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DC update: Firefighters vote no confidence in Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. Still has support of mayor & deputy mayor but expected to face tough questioning at hearing this week.

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Apologies for the late post, I have been traveling. Here’s coverage of Monday’s vote of no confidence in the leadership of embattled DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe.  The vote was 300 to 37. The last vote of no confidence by IAFF Local 36 was in 2001 against Chief Ronnie Few. Chief Few resigned in 2002 after news reports revealed discrepancies in the resumes of Few and other top officials he recruited for the department.

Peter Hermann, The Washington Post:

Union President Edward C. Smith said Ellerbe’s management “places our members and the public needlessly in harm’s way.”

Ellerbe declined to be interviewed, but he issued a statement saying he is “very optimistic about the department’s future and encouraged by the service we provide to District residents and visitors.” The chief, a native of the District who came here from Sarasota, Fla., in 2011, added, “I am deeply committed to resolving the issues before us.” He previously said the department has reached the “tipping point” in regard to slow response times.

Councilman Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), the public safety committee chairman, said he will demand on Thursday that Ellerbe explain how his staff submitted information for a Feb. 20 oversight hearing showing the department had an adequate reserve fleet when officials there had been given the inspector general’s report one day earlier.

“Did they purposely provide false information to the council, or were they operating under false information?” said Wells, who is considering running for mayor.

Andrea Noble, The Washington Times:

“Fire Chief Ellerbe now has a two-year record that has resulted in a failed approach to leadership that has needlessly endangered the public through excessive delays in response due to staffing and fleet mismanagement, and dangerous situations for the firefighters who are sworn to protect the citizens and visitors of our city,” union officials said in a statement issued Monday after the vote.

“It’s a sad day when we have to use that as a recourse to let the public know they’re in harm’s way,” union President Edward Smith said.

Paul A. Quander Jr., the city’s deputy mayor for public safety and justice, also issued a statement Monday afternoon saying the chief has his support in ongoing efforts to “modernize and move the agency forward.”

Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/Fox 5:

Hundreds of D.C. firefighters packed a Northeast D.C. union hall Monday morning where they voted “no confidence” in Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe.

It was a vote that went overwhelmingly against the chief.

Union leaders say Ellerbe is putting public safety at risk with a depleted staff of paramedics and a shabby fleet of vehicles while the chief’s defenders say it’s all about an unpopular shift change.

337 firefighters cast secret ballots Monday. Only 37 voted they still had confidence in Chief Ellerbe.

It is a vote that came 12 years after the last “no confidence” vote and three days after an inspector general’s report questioned whether the department could respond to a mass casualty incident.

Things got a bit testy outside the union hall on Bladensburg Road, NE, where firefighters casting ballots came face-to-face with Ellerbe supporters.

The 300 who voted “no confidence” in the chief discussed the issue in the union hall before folding their votes and slipping them into the ballot box as they left the building.

Ellerbe’s trouble with the union and its membership began soon after he proposed doing away with the platoon system where firefighters work 24 hours on and 72 hours off.

Instead the chief wants to go to 12-hour shifts to better handle a high volume of medical calls.

But the union says it’s more than that.

“If we don’t have the right staffing and the right tools and the right training, we can’t be the best department in the country,” said Union President Ed Smith.

The firefighters’ vote comes on the heels of embarrassing stories in which an injured D.C. police officer waited 20 minutes for an ambulance while a stroke victim was transported to the hospital in a fire engine.

The union says attrition has left well over a hundred jobs unfilled while the inspector general found the department’s fleet of vehicles and its repairs a dysfunctional mess.

But Chief Ellerbe’s supporters say the trouble comes from firefighters resistant to change.

“Chief Ellerbe sees for the future we need to be working shorter shifts, more intervals and that doesn’t comply with a lot of people who live far away from here,” said firefighter Garry Wiggins.

Retired firefighter Nathan Queen added, “I think the chief is a good manager. He was called here to manage and that’s what he is doing. Are there those that don’t want to change? Yes, and that’s why they are having this vote of no confidence against the chief because their biggest issue, Local 36’s biggest issue is the shift change.”

In a statement, Chief Ellerbe responded to the vote by saying:

“I am very optimistic about the department’s future and encouraged by the service we provide to District residents and visitors. I remain deeply committed to resolving the issues before us. I look forward to strengthening our capabilities and putting our resources to better use in order to uphold the confidence of those we serve every day.”

Union President Ed Smith says he plans to lay it all out on the table this Thursday when Councilmember Tommy Wells holds a special hearing on D.C. Fire and EMS and the condition of the fire department’s fleet of vehicles.

By the way, the no confidence vote will not force any action. Instead, it’s just a way for the firefighters to show their confidence, or in this case, their lack of confidence in their chief.

View more videos at: http://nbcwashington.com.

Mark Segraves, WRC-TV/NBC4:

“Chief Ellerbe is ethically bankrupt; and his poor managerial practices places our members and the public needlessly in harm’s way,” according to a statement released by Ed Smith, president D.C. Fire Fighters Association Local 36. The statement goes on to say that Chief Ellerbe “has needlessly endangered the public through excessive delays in response due to staffing and fleet mismanagement, and dangerous situations for the fire fighters who are sworn to protect the citizens and visitors of our city.” 

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has backed Ellerbe with support despite the scrutiny the department has faced over the last few months.

A report by the D.C. Inspector General’s Office earlier this month said the department’s ambulance fleet had dangerous gaps in coverage and a “dangerously high and unaddressed attrition rate of paramedics that threatens the lives of D.C. residents everyday who are in medical distress.”

Jay Korff, WJLA-TV/ABC7:

District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray is standing behind fire chief Kenneth  Ellerbe following a no-confidence vote by the city firefighters’ union.

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander said in a statement Monday that he  continues to support Ellerbe’s efforts to modernize the department. He’s calling  on firefighters to work with the chief to accomplish that goal.

Councilman Tommy Wells told ABC7 this latest problem is undermining his  confidence in the department’s ability to respond to any crisis that requires  additional resources.

“We just had a shooting of 13 people. If that had been 13 casualties, 13  folks that were life threatening, I’m not confident that we would have had the  ability to respond,” Wells said.

Members of the Progressive Black Firefighters Organization, who held signs  supporting the chief after the vote, say the main reason the union’s against  Ellerbe is his plan to change scheduling. 

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