed relief mode” and dispatch them when needed?

  • Anonymous

    Heard a rumor that gray played ball with ellerbes dad and could possibly be his god father….?????? Might explain some loyalty

  • DCres

    What the heck is “delayed relief mode?” You are either in service and available to be dispatched, or you are not. This sort of gray area where are are not really in service, not dispatched, but should be monitoring the radio for “important” calls is absurd.

    This is a major city, not some rural backwater where the volunteers (nothing against volunteers by the way) sit at home, monitor a scanner, and then decide which calls to run to.

    What constitutes an “important” call anyway? A police officer down with a non-life threatening injury? What about a senior citizen in full arrest? Frantic mother screaming at dispatch that her kid is dying when he is just having a febrile seizure? I think you could make a call for the “importance” of all of those calls, at least to the people who called them in.

    Finally, doesn’t every training manual, every regulation, every standard ever published by the fire services advise against self-dispatching? Ever hear of the importance of command being able to account for all personnel?

  • DC Firefighter

    It doesn’t actually mean anything at all. And nothing will come of it, except that they will say that the “evil firefighters union” is complaining again. It’s also a pretty well known fact that next to no one in the Department, much less the citizens of the city have any confidence in this clown to run a self serve lemonade stand, much less a metropolitan city fire department.

    We are doomed to suffer out the rest of the mayors term under this clown as he is obviously a “Teflon Don” as long as the Mayor and his crony appointees are protecting each other.

  • Brokenhearted

    Remember when Gray won the election on an anti-cronyism/nepotism ticket?

  • just a fireman

    Peak, the no confidence vote would embarrass the averave peron. However ELRB has no conscience. He will just shrug it off and declare it to be a racially motivated attack on hes character.
    As for the delayed EMS units, the ELO allowed M-19 to go in delay so they can be relieved without working overtime. The crew could have self dispatched thenselves if they cared. The engine I ride on does self dispatch ourselves om medicals in our first due because we care.

  • Pingback: More from DC: 'Confidential' letter on staffing from Chief Rubin to … | The Humans' Resource()

  • Robert Kramer

    I am no fan of Chief Ellerbe, but this is a common government conundrum. FD has minimum staffing, but HR controls the hiring.

    FD can’t hire, backfills spots through OT, and get the Mayor and Council screaming to reduce OT.

    They just dont get it.

    • Doing it.

      That’s not the problem we have. We are giving money back to the city. The FEMS chief has been asked what he needs and he states “nothing”. This is not a beleaguered city experiencing urban decay, we are flush with money. Our current FEMS chief doesn’t have a problem with the city running out of available ambulances every single day, and waiting on one to come available to be dispatched.

  • xray

    It means and carry NO WEIGHT WHAT SO EVER if the chief receives a no confidence vote.Last I checked the MPD membership isn’t to fond of their chief either.It’s not about how the rank and file view their leadership…as long as the dept is in budget and the dept isn’t in shambles…the chief will be retained.Chief C.Lanier was retained dispite how her membership thought of her.Her boss had enough confidence in her to retain her…plus she had a 70% approval rating from the community.Rubin on the other hand may have made you feel warm and fuzzy….but his budget was in the tank and he had a host of issues to go along with it..If he had run this department properly he would have been retained as well.The Washington Post has endorsed the current chief and that doesn’t carry alot of weight either.But I thnk they can see through the BS and realize what’s really going on.Thanks BOTHERS any chance we might get a raise is probably remote now.You have singularly made us the laughing stock of the fire service….with all the whinning and wanting to have your way rhetoric.Thats it keep running to the press,no one is going to take us serious when we have real issues.Its like the boy who cries wolf.

    • Commenter

      From the outside at least, it looks as if the department is in shambles. How long will gray keep this chief?

  • Henry

    There is no such thing as “Delayed Relief Mode”…. EMS Units assigned on the East side of the river are allowed to go in delayed response until they get back across the river. This was put into effect to ensure units that transport patients from East of the Anacostia to downtown hospitals are able to get back across the river to provide care to those citizens and not get stuck downtown running calls. Prior to the Delayed Response program a unit such as M-27 would transport a patient from the Deanwood area to a hospital downtown and upon leaving the hospital would immediately be placed on another run downtown. These units would be stuck downtown all day on runs and would leave the residents East of the river unprotected. The program works. The Deputy Mayor and the Fire Chief are just to stupid to understand the plan or possibly purposefully misleading with their press releases and “Investigations”….

    No matter what Qaunder and the fire chief say, there is no real way for units to monitor the radio to see if they are needed. The units monitor the radio incase communications calls them to take a run. There has been problems with communications since its inception. Anyone with access to google can figure that out.

  • haveyouseenmybaseball?

    Why can’t our clown show “leaders” be as smart as you? Units monitor the radio to get dispatched by our screen readers. EVERY DC Fire/EMS unit has AVL and OUC’s mighty computer is supposed to pick up the closest appropriate available unit and recommend it for response, then OUC’s screen readers vomit the information over the air. So what about a unit that hits the wrong button on the I-mobile, say, instead of pushing the “ready for service” button pushes the “OOS” button? The computer recognizes the difference, but that’s it. If we had real DISPATCHERS, they would see that unit as OOS and when there was no verbal confirmation they would ASK that unit what the problem was. I JUST WANT TO KNOW WHY OUC IS NEVER, EVER ACCOUNTABLE. This particular issue has been a problem for YEARS, well before mr. e. showed up. It’s patently absurd to place this much blame on one Captain/ELO. His primary job as the EMS Liason Officer is to monitor the medical channels, direct EMS units to appropriate hospitals, and to review those EMS units who specifically call him when they have a patient who is refusing transport. We know the city was blowing up that evening, after all it was 1830 hrs. on a Tuesday (?!), was this ELO supposed to be doing his job AND monitoring the screen readers too? Or were there perhaps 2 ELO’s on duty with one supposed to monitor the dispatch channel while the other monitored the medical channels? It’s all clear as mud and we know for a fact that OUC will shoulder NONE of the blame. As long as the Fire and EMS underlings continue to get demoted and terminated everything is fine, wouldn’t want to look at any systemic problems, that would be too much work, besides, “management” doesn’t have to do the right thing, they just have to do something. Schmucks.

    • play4keeps

      OUC is one of the biggest left over failures of the Williams administration. The day they pulled firefighters and cops out of the dispatching positions and implemented Clausson Codes was the beginning of huge systemic failures. Multiple unions involved in emergency services, no truth in dispatching, and a huge stress for everyone involved in operations.

      This being said, I am still not sure if it is the ignorance of OUC or FD operational policy that has become this ridiculous.

      The guys who retired over a decade ago, have no idea how the operation has changed since the companies give returns and layout info to the BFC’s on boxes “because we don’t have confidence in the dispatchers,” or how if a building fire comes out and if there are “hazardous materials” listed on the notes, the special ops chief coming from across the city is the 1st due chief. Yes, DC is unique – and not in a good way from a communications standpoint.

  • chiefbobr

    What a sad commentary on the decline of one of the better fire/rescue agencies in the country, as well as solid testimony on the effects of bad (or non-existant) management. Pretty obvious that nobody seems to have a handle on the department and its various operations, as it bounces from one crisis and horror story to another on a daily basis. Couple of comments on this latest fiasco: First, it’s not a crime to call for mutual aid (i.e. an ambulance), as all of the departments in the metro area do that on a daily basis
    (automatic aid actually) except for the DCFD. The fact that the DCFD only very rarely calls for mutual aid contributed in part to thi problem, as neither they nor the PGFD unit that responded into the city were used to each’s SOP’s, as they had seldom if ever worked together in the city before. Second, it never ceases to amaze me that when a problem occurs in the DCFD, it’s always somebody else’s fault, and that person(s) is usually some poor Firefighter or EMT who has absolutely nothing to do with setting or even implementing department policy. Third, the Fire Chief needs learn that what goes on in the department – good or bad – is his responsibility, and not some poor Firefighter or Captain who maybe made a decision at the time that wasn’t the best. Lastly, when you have a Mayor and a Councilman who fail to see that there are major issues within the DCFD and instead chose to pat the Chief on the back and tell him what a good job he’s doing, then there’s probably not a lot of hope for change, at least not in the immediate future. In other words, I’m afraid it’s going to have to get worse before it will begin to get better.