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UPDATED – More questions about DC fire department’s readiness: Inspections sideline two reserve ladder trucks. City’s former emergency manager says fleet is a ‘true concern’.

DC Breaking Local News Weather Sports FOX 5 WTTG

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This evening there are two separate stories questioning the readiness of the DC Fire & EMS Department. In the story above, WTTG-TV/Fox 5 reporter Paul Wagner, who has broken most of the stories about the poor state of the fire department’s fleet, tells us that two reserve ladder trucks recently failed aerial ladder inspections. You may recall Wagner’s previous report that the department did not conduct ladder inspections last year. Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told Wagner in a statement then that the inspections weren’t done because of a lack of reserve trucks. Now that those inspections are happening, Wagner reports problems are being discovered, including the damaged cable seen below.

At WTOP radio this afternoon, the city’s former director of D.C.’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Pete LaPorte, was interviewed about Washington’s ability to respond to an attack like the one yesterday in Boston. LaPorte was asked about the impact of the fire department’s fleet problems on the City’s readiness. Here’s LaPorte’s response:

I think there is a lot of mutual aid but I think it’s a true concern. I believe that the city has a great deal of reserve money right now. and I truly believe it would be a wise investment to reinvest in our fire equipment and resources. You remember after 9/11 there wasn’t a dollar that … couldn’t be had for our response. We literally got all new fire trucks, all new ambulances, throughout the city. It seems like we’ve lost some of that level of response and we certainly need to upgrade it. And I think that would be something that Chief Ellerbe wants to be looking at quickly, is to make a request. To look for a capital investment in the equipment there.

Click here to listen to LaPorte’s entire interview with anchors Shawn Anderson and Hillary Howard. For the record, Hillary Howard is my wife.

Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/Fox 5:

There are new concerns the D.C. fire department is taking risks with its ladder trucks after two of them failed stress tests this month and were taken out of service.

One of the trucks had frayed steel cables used to raise the ladders into the air.

According to the firefighters’ union, that truck, a reserve that has been responding to emergency calls on Capitol Hill, failed a stress test Monday morning and was immediately taken out of service.

It is a discovery that raises questions about the safety of the entire fleet.

“Absolutely, and unfortunately, I don’t believe it’s the only truck running calls that probably wouldn’t pass an aerial ladder test,” said Union Second Vice President Dabney Hudson. “It’s going to continue to put the citizens and the firefighters who ride it in jeopardy.”

When FOX 5 first aired the union’s concerns on March 18, a spokesman for the fire department said the stress tests had not been done in 2012 because there were no reserves to take their place.

Then two days later, fire officials told the city council the tests had not been done since 2008.

“If the cables snapped, it would have caused a catastrophic ladder failure, the ladder would completely fail … it would have come crashing to the ground,” said Hudson.

The truck with the frayed cables was running calls on the hill because the truck normally assigned to the hill, Truck 7, has been out of service, parked at fleet maintenance on Half Street since early April.

The new reserve taking its place in the firehouse on 8th Street in Southeast D.C. has issues as well.

Photos obtained by FOX 5 show rust and corrosion on the base of the aerial ladder. It is a condition the union feels would likely lead to a failed stress test as well.

Last year, an aerial ladder in Alliquppa, Pa., collapsed while fighting a blaze at an auto repair shop and seriously injuring a firefighter.

As of March 20, the fire department reported to the city council’s judiciary committee it had 16 trucks and one reserve ladder.

In an email sent to FOX 5 Monday night, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe confirmed one front line truck and two reserves have been given stress tests since early April, with only the front line truck passing.

The chief said the reserves will be repaired in about two weeks.

On Tuesday, the chief declined an interview request.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Pipeman27

    We could not respond effectively to an event like Boston experienced yesterday, period. We can barely respond effectively to a Tuesday afternoon.

  • Anonymous

    Not that there isnt a major issue with the fleet, but fox 5 really phoned that ladder failure in. That Pennsultucky truck was from the 70’s and it’s failure was completely due to operator error. The injury was because they don’t tie halyards to the ladder pipes in the movies, so we have to adjust our tactics and put a man on the tip. Sorry I just hate that story.

    • UseToBeDC

      There are many Departments that inexplicably put someone at the ladder pipe.
      In fact, I bet you could find some local pics of the same.
      Tower ladders are under-deployed, underused and underappreciated.
      A few properly deployed can make a huge difference in numerous operations.

      • Jim

        I guess the question is why don’t you tie halyards to the ladder pipes? I never got why people insist on putting a man on the tip, the halyards work. Its not the easiest, but they work.

  • anonymous

    This is the continued failed leadership of LRB. He has all of this experience, most of it coming as a member of the DC Fire Department, and all of this education. Yet, he continuously mismanages the fire department. This is totally unacceptable. It would be unacceptable anywhere, but especially since it’s the nation’s capitol.

    The issues with staffing, training, apparatus, all are important factors in being prepared. Right now, the DC Fire Department is not prepared for a large scale incident. They were in good shape, but LRB has set them back 20 years. The has completely dismantled the organization which had been built to run the agency, and that is so important as no matter how many resources and capabilities you have you still need to effectively manage all of those things.

    LRB is a joke. He has very poor management abilities and has no leadership abilities at all. As I said, he has set the DC Fire Department back 20 years to when they were a very disfunctional agency. He has destroyed most of the progress which the last two chiefs prior to him had built. Things were not perfect under the two prior chiefs, but they were well above where LRB has placed the department.

  • anonymous

    In the photo on the news report of the ladder being tested at the training academy, Tower 3 is parked behind the ladder truck. Tower 3 is out of service due to mechanical reasons and has been sitting there at the training academy for a while now. That is a vehicle which is badly in need of replacement.

    If they test the rest of the ladders in DC’s fleet, I’m quite sure that a lot of them will fail the stress testing.

  • anonymous

    The ladders haven’t been tested since LRB became chief, and if the union didn’t report it to the media they would not be getting tested now or in the near future.

    It just goes to show how much LRB really cares about the safety of his members. First, he would not issue them the fire retardant uniforms due to a patch, and instead had the members wearing unsafe poly/cotton uniforms. Now, we find out he never had the ladders tested, which creates another safety issue.

    • Welcome to our world

      anonymous what about the members NOT WEARING THE NEW NFPA COMPLIANT UNIFORMS THAT WE HAVE IN STOCK! If this was all about safety,well than NO members would be wearing the old uniforms right…BUT ON ANY GIVEN DAY U WILL SEE FF’s WEARING THE OLD GEAR…BECAUSE SAFETY IS PARAMOUNT RIGHT!



      • mac

        I’ve been to property numerous times and told they don’t have my size.

  • Anonymous

    Tower 3 was placed OOS for an oil pump. Then was taken to the TA because they thought it was supposed to have a ladder test done. It caught on fire while there and no one has any clue to what the status of repairs. Now the first due ladder truck to the Whitehouse is the oldest ladder truck in the fleet. A 1995 pieced together Seagrave.

  • Anonymous

    When are they going to fire the moron and be done with it??

  • Scooter

    When are they going to wake up and replace the fire chief! Strike Da Box ! and good luck DCFD

  • Tom

    Annual third party ladder testing and continuous ladder maintenance is extremely important. The incident at the Green Valley, Arizona Fire District Station 151 on August 15, 2012 injured 5 people and involved a 100′ platform that was less than 3 years old. The Arizona Department of Public Safety 1,250 page report on the incident is available for review. The NIOSH report 2012-026 on the incident is still pending. This incident should have been a “wake up call” to all fire chiefs to make ladder testing and maintenance one of their highest priorities.

  • UseToBeDC

    The overall incompetence and ineptitude of LoserBE is absolutely mind blowing.

    I have to believe that some of this is part of his plan to drastically change the DCFD. Not sure, but perhaps he hopes that by allowing so many lapses in readiness it will either force members to quit. Or more likely will allow him to use these issues to downsize the DCFD again hoping that members will quit.

    Unfortunately some members are retiring(can’t blame them) but most would never quit a career merely because there is an idiot in charge. They all know that idiot will be gone sooner rather than later.


    The answer Chief Fraud will give shortly at todays budget council hearing will be….currently we are paying a consultant to oversee the consultant and make sure the consultant, not only consults, but acts within in his scope of consulting…

    Councilmember Wells…we would like the city to fund 2 separate budgets…1 for consulting and 1 for my drycleaning.. For my drycleaning alone..I need to have 2 sack coats properly pressed…1 for the daytime and 1 for the countless ANC meetings I attend and make myself, which in reality, seem anything but…the inept and incompetent person I really am….

  • f.u. alum

    300 operational vacancies in the department and there have been dozens of vetted recruits ready for hire since NOVEMBER! WTF is going on in the capitol of the United States of America!? Why has no one in Congress done anything about the corrupt mayor and his crony, under qualified fire chief? These issues are the concern of everyone in this country, not just D.C. residents. All of you need to write your elected representatives.

  • LRBHater

    I remember a while back when LRB said that anyone who lives outside the city, like Pa, West Va,Jersey and NY was considered a terrorist since they were too far to help with any type of attack or MCI. When actuallly, he, meaning LRB, seems to be more of a terrorist by lying to the council and community about our “State of Readiness”!
    Hypothetical question?
    If DC were in a “State of Emergency” and the immobilization plan went into effect, what apparatus would they staff?

  • Anonymous

    One thing everyone needs to remember is Chief LierB is smart! After all…he has the coffee mug from Harvard’s online store to prove it. Seriously…no joke…I saw it facing the camera and counclmembers during all the hearings I’ve been able to stomach. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would’ve thought he’s nothing more then a bulls@*&#er who thinks he’s qualified to run a fire dept.

    Think about it. He’s so knowledgable in this field he came up with the idea of us getting out the door within 2 minutes then changed it to 1 minute and telling the OIC’s not to status until the piece is moving. What a great way the keep a police officer from having to lay injured on the ground for 20 minutes. Who else could’ve come up with such a briliant solution?

    I just don’t understand why so many people don’t seem to see the genuine genious in this man? After 7 changes to the uniform policy and all the trumped up charges and demotions, we’re sooo much more better off then we were 2 years ago.

    We have a nice level playing field and things are so transparent I was begining to believe they didn’t exist at all.

  • JackWagon

    Dave, Take a ride out Rt. 32 in Anne Arundel County across from NSA. On the property of the old jail DC had theyre are several DC units parked there. 2 Ladder Trucks and 1 Engine. Anyone know why theyre parked out there??

    • Anonymous

      They are moving all of the broke down apparatus out there to make it seem like they have fixed the problem.They have been towing from the warehouse at 24, and from the shop as well.