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UPDATE – IG report on reserve fleet has columnist again asking what did the fire chief know & when did he know it?

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Coverage of Chief Ellerbe & DC Fire & EMS Department

Click here to read entire OIG report

Much has been made in recent weeks about the readiness of the reserve fleet of fire trucks and ambulances operated by the DC Fire & EMS Department. Yesterday the DC Office of the Inspector General posted its report titled “Deficiencies Observed in the Repair and Readiness of Reserve Vehicles”. It does not paint a pretty picture on the department’s state of readiness.

It was sent to Mayor Vincent Gray yesterday. The fire department has had it, according to the cover letter, since February 19.

Alan Suderman, AKA Loose Lips at the Washington City Paper, uses the report to revisit the theme of what did the fire chief know and when did he know it? (previous Loose Lips column about timeline):

On Feb. 19, Ellerbe received an initial management alert report from the Office of the Inspector General saying that “many vehicles designated as reserve vehicles were out-of-service and could not be used if needed as frontline replacement vehicles in neighborhood fire stations, or for large-scale emergencies or mass casualty events.”

A day later, Ellerbe testified before the Council’s public safety committee and made no mention that the information about the reserve fleet he submitted may have been inaccurate.

On March 13, Fox 5’s Paul Wagner reported on allegations made by the fire fighters union that the department was improperly counting fire trucks that had been sold or been out of service for years as part of the department’s reserve fleet. Right after the story aired, Ellerbe put out a statement saying the union was right and thanking it for “bringing this inaccurate information to our attention.”

Council member Tommy Wells, whose committee received the bad information, told Suderman he is going to give Chief Ellerbe a chance to explain the timeline but said it “does not look good”.  No response from the chief on this issue.

There is more on this angle from the AP via The Washington Post:

But the inspector general’s report, which highlights some of the same deficiencies in the reserve fleet, was delivered to the fire chief the day before the hearing. It was released to the public on Friday.

“It certainly undermines my confidence in the management of the fire department,” said Councilmember Tommy Wells, who chairs the council’s public safety committee and presided over the hearing. “If they used the information that they provided me that said the reserve trucks are available when they’re not even in the District of Columbia and we don’t even own them anymore, then that tells me there’s a massive breakdown of administrative competence.”

Ellerbe said in a statement that he was already implementing the report’s recommendations and that the department was in the process of purchasing new vehicles, including ladder trucks and ambulances.

Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/Fox 5:

A new report by the D.C. inspector general is painting a dim picture of the readiness of the D.C. fire department and questions whether it can answer the call in a mass casualty incident.

The report found major deficiencies in the reserve fleet of trucks, pumpers and transports, and describes a dysfunctional operation.

This report, which was given to Chief Kenneth Ellerbe on February 19, the day before he appeared in front the D.C. City Council, says the department had not come close to meeting its own emergency plans and many of the vehicles designated as reserves were listed as out of service.

The report slams the condition of the fleet and questions the quality of the repairs it receives.

The investigation into the fleet and its maintenance began in January of last year when an inspector took a look inside a warehouse on Gallatin Street in Northwest D.C.

Inside, according to the report, were supposed to be ten reserve engines, eight reserve ladder trucks and two reserve rescue squads.

Instead, the report says the investigator found two engines that would not start, a ladder truck that would not start, and one being worked on in the driveway.

As for the rescue squads — there were three – but one that wouldn’t start.

The report also says the department’s emergency plan calls for 12 battalion reserve engines. But over the course of the seven-month investigation, the most ever listed was five.

The ambulances were another matter. Of the 31 listed in reserve, at times there were none, at other times there were just two, and the most the investigator found were 14.

On Thursday when FOX 5 asked the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety about the ladder trucks in reserve and the readiness of the fleet, this is what he had to say.

“I received a report recently that we have a reserve fleet,” said Paul Quander. “And I don’t mind going out with you. And if we need to count one by one, we count one by one. I think that’s the best way to put this matter to issue. If it’s there, it’s there. If it’s not, it’s not. Let’s go and see. Let’s go and count.”

It’s unclear if Quander had seen this report at the time of our interview. The inspector general says it was emailed on March 21.

The report goes on to say, “The limited documentation available and the overwhelming sentiment expressed to the OIG team by employees at all levels indicate that such deficiencies are real and negatively impact the day to day availability of both frontline vehicles at many fire stations and the vehicles in reserve status designated to replace them.”

“There is no planning,” said Union President Ed Smith. “It’s all fly by the seat of your pants and the citizens are suffering and my members are put at risk every day when they get out there on the rigs.”

A week ago Wednesday, FOX 5 first reported the union’s claim the reserve numbers given to the D.C. City Council in February were false and that apparatus claimed as in the reserve fleet had actually been sold or placed out of service.

Later that night, Chief Ellerbe issued a press release thanking the union for bringing the issue to light.

“It is poor management at the top and it alludes to that in this report,” said Smith.

One of the more eye opening facts in the report points out that Truck 3, the tower truck that would be first due to the White House, was repaired 138 times from January of 2009 to May of 2012. It is a number the inspector general decided to highlight.

Chief Ellerbe answered the report with a press release saying the department was already moving ahead with the recommendations of the inspector general and would report back in 60 days.


Comments - Add Yours

  • Former Chief

    Awesome report and frightening. Of course, the current administration will blame all of these issues on the prior administration. But that should not hold water with anyone. Even if most of these issues began with prior administrations, the current one has not done anything to correct the situation. I hope the news media points that out and that it is clear the ambulances recently delivered were actually ordered by the prior administration.

  • David Mitchell

    According to the appendix of the OIG report “FEMS maintains three fireboats (including) a Boston Whaler style vessel.”

    Interesting – The OIG might want to look at this web page:

    The DC government is selling a 1996 Boston Whaler 25′ Guardian Boat. Same boat?

    • Rich Schaffer

      LOL Dave, the boat for sale is our last (almost 2 decades old) Whaler. It was broken beyond repair, we couldnt fix it anymore AND the department wouldnt buy us a new one SO….. the Whaler cited in the report is a DC Police boat that we painted red and threw some gear on! It dosent really work well, but the fireboat crew is dedicated to getting the job done- and that includes taking “hand me downs” from the cops (and parts, lotsa repair parts). This is a whole different IG issue.

      • dave statter

        Thanks Rich. Hope you are well. Send a comment to Firegeezer. I am sure Bill would be interested in the info.

  • Older than Ol’ School

    So, Ol’ Ken Ken knew about all this a day before the city council hearing. But of course, he will blame everyone wearing a dress blue uniform next week. I wonder if Quander has one?


    And Chief Idiots response is as usual….he welcomes the report….blah blah blah…..hey moron….YOU’RE THE FLIPPIN ONE WHO MAKES SURE THIS DOESN’T EVER HAPPEN…….This report clearly shows how inept and incompetent this clown is…when you speak to an empty audotorium and the only thing you can positively say to the empty seats is….”we’ve improved our uniform appearance and the shop is now open 24/7″… my friend are in left field with no glove and beyond out of touch with the day to day operations of this department……I’m sure ole Vinny when cornered and asked once again….Do you still have confidence in the Fire Chief ?
    Answer….oh of course I do…its a pleasure to ne working with him….lol

  • Fire21

    Now I’m even more curious as to what the vote of confidence will look like. I don’t even work for the guy, and I’ll readily vote “No”.

  • NNY Volie

    What kind of fire fighter/ medic would intentionally damage their vehicle or a mechanic sending it back worse?
    Sounds like a distinct lack of: integrity, leadership/ supervision and give a crap.

    • Commenter

      I always assume innocent until proven guilty. Having watched the news last summer, it’s apparent DC doesn’t take ambulances out of service for lack of air conditioning. I doubt any firefighter would damage his AC just so he could ride around in the heat.

  • David S.

    He should have never been hired in the first place.

  • Pipeman27

    No one is intentionally tampering with the apparatus, just another administration shot at the rank and file.

  • northchief

    A tower truck out of service 138 times over 3 years? Sounds like there’s a problem with the manufacturer that needs addressd. Think they got a lemon.

  • haveyouseenmybaseball?

    @ David Mitchell,
    That’s old Fireboat 3, It was, until a couple of months ago, sitting on the FB quarters pier OOS for a couple of years, it’s old and used up. It is now going through the PDA (Property Disposal Action) process. There is a current FB-3, it was placed in service when the old one went out of service.

    • David Mitchell


  • 1dctaxpayer

    I see that LRB will be activating his traveling road show on Monday. Every member of the Local 36 has a right to his opinion, but a word to the wise, if the few active members who support him think for one minute he would not throw any one of you under the bus to save himself, well clearly you have not been paying attention. Once again everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, but remember this is for all local 36 members , not an event for a public circus.

    • Barney Miller

      I hope ALL the brothers and sisters of Local 36 “stay together” I have disagreed with Ray, Danny and Ed on some issues. But THEY ARE THE VOICE OF UNION STRENGTH. I hope these morons who are fixing to rally realize that Local 36 negotiates our safety and health!Not just SOME ISSUES FOR SOME PEOPLE. Along time ago I was told, Son Excuses are the desert to a failed main course. Most of DCFD works hard, prepares and does their BEST for the citizens and each other. Bet you a dollar all the shining stars you will see standing outside The hall on Monday are the same jokers that stand outside on the fireground “protecting te front porch”.

      Hope they mind their P’s & Q’s and play nice.

  • Former Chief

    Quander’s comments are priceless. He just received a report that they have a reserve fleet?! Really, you’re the Deputy Mayor in charge of Public Safety and you didn’t know the FD has a reserve fleet?! Cam anyone say “deer in the headlights” look! Awesome, the chips are falling. Again, let’s hope the media keeps the pressure on. If the city council is smart, they will take decisive action by replacing the Fire Chief to reinstill confidence in the residents in DC and the members of the FD. I would think the members of Congress who received this report should be concerned as well. I know, I’m trying to be the eternal optimist.

  • old guy

    Leadership lesson from the Godfather: a fish rots from the head


    Can’t wait to see Chief Idiot’s supporters protest on Monday…apparently they couldn’t make Chief Idiots State of the Department Mess/Address….so now were gonna show our support for the man who is responsible for the improved uniform appearance and found GUILTY OF RETALIATION…..WOW….lots to support and stand behind right there….heck..if thats not enough…the shop being open 24/7 is definitely something to stand behind Chief Zero for…..way to go…you


    cont… be very proud of Kenneth and his remarkable accomplishments….

  • UseToBeDC

    The level of incompetence and ineptitude by LRB is mind numbing.

    It’s only equaled by the idiocy exemplified by the retaliation and intimidation exhibited against those who disagree with Loserbe!!


  • Dat Truck Dudr

    Did LRB make a public announcement about showing support for him on Mon?


    Its been rumored that LRBEE has given himself a vote of confidence and issued a press release saying, its a pleasure to work with himself….why shouldn’t he…he likes speaking to an audotorium full of empty seats….

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  • Dirk Diggler

    No confidence with my chief… The questions should now be more direct, to cut through the bull shi#… For you outside our city, the facts are we have 16 TRUCKS assigned for front line operations. 15 tractor-drawn aerials and a 2003 Baker Aerial scope 95′ tower – 1 and only one (1) Bucket truck for the entire city and that’s it… As the IG report informs and what we all ready know, the TOWER BUCKET is FIRST DUE to the WHITE HOUSE.

    Engine 16 located & Tower 3 at 1018 13th street NW, is first due to the white house. TOWER 3, is the go team, for the first family. In addition, the TOWER is, was, and used on many Special operations rescues with the squad…

    The Bucket has multiple uses for multiple incidents that a straight stick is not the best choice… For your information also, I am not assigned to the tower… Now Tower 3 or Truck 3 or whatever we are calling them today is in a Reserve, I think it may be old Truck 9… The Tower Is BROKE, sitting at the Training Academy and no one knows the status… Old Truck 9, must be 15 years old or older, it is a work horse, but should be put out to pasture… I cannot even put my head around how bad it really is…

    You are going to, go down to the white house if ever needed and throw that ladder to the White House and say what. Ah…Ya…. Mr. O, it’s ok, I know it looks bad but the ladder was tested back in, well I can’t remember the date, but it’s ok… The chief says so…

    What a Joke!

    Question (1) Of all the apparatus that has been received since Chief Ellerbe took over in December 2010, when was it ordered?

    Question (2) Since Chief Ellerbe took over, how many pieces of Apparatus have been ordered?

    Questions (3) If any apparatus is in the pipeline to be received, when was it ordered?

    These are pretty simple questions, but the truth will show… He aint bought Shi# As far as Engines or Ladder Trucks, If he has, please prove me wrong!

    This guy is a complete nut case… I can’t remember which city council meeting it was, but I believe Council Member Mendleson asked the chief, what you need… And the chief’s response was, we don’t need nothin, matter a fact, I’m going to give you MONEYY BACK… What a jack A##

    Just a small recap from Wikipedia on our leader, to go with all his other bull shi#

    Kenneth Ellerbe left the District of Columbia department in July 2009, to become the Sarasota Chief. This leave was under a controversial agreement that would have kept him on the rolls until his 50th birthday and allowed him to collect an additional $600,000 from the pension fund. The deal was terminated in December 2009, after the Washington Times reported on it.

    During his time in Sarasota, Ellerbe illegally attempted to claim a homestead exemption for his home in Washington.
    At a June 28, 2010 meeting, two senior supervisors in the department met with Ellerbe to discuss the concerns of a couple of female employees who said “they feel uncomfortable around the chief because he looks them up and down and ‘talks to my chest’”.

    Ellerbe’s response was “It’s part of my heritage to check people out, and you can tell them that”, and “I haven’t seen anything in this department that I’d want to undress with my eyes anyway, and you can tell them that.”

    At least one female member of the department documented and reported Ellerbe’s behavior.

    As fire chief in Sarasota, Ellerbe cut the staffing of fire engines from three firefighters to two, half of the NFPA staffing recommendations of four firefighters per company, and less than the three generally required as minimum throughout the country.

    The bagage with this dude just goes on and on…

    Stay safe, if you can

  • UseToBeDC


    You should forward those questions to Councilman Wells’ Office.

    Additionally the District could definitely use more tower ladders. The smaller 75 foot Baker’s would be sufficient.
    Their versatility is unmatched. From transporting equipment to the roof, to retrieving victims from upper floors, to providing a platform to cut window bars and lastly to provide a maneuverable large stream for outside operations.

  • Glad I live in VA

    DC’s Aerialscope is very versatile. It can be towed to sit at the shop, or it can be towed to sit at the academy. I’m sure it could be towed to sit in a bunch of places.

  • Dirk Diggler

    I may just do that…

    But FIRST, I need to do my 54 (Daily Apparatus Check) for the truck… I am going note down that the-
    -Oil is leaking
    -Trans fluid is leaking
    -The Air Pak is missing for the Yeti that is riding 6th on the truck
    -Hydraulic fluid is leaking for the ladder
    -On board generator fluid is leaking
    -One of the tractor tires are missing
    -Stemco hub is leaking
    -Air brakes are leaking
    -Exhaust is leaking
    -Windshield wiper blade for tiller man is missing

    Make another Journal entry that the ladder has not been tested in three years

    Etc… Etc… Etc…

    I will fill these fluids up AGAIN; just to get her threw another day…

    We will check all the tools and appliances, Beg the Chief for his CC, so we can get some fuel for the cans…

    Like I am putting him out…

    Maybe sharpen some blades and chains by hand, like I am some sort of chain sharpening PRO… Not

    When I’m done with that, I may shoot another Email to my Captain, who will forward or not forward to the shop. Who will say they never got the email or will fix nothing? Its all the SAME

    Then, I m going to wash the Ladder Truck… Only with water, because the department does not provide us soap to clean fire trucks, and I aint buying it out of my pocket anymore

    Then I may go around using tape and glue to hold some of the RUST & PAINT to the compartment doors…

    I will finish the morning by trying to buff out some scratches left on da truck from the shop… I think they used a chisel, gasoline and paint remover, to take the DCFD stickers off….

    All this completed of course by 6:30Am…

    Oh my, it’s now 6:50 and some of the shining stars are showing up…

    Now I will make my bed about 8am… But I won’t lay down yet, because my mattress is old and hurts my back… I need to pace myself

    The BATT Chief shows up… I get the CC from the Aid, now we all sitting down at the table for a little POW WOW…

    Where he informs us, you sons of bitches better tighten up…

    You are going to be put on charges for this, for that, and then for this and maybe for that… and so on and so on…

    Yep… A day in the life at FEMS… Aint it grand

    Now I run my first box for the day… A working fire in a multi story mid rise, with people trapped…

    Rescues to be made on the upper floors… I RAM the stick through a window, using it as a battering Ram…

    Breaking the(rule of inference) for using the stick as a battering ram…

    I lay it down on the window sill; I personally save a family of 97 people and one GNOME, living in a vacant one bedroom studio…

    The chief comes over and says… Why is that ladder laying in that window? I tell him I wanted some Fuck### ladder stability…

    Firefighter you are on charges!!!

    Yep, like I said… Life in a day of FEMS… Aint it grand



      While I thank you for all the IMPORTANT tasks you completed by 0630 in order to assure the safety of your crew and the general public, you forgot to do your Target Safety. You’re on charges. Recommendation, termination.

  • UseToBeDC

    I don’t blame ya brother for the despair and lack of enthusiasm. That is what Loserbe is tryin to do. Hoping people walk away from a career they’ve invested their heart and soul into. Ridiculous logic from an unbelievably incompetent idiot.

    But know that the precedent was set years ago that if you vent properly with the ladder(put tip through upper pane and then lower it past the sash to the lower pane and then the sill. Using the weight of the ladder and not the hydraulics to vent the window) then no charges will be filed.

    It’s standard practice in many departments.

    Never understood why it seemed a foreign concept to DCFD.

  • Older than Ol’ School

    @ Dirk…One more thing. You better not start those saws up until 8:00am. The neighbors, that live next to a freak’n firehouse are trying to get some beauty sleep. Heaven forbid you get a working fire at 0630 and the saw that you want to use have missing teeth or the rip cord is jacked up.

  • SkidMarks

    Question…have you initialed off on all the new SO’s, GO’s, and Memo’s that end with the sentance “Failure to comply will result in disciplinary action”? I would hate to see you face a trial board made up of shining stars who have already been ordered to find you guilty.

  • DCres

    One line from the IG’s report that stuck out to me was the claim that the apparatus maintenance shop is hiring castoffs from other DC govt agencies rather than trained mechanics.

    Is this true? If so, the situation is so much worse than I thought.