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DC update: Chief & dep. mayor on hot seat. Ellerbe apologizes. 58 of 111 ambulances not operational. Firefighters union says fleet status is due to chief’s negligence.

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Andrea Noble, The Washington Times:

“Management is absolutely accountable for the problems of this agency, and it goes back to making sure they have the equipment they need to do their jobs,” said council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety that held Thursday’s hearing.

During several sharp exchanges, department leadership rebuffed characterizations that the issues were widespread, with Mr. Quander laying out plans to address what he referred to as the “isolated” incidents, and the chief adding that he believes the “department’s fleet remains in an acceptable state of readiness for potential major events in the city.”

“Rarely is it about one person. It is about a system and the lack of quality control,” Mr. Mendelson said, later appearing incredulous that the chief had such inaccurate information about the condition of his fleet.

Alan Blinder, Washington Examiner:

D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe acknowledged on Thursday that he led his agency for about a year using faulty data about the state of its fleet, and he apologized for repeated ambulance shortages that left the ill, injured and dying waiting for help.

“We were operating with an outdated list,” said Ellerbe, who told lawmakers that current statistics show that nearly half of the District’s 111 ambulances are out of service. “It was inaccurate for approximately a year.”

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson was incredulous.

“I just don’t understand how the chief of the fire and EMS department would not know how many vehicles are available,” Mendelson said as lawmakers continued to absorb a scathing report from the D.C. inspector general that said the department’s fleet was unprepared for a catastrophic emergency.

Peter Hermann & Amy Brittain, The Washington Post:

The chair of D.C. City Council’s public safety committee grilled the fire chief for 2 1/2 hours on Friday during a contentious hearing on whether slow response times and maintenance failures are endangering the lives of sick and injured residents.

Deputy Mayor for public safety Paul A Quander Jr., who sat beside Ellerbe, said the chief needs to move forward with plans to revamp schedules and deployment to keep up with a changing city.

He said the fire service is no longer a “fire department that sometimes handles medical calls, but instead it is a mobile medical hospital agency that occasionally handles fires.”

Autria Godfrey, Sam Ford WJLA-TV/ABC 7:

Nearly half of the ambulances serving the District of Columbia are out of  service, an apologetic D.C. Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe testified Thursday before  members of the D.C. Council.

Ellerbe, who has faced multiple calls for his resignation in  the midst of numerous issues facing the city’s fire and EMS response  capabilities, said that the equipment problems his department faces are due to  them “holding on to things” for too long.

The chief told members of the D.C. Council that just 58 of the District’s 111  ambulances are currently in service.

For Ellerbe, Thursday’s hearing was an uncomfortable grilling. But for Durand  Ford, Jr.,  it was like ripping the scab off a wound.

His father, Durand Ford, Sr., died from a heart attack on New Year’s Day  while waiting for an ambulance. Ford’s death was one of three incidents under  the microscope during Thursday’s testimony on slow response times.

At issue is whether the three problems in the last three months are because  of a systemic breakdown or if, as Chief Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander  contend, unfortunate outliers.

“The events of New Year’s Day are atypical, hopefully never happen again,” Quander says.

More than 100 firefighters called out sick on New Year’s Eve. But the  subsequent two incidents involving an MPD motorcycle officer and a stroke  patient being transported in the cab of a fire truck are being blamed on an  aging fleet and a lack of paramedics.

“Sometimes it takes an incident to realize there are these issues,” Ellerbe  says.

Ford, however, calls these problems just an opportunity to punt the  blame.

The department came under even more intense scrutiny on March 5 after a Metropolitan  Police Department officer had to wait nearly 20 minute for a mutual aide  Prince George’s County ambulance to tend to him on after he was injured in a  hit-and-run in Southeast.

A recently-released city report indicated that three D.C. ambulances were  improperly out of service that night, forcing the need for a Maryland-based unit  to respond. The officer finally made it to an area hospital nearly an hour after  he was hit.

Seven city employees were disciplined for the inadequate response.

Ellerbe also said that the department had been operating under an incorrect  inventory list for about a year.

In response, though, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson told Ellerbe that  the issues were a “management problem” and that he needs to find a staff that  can get their jobs done more effectively.

In a statement released Thursday, Ed Smith, the president of the D.C. Fire  Union Local 36, said that the D.C. Fire & EMS Department is living on  “borrowed time.”

“Nothing proves Chief Ellerbe’s negligence more than the state of the fleet  of reserve ambulances and fire trucks that is supposed to be at the ready at all  times,” Smith said. “The fleet is virtually non-existent and has been a key  factor in recent well-publicized EMS failures.”

Ellerbe  overwhelmingly received a vote of no confidence from the fire union on  Monday. Immediately after the 300-37 vote, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and  Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander threw their support behind  Ellerbe.

“Despite the ‘no confidence’ vote tallied by the local firefighters union, I  am very optimistic about the department’s future and encouraged by the service  we provide to District residents and visitors,” Ellerbe said in a statement  after the vote.

His department also faced scrutiny over claims of sexual harassment in  February. Numerous  cadets told ABC7’s Jay Korff that two training academy instructors repeatedly  harassed them.

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Mark Segraves, WRC-TV/NBC 4:

Only 58 of the District’s 111 ambulances are currently in service, D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe testified before a city council committee Thursday.

Ellerbe added that the District only has 245 paramedics, well short of its target of 300. Even that number is less impressive than it appears since Ellerbe disclosed that not all paramedics do field work or receive calls.

The failure to provide an ambulance to a police officer injured in a hit-and-run and two other incidents — including the death of a man who died while waiting for an ambulance  — have raised questions about whether the department has enough  resources to handle the emergency call volume in the fast-growing city.

Those three incidents, all within 90 days of each other, prompted the hearing, said D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells.

Ellerbe apologized during Thursday’s testimony. “I’d  like to offer  my sincere apology to the families,” he said. “I’m deeply  troubled … I  accept responsibility.”

The chief also apologized for misinformation on the department’s inventory of vehicles, saying that the department had faulty inventory records for a year.

An internal investigation had blamed individual employees for the  slow ambulance response — but the District’s inspector general has also  found a lack of adequate reserve vehicles, both ambulances and fire  trucks. At any given time, only 39 ambulances are active in the District.

Ellerbe told the Council committee Thursday that although “the audit is  still ongoing,” he promised to overhaul the way their fleet is managed  by bringing in a “fleet consultant.” 

Due to current shortages, Advance Life Support ambulances are routinely downgraded due to a lack of paramedics on duty, Ellerbe said, adding “The problem is not fixed.” A final assessment of the inventory of D.C. Fire/EMS is still 30 days from completion.

Ellerbe’s testimony comes three days after the city firefighters’ union overwhelmingly approved a resolution expressing no confidence in his leadership.   When asked following his testimony whether he could guarantee no more ambulance delays in the District. Ellerbe told News4’s Mark Segraves that he could not.

D.C. Deputy Mayor Paul Quander testified Thursday that Ellerbe has “worked tirelessly.” However, Wells did not seem convinced by the testimoney, telling reporters following the hearing that he was “not satisfied” with Ellerbe’s responses, “deeply concerned with the dwindling number of paramedics,” and convinced there is a “systemic” problem with D.C. Fire and EMS management. 

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Comments - Add Yours


    They lied their way through their hearing, making promises to fix the problems. We all know LRB is not capable of such a claim, so let’s see what happens at the next hearing?? I’m betting the department will be in the news again because of his and the Deputy Mayors mismanagement within 2 weeks.

  • Scooter

    maybe if the chief was worried about the rigs and other important items of the department he would not have time to try and bust the moral of the Department…with issues like FEMS, Shift change, and other petty issues Keep your head up DCFD there may be light at the end of the tunnel…. Strike Da Box K

  • Jim

    I’m sick of hearing that the fire service is an “ems agency that occasionally handles fires and not a fire department that sometimes does EMS”. Cities in America are still burning, even if a FD only goes to a fire once or twice a week, that’s still pretty often. Not to throw our brothers in blue under the bus, but how often are they going to significant crimes that put lives and property in danger and they get all sorts of cash thrown at them from the state and federal government. Most of the reason we aren’t going to “fires” so often is because we are doing our jobs well and keep that pot on the stove, smoldering wiring, etc into a small boring non-event and not a newsworthy fire.

    • Tora tora tora

      That’s your problem Jim…you have a dinosaur way of thinking…that’s why the fire service here is jacked up.We are a fire service that performs EMS primarily….and occassionally put out fires.

  • Anonymous

    Brothers and Sisters,
    Continue to do the good work that you always do. Listen carefully….

    Go to work, keep a good attitude, continue to care about the public we serve. OBEY THE RULES..ALL of them. And HOLD THE DEPARTMENT TO ALL OF THE RULES TOO.

  • Joke City


    What does ir take for this council to see the whole picture. Keep blaming the guys out on the street getting it done. Keep playing the race card because we know thats this leaderships only angle. Please bring some citizens to the next hearing that can talk and make sense. Tired of the bullshit.

    • Anonymous

      Why don’t you come and speak?…….Oh, that’s right… said CITIZENS!!

      • Joke City

        I will be happy to come and speak. I will even make up my own speach and not one made up for me. You obviously come from the same gutter as the citizen in question.

        • Doin it more

          No actually I believe that citizen is a stand up guy….you’re the one that has and still is bringing this department down.

          Please don’t speak you don’t have our interest at heart…save it for where you live…thank you


    CM Wells…..Chief Ellerbe do you know anything about anything in your department.

    Chief Ellerbe…with all due respect CM Wells, that’s a clown question bro…..because

  • putthetapin

    Standby fellas. I bet there will be a transfer list out soon. That’ll teach you “homegrown terrorists.”

  • Anonymous

    Are we so bad off that we need the help of Kristopher Baumann?… time give him some Decaff before he testifies!!

    • Truth Only

      Horrible management and union. Here we sit stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  • ukfbbuff

    My 2 cents from calif..

    Looks like the Mayor and Dep. Mayor are “circling the wagons” around their Incompetent Fire Chief.

    Rather keep him around and worry about changing the Work Schedules than addressing REAL Problems.

    As I wrote before, the DCFD under the current Mayor And Fire Chief are going to look more like Detroit FD unless the current Mayor is vted out of office and the new one Fires Ellerbe.

  • Retired Chief

    Did this clown move up through the ranks? It seems that countless incompentencies have been shown on this site. I guess he doesn’t have time to know what’s going on in the dept because he is spending his days trying to figure out how to lie and coverage his butt. Maybe they need an entire new administration.


    Were going to address the issues that Ive purposely ignored because those issues were not apart of my mission, fix them and move forward…..if you can read body language and facial expressions, I’d say you were lying through your teeth….apparently throughout the hearing it was perfectly ok to be untruthful….why bother to swear people in prior to their testimony if you dont hold them accountable for what comes out of their sink hole…I can assure you when those two left the council chambers, they went straight to the bathroom to get rid of their underwear…

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  • Legeros

    Contextual question. How often does this happen? Big-city or capital city fire chiefs facing official scrutiny and/or gross system deficiencies that persist for months/years?

    Yeah, yeah, the comeback answer is “how many other Statter headlines do you recall?” More curious in the broader picture. What other departments/chiefs face/have faced similar trials?

  • anonymous

    This is the complete failure so many expected to occur if LRB ever became the chief. This is totally unacceptable. He and his supporters like to tout his experience and education etc., but he is not as sharp as they lead you to believe. Totally unacceptable!

  • VanMan429

    “Quander … said the chief needs to move forward with plans to revamp schedules and deployment to keep up with a changing city.” Sounds like what he’s saying is “If we can gut staffing levels, fleet maintenance will be a moot point and I can keep my cushy job and fancy take-home ride. Which gets serviced every week.”

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  • the ear

    This clown is a poor excuse for a leader. He is more interested in creating a racial divide than doing what he
    was hired to do as chief. Continuous “smokescreens” and excuses.
    Mr Wells I would have fired him yesterday based on his response to questions.
    I woder what the story was in Palm Beach County where he was chief?

  • Anonymous

    Ellerbee all of your constant pattern of zbehavior in Lying through your Teeth has come to light and bite you in your backside. Everyone knows what,where, when, why,whynot,who things have gone down hill. Ellerbee, you saved money, turned it back in to make yourself in favorite terms with the Mayor. The far greater issue now, “Ellerbee where are the Priorities”?
    Are you aware of Basic Pre Hospital Patient Care,ie; 4-6 minutes without Oxygen to the Brain Irreversable Brain Damage.
    “Extended Delayed Response/ 58 out of 111 EMS Vehicles non operational” In sufficient Staffing, Maintenance is either not done, or minimized. Ellerbee what in the world is wrong with you? “Ellerbee have you no Shame”? One of the first things you need to consider, “Both you and Quander need some Remedial Training in DC Fire and EMS day to Day Operations. So far both of you have demonstrated you none. Ellerbee you and Quander are like two children lost in the forest.

  • haveyouseenmybaseball?

    Let’s see, a couple of hours of uncomfortable interrogation and I still get to keep my $187,000 a year job. Yeah, I’d do that. The good news is that today everything will be back to normal, DC normal, we’ll continue the attempt to gut the department of manpower in the name of “efficiency” but we really know what THAT issue is, we’ll make sure everyone is wearing a pressed uniform shirt, and nothing will get done with the half street graveyard. The council won’t force the mayor to get rid of this guy, hell, they’re the ones who rubber stamped, er, vetted him, for the stinkin’ job. I’d like to throw my name in the hat for DCFD “chief”. I know I can do at least as bad a job as this cat, hell, I can probably do a better job COMPLETELY BY MISTAKE.

    • Tora tora tora

      I seriously doubt that…with the fire first and don’t give a shit about ems last….seriously doubt it….you couldn’t

  • mark

    I really don’t understand how anyone could still have confidence in someone this incompetent.

    The number of things pointed out in just the first news report should be more than enough to result in anyone’s termination.

    Absolutely amazing and incomprehensible.

  • Anonymous

    Well, we now have a new fire and ems chief . . . Paul Quander. And ellerbe is our new Operations Chief. Now we have two micro-managers pushing the blame down to the lowest possible level. At least CMs Mendelsohn and Wells are able to see that putting people on charges will not fix the problems. I was pleasantly surprised that they identified the fact that if the system is so taxed that the failure (or error) of one person will bring it crashing down, then the system needs to be repaired.

    An excellent point brought out by the FOP president- If it took the Local to identify the Fleet problems,does anyone really believe the Deputy Mayor and ellerbe are capable of identifying and correcting any other problems?? The fact that the Deputy Mayor needs to speak because ellerbe can’t control himself, should speak volumes.

    But does yesterday mean anything? As satisfying as it was seeing the dynamic duo finally being called out on their weak testimonies and squirming uncomfortably, does anyone think anything is going to change??

    I do believe that ellerbe was so humiliated in the hearing that we are in for some extremely hostile and belittling staff meetings in the weeks to come. Even worse than usual, if that’s possible.

  • Wilson Says

    Sure is HOT in here and going to get a lot HOTTER! Mr LRB now that you have admitted to the problem, please dont play the blame game and pass the buck. This has happened and continues to happen on your watch. It is 100% ALL YOU! Now would be the time to really do something besides uttering words you dont mean. It is alittle too late, and frankly insulting to stand up and say “OH I am sorry, had bad data, sorry your loved one died, OOPS My bad, Now that you brought this to my attention (AKA Had my ass grilled by council committee) I am taking responsibilty and will snap this place back into shape in no time, Thank you so much for bring these matters to my attention. Really… that is the BS spin you going with? Sir, what kind of ass grilling is it going to take for you to realize the only option you have is to TENDER YOUR RESIGNATION EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY? That seat is about to get alot HOTTER for you and your ass clowns. DCFD Men and Women stay strong, better days are ahead!

    • Its only fair

      From this point on I think its only fair to start snitching to the press and management when the rank and file F*UP.The beer in the fridge was just the begining watch your back as well.

  • haveyouseenmybaseball?

    Does anyone really think if mr. e and deputy p were to get $hit-canned today anything would get better? The sorry-a$$ city council didn’t do their job when they “vetted” mr. e. If mayor vinnie had recommended a garden squash for the job the council would have said, “Duh, OK!”

  • Anonymous

    Where’s Lon walls???

  • yakc130

    What is it about the District that nothing has seemed to change in over twenty years? It was the same back in the 80’s-90’s.

    Stay low, and go, my bretheren. Just remember to have faith in each other, and only those white-shirts on the streets with you every day.

  • Sally

    Why does the Chief of DCFD have to hire someone to figure out how to staff their units? hat a waste of money. THAT IS THE CHIEF’S JOB!!! That’s like the President hiring someone to decide on whether or not they should manage as a conservative or a liberal. Duh!!

  • A Nonny Mouse

    I support hiring of veterans, but I really question how hiring military medics is going to solve our paramedic shortage, when the vast majority of them are only certified as NREMT-Bs.