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DC hearing shows different views on how to handle peak EMS demand & medic shortage. Chief Ellerbe has second thoughts after communications director blocks press.

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Teachable Moment of the Day: As anyone who has seen my presentations knows, I urge leaders who make controversial decisions they believe in to stand before the cameras and answer the tough questions. Running from it undermines your credibility and your decision. The sight of DC Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe making a run for the elevator after yesterday’s hearing on EMS staffing, along with his communications director giving the appearance of physically blocking the reporters and videographers, didn’t look very good.

It never looks good running from the press. Chief Ellerbe must have throught the same because he quickly changed his mind, moved Lon Walls out of the way and got off the elevator to answer the questions (check the videos above and below). It’s best to really think this strategy through ahead of time and make the right decision initially, instead of providing reporters with better video than a boring hearing. In fact, a better use of your communications director is to use their brain to anticipate and plan for these situations rather than their brawn as media blockers. Now for the news.

Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/Fox 5:

The chairman of the D.C. City Council’s Judiciary Committee says he has “grave concerns” over the staffing of the D.C. Fire Department. And Friday questioned its ability to provide quality emergency medical care in the city.

Tommy Wells made those statements during a hearing in which the fire chief testified about his plan to redeploy ambulances during peak hours of the day.

D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe today told the city council he has “more often than not” a surplus of ambulances in the middle of the night and he wants to move them to what’s being called a power shift where they will be available to respond to a high number of calls.

But the Firefighters Union is against the plan and the chief admitted it requires a change in shifts.

Ellerbe does not have the authority to redeploy his EMS resources without the approval of the D.C. city Council.

So Friday, he tried to convince the head of the judiciary committee it could be done and needs to be done.

The unions generally agree, because of a changing city and an increased population, there is a need for additional ambulances during peak times of the day but not at the cost of leaving the middle of the night uncovered.

Under the chief’s plan no advanced life support units would work from 1 am to 7 am and the firefighter paramedics would have to move to 12 hour shifts. A move that’s very unpopular.

The chief admitted he has far exceeded his overtime budget and told the council in order to have enough paramedics to handle a shift change the union would have to agree to the plan.

Thursday night we reported the fire department has lost 53 paramedics since the chief took office and none have been replaced.

One other note, we have asked repeatedly over the last several months for a sit down interview with Chief Ellerbe. He has declined every time. So Friday was our only chance to ask him questions in public.

But instead of stopping for reporters’ questions the chief headed right for the elevator.

His handlers tried to bar us from getting in the elevator but after repeatedly asking to speak with the chief

He did come out of the elevator to take some questions. It was an acrimonious encounter to say the least.

When asked if the reason he was not hiring paramedics is that he is hoping the three shifts finally goes through Ellerbe answered, “Well, we are hopeful the three shifts goes through and hope it goes through by the end of the summer…see what happens.”

The union says paramedics are being forced to work overtime nearly every day because the department does not have the staffing.

Hatzel Vela, WJLA-TV/ABC7:

D.C.’s firefighters union and Chief Kenneth Ellerbe are at odds over a  scheduling shift for ambulance crews in the District.

Ed Smith, president of the D.C. Firefighters Assoc. Local 36,  says the changes could jeopardize lives.

Ellerbe’s plan would shift the number of paramedics. Fewer would work over  night. More would work during the day.

Smith admits there is a peak time in demand during the day, but he doesn’t  think the solution is to take away from the night shift.

“It’s gambling on people’s lives,” Smith says. “You’re going to take 14 units  off the streets from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. It’s a bad, bad idea.”

If approved, the proposal would affect advance life support paramedics.

Smith called the plan antiquated, saying some of the most violent medical  emergencies happen overnight.

“When you take 14 units off the street, out of that 39, you’re decreasing our  transport capabilities, the ability to take somebody to the hospital by 36  percent.”

He says the solution is not redeployment of staff but rather to hire more  staff, something Smith says is not happening.

“It’s tearing the department apart and the citizens and visitors are  suffering,” Smith says.

Initially, it seemed Ellerbe didn’t want to answer questions from reporters.  Then he changed his mind and addressed concerns from the union.

“We understand their concerns and we’re going to do everything we can to  accommodate them, the best way we can,” Ellerbe says.

Ellerbe was questioned over the vacancies and lack of hiring in his  department that some argue has created more tension with an already frayed  union. But he says the department will start hiring.

“A lot of our attention has been turned into the District to help reduce the  unemployment numbers here in Washington, D.C.,” Ellerbe says. “If we don’t have  qualified paramedics here in the city, then we’ll go outside the city.”

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Sid Williams (Retired FF/EMT-P)

    I have yet to see a law that requires any Fire Department to provide (ALS) Paramedics. Why not just transition to an all (BLS) Regular EMT service and leave it alone. The ONLY thing Paramedics do extra is Intubation and Certian Cardiac Drugs. The hospital is so close it doesn’t make a difference anyway.

    • BH

      Spoken like someone who had no business being in EMS from day 1. Lucky for all of us you’re retired.

      • uptown saturday nite

        @ at sid Williams, anyone who makes intelligent statements or remarks…is instantly shot down by caveman intellect. These guys here at dcfire ems are just spoiled wannabes and think the union run this job. They are gonna find out real soon how toothless it is.

        I want this union to fell at everything…when ray sneed was here there wasn’t this much incompetence at the helm.sad,sad,sad

        • D.C.F.D. Still Alive

          your right! there was more!!!

    • stuart

      Really? Wow.

  • Pipeman27

    The EMS redeployment plan is an absolutely ridiculous and horrible idea. It’s so bad I don’t know why the council is even entertaining the idea of it. The city needs more units on the street day and night, and can afford it, it makes no sense. As for 3-3-3, even worse idea. It will destroy our lives, and decimate this department, and the quality of service the citizens enjoy and should expect.


      and that’s EXACTLY what the goal is by the FEMS Taliban leader….he despises those who don’t live on or near Alabama Ave SE and aren’t norn and bread in DC like him and Vincent….he chews on his bottom lip at the thought if hiring medics or hiring in general, knowing that the MOST qualified applicant resides outside of Washington DC… there’s certainly people in the city who would become great fireman, EMT’s and medics….no doubt about it because Ive not only worked with some, but learned alot as well….If DC wants the best employees, well they should adhere to the EEO credo that most employers standby, but lets not create a phony agenda, push that agenda for the sole purpose of making those who’ve chosen (because they can) to make their residence well beyond the metro DC area, just so you can make peoples lives miserable….thats the goal right Kenneth

    • UsetobeDC

      I can only suggest that the members of Local 36 continue to point out that LRB’s “Shift change” is actually a 25% cut of the DCFD.
      The other effects the actual shift change will have on members is secondary to the devastating effect eliminating 1/4 of the department will have on residents and visitors to the District of Columbia.
      If the MPD Chief had suggested eliminating 1/4 of the Police Department it would have been met with the scorn that LRB’s proposal should be receiving.

  • Fire21

    Mr. Ellerbe is obviously a “Peter principle” person…promoted above his ability to handle the job. He is so ill-prepared to face even the day to day challenges of the position of Chief. Anyone with such a blatant lack of media skills should be replaced immediately with someone who can at least talk with them in an intelligent and socially acceptable manner. JMHO.

    • Long arm

      well his only goal as firechief is to destroy the culture of firefighters who wouldn’t accept him because he was such a coward early in his career. Now he is back with the goal of destroying the (mostly white) firefighters that he can’t stand. What kind of idiot focuses all of his energy on a name change? Ever see “The Caine Mutiny”? The same basic mental health issues found in Capt Queeg are EXACTLY the same mental health issues Chief Ellerbe has.

  • Scooter

    Even the news media is says leadership issue…. When is DC councel going to wake up and FIRE THIS JERK before the whole DCFD goes down the tubes… moral is low and they need to get it back up… strike Da Box ! K

    • Anonymous

      Perhaps it’s because the Mayor is the ONLY person who can FIRE him.

  • ThatGuy

    The reason why the Fire Chief does not speak to media is because his two direct bosses, the Mayor of DC and Deputy Mayor of Public Safety have put a ‘choke hold’ on Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. He has made the Mayor and the city look bad for the past two years, on a national media market. He is advised to defer all questioning to the Deputy Mayor Of Public Safety………..

  • stillwaiting

    There are 30 Firefighter/EMT recruits ready for hire for over 6 months that have been put on the shelf. Does anybody know why? I smell a class action lawsuit brewing…..

    • Anonymous

      I suspect if those 30 live outside the city, then that is your answer. To this administration, qualified candidacy takes a backseat to where one lives. Some have purported they believe there is a racial component involved…

    • Long arm

      yes, they are probably all white.

  • ??

    I am not sure, but doesnt DC have alot of medics riding the eninge??? I get that they do not want to ride an ambulance but isnt that what the department needs..more staffed ambulances?
    The bigger problem (nationally) is that we need EMS education. Stop the abuse of EMS transport for non emergency calls and every department will have enough resources and money saved to help increase their budgets and to provide better fire and rescue services.

  • Two cents

    Would it be possible for Local 36 to place advertisements with the national media calling for a boycott of Washington D.C by future tourist? A professionally outlined ad of risks to the people wanting to visit the city might get some eyes opened. Just a thought.


      Didn’t Baltimore or some other city do this not to long ago…

    • uptown saturday nite

      your a terrorist nuff said

  • sick of ellerbe

    66 firefighters and officers worked overtime Saturday.

  • Long arm

    actually it was 63 people worked overtime Saturday

  • Watchdogdc

    The total number of people working overtime over the past few days don’t tell the real story. A look at the current problems within the Fire and EMS Department show without a doubt there is nothing but complete mismanagement within the agency. All of the problems stem from Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe seeking to Change the current work schedule of the employees of the agency. The only reason he is seeking this change is to offset the amount of money the city will have to pay to the firefighters as part of the lawsuit filed by the Union for back pay which they are owed dating back to 2001. The union has patiently waited and let the legal system work through that suit with all levels of the judicial system siding with the Union stating the District of Columbia owes these employees the money. If you recall Mayor Gray just sent a letter asking congress to go back and repeal a law put in place when the control board was established to straighten out the fiscal mess the city leaders had created. Getting back to the overtime it was stated that on average there are about 5-6 Advanced life support units downgraded each day. That number is somewhat conservative. On the same day that Chief Ellerbe was testalying there were 8 medic units down graded followed by 7 during the day on Saturday and 10 on Saturday night. Not only were there a high number of units downgraded there were also 2 EMS supervisors placed out of service for the overnight hours. This trend will continue as long as Chief Ellerbe continues his course of action not to fill the current vacancies within the agency. It should also be pointed out that each one of these downgraded medic units are staffed by the current single role providers employed by the agency. Each time there is a unit downgraded it requires a Firefighter or should I say Duel Role Employee to fill the spot vacated by the single role provide. It has always been the position of Chief Ellerbe to blame the Firefighters for not coming to work when in reality it is the single role providers not coming to work creating the problems that cause the units to be downgraded. The flawed data used by the Chief shows the overtime position being on the Fire apparatus but that position was really created when the medic failed to report for duty as they are expected to do. The statements made by Chief Ellerbe about why he has not moved forward with filling vacancies is unacceptable. As Mr. Wells stated the Fire Departments Budget is fully funded. Within that budget is the funding for a 4 platoon system which is currently in place. the majority of the issues within the agency stem from Chief Ellerbe failing to manage the agency. The problems created by the Chief are all problems that cannot be corrected in a short time. Look at the situation with the Fire Apparatus this will take years to correct while the citizens suffer the situation with the current staffing crisis will take years to correct. Both of these problems are purposely created by Chief Ellerbe. He admitted during his testimony that he has chosen not to fill vacancies in hopes of getting his shift change in place WHICH MAY NOT HAPPEN SINCE IT IS A COLLECTIVE BARGAINING ISSUE. All of the people stating the union and the Chief need to get on the same page should also look at the situation the Chief has created and ask the question why the Chief is failing to fill vacancies within the agency when each one of those vacancies are fully funded in the Fire and EMS Departments Budget that was stated by Mr. Wells when he said he has grave concerns about the current staffing levels. The only thing the union is asking is that the Chief fill the current funded vacancies, provide adequate staffing and number of EMS Transport units both day and night and that the Chief ensure the agency has the right number of safe certified fire apparatus to respond to any type of emergency. The Chief is failing to do all of those things. The citizens should get behind the union on this one they seem to be the only ones looking out for the best interest of the citizens.

  • EastCoastLt.

    I seriously don’t known whats worse, listening to the brass spew BS in Detroit or DC….

  • Anonymous

    That’s it right there watch dog! Nothing more nothing less! Excellent post!

  • 19262007

    Is it a crime to create a manufactured crisis?

  • PPFD

    Paragraphs are your friend watch dog dc

  • UseToBeDC

    Again LRB’s “Shift change” is a 1/4 cut of the DCFD.
    There is NO WAY the Union would agree to this and very doubtful any arbitrator would either.
    LRB is trying to make things so bad that it FORCES the District of Columbia to eliminate 25% of the Fire Department.
    It won’t happen!
    What is far more likely is that someone will get hurt or worse and the lawsuit that ensues will cost at least as much as LRB is claiming to save with his unconscionable cut.

  • Ron Stuart

    DC has a very stong firefighting division with very good EMS but the worst management I have seen on the job since Ray Alfred. Despite idiots like the EMS union head the civilians are not as bad as they once were. The tragedy is that the idiot ellerbe is so distanced from his workforce that if we had a firefighter (s) seriously injured in the line of duty, or even line of duty deaths, the fucking prick would not be welcome in the hospital or the funeral home. He is so H A T E D.

    • Is that you John Wayne?

      You must be either a racism or plain stupid Ron calling the ems union head an idiot. The guy is (ems union head) very well spoken and probably enunciate words you can’t spell.

      Unlike local 36 president, his (ems pres.) testimony sounds professional, is well versed, and he doesn’t seem to have a chip on his shoulder.

      Yes he may not be welcomed at some members hospital beds….but the some isn’t the whole department. You all need to stop acting like you speak for the entire department. There is a certain demographic that virtually dislike him nearly 100%.

      The rest of us may not agree with everything the chief does…but we don’t hate him….that’s the difference

      • Is that you John Wayne?

        meant ” a racist”

  • UseToBeDC

    Wasn’t there an incident after LRB became administrator and he barely paid attention to seriously injured members??

  • Bullets

    No one is innocent here. Ellerbe has made some mistakes, but the Union isnt a saint either. And the union president shows he dosnt know much about EMS, otherwise he would know that ALS doesnt make a difference in shootings, stabbings and other penetrating traumas.

    In the city, at night, how long are we talking to transport? It cant be far, 5 minutes or so. You need more trucks on in the afternoon and evening.

    The rest of healthcare works 12 hour shifts, time for DCFEMS to get on board with this. There is no reason why they cant work 4 on 4 off like many other EMS agencies. if you dont ant to live in or near DC, dont take the job.

    • Anonymous

      Well why even have medics at all? You sound stupid! The union president is doing his job, the shift change will eliminate 1/4 of the work force. What union president will go along with a plan to reduce the work force, and put people of out work. I tell you what bullets why don’t you just quit since you seem to agree with down sizing the dept. Can’t wait until the true numbers come out, and you really see how many people live in an around the city as opposed to those who come from a distance. Some of those people you think live in PA are actually city residents!

      • Anonymous

        I call BS on this!

      • Joke City

        Please dont even entertain bullets, he is just a follower of true trash.

  • 19262007

    When lrb first came on as chief 5 members were burned at a house fire, 4 spent a week in the burn ICU and between 2 and 3 weeks in the step down unit. The most injured member spent 39 days in the burn ICU and then another 3 weeks in the step down unit. dear leader made a grand total of 2, yes TWO (??wtf!!) appearances at the hospital.

    You and most of the planet are missing the reason why the proposed shift change is being fought. The chief wants to change my 42 hour work week to 56 hours WITHOUT COMPENSATION. It’s the same as about a 20% pay cut while also reducing the DCFD force by 25% (going from 4 shifts to 3). They want to go to 12 hour shifts, 8 hour shifts, 4.5 hour shifts, I don’t care, but when you’re talking a pay cut AND working more hours, you better believe my union will FIGHT. The mayor and the chief want to hire more city residents, then FREAKEN DO IT, there are almost 200 vacancies in the department. The chief said that they have “been looking inward” to try and reduce unemployment within the District, well here’s a golden opportunity for them, but no, they want to simply eliminate the vacancies. I could see trying to get rid of a shift if the city was flat broke, but there’s a $1.6 BILLION surplus in the bank and more money rolling in. WTF?! DC incompetence at its absolute best!

    • Anonymous

      “You and most of the planet are missing the reason why the proposed shift change is being fought. The chief wants to change my 42 hour work week to 56 hours WITHOUT COMPENSATION”

      This is NOT TRUE!!

  • 1dctaxpayer

    Bullet, It’s 14 transport units off the street after Midnight
    during the summer. I cant wait we tried it in the past and it failed.
    Lets see, single role providers are not coming to work now, we do not have the additional 14 front line units, so how is it even goning to get off the ground?
    O well as long as you live in D.C. you fiqure it out.

    • DCDysfunction

      Listent to Andy Beaton’s testimony. Those 14 ambulances that are sitting in the firehouse “can be staffed”. Their plan is to take fire trucks out of service to staff ambulances at night. Listen carefully to what he says. The power shift is the start of us losing fire companies, which is why 3721 and Ellerbe both want it. We better wake up and see how devious this guy really is as chief.

  • 20 Years In

    4 on 4 off doesn’t make taking 12 runs on the midnight shift any easier. No matter how you cut it, most people can’t sleep all day and work all night, life intervenes. Kids have to go to school, the spouse and the worker need healthy attention from each other, businesses are open during the day, etc. High cost of living and stagnant wages lead many to work part time jobs, and there’s more work during the day.

    A tiny fraction of cops work 8 to 12 hour overnight shifts, get paid extra for it, and pay for it in obesity ,heart disease, divorce, cancer, etc. Fire and EMS demands exist overnight in a manner that demand for police does not.

    Many healthcare workers work 12 hour overnight shifts, with 36 hour workweeks. That is not what is proposed here, nor is it proven to be better for performance or worker health. Many healthcare workers get to sleep in the ready room, too.

    Bottom line is this: if the shift is better for workers or patients, prove it. Let everyone know about the peer-reviewed studies that conclusively show this. Until then, go through the collective bargaining process like good Democrats, or be ready to acknowledge that you are anti-worker and anti-union.

    This shift change is about one thing, and one thing only: driving out the commuters. DC hates commuters, even though they are the only thing making DC a great place to work and live. Take away the commuters and their jobs (aka the Federal Government) and DC is a $hithole just like Baltimore, Philly, Camden, etc. Fortunately, this is the last hurrah for the old-boy system of spoils government. The future mayors of this city won’t care nearly as much about who gets hired as they will about how well they perform.

  • 19262007

    Oh please, it’s not about worker health or satisfaction, it never is, it’s really not even about the bad, nasty commuters..

  • 19262007

    You said my statement wasn’t true about no compensation when changing from our current 42 hour work week to the 56 hour work week (3-3-3). Do you know something the rest of us don’t? How about filling us in?

    • Anonymous

      If the city offers the local 12,12,12 for the next 3 years and going 3,3,3…..what would YOUR vote be?

  • Is that you John Wayne?

    I believe that a city or jurisdiction has a play in maintaining jobs for their local residence. That’s not to say someone who commutes shouldn’t have a stake here. If the mayor wants to insure that most of the dcfd jobs go to the locals, there is nothing wrong with that. Key word, I said most of the jobs not all of them. I don’t have anything personal against commuter FF’s…but as someone said on here….the locals couldn’t go to other jurisdictions and take a chunk of jobs there.

    I can think of several reasons why you would want a force that can react quickly because of their proximity to the capital.Not hating on you FF’s from other states but I think being a local should have it’s priviledge.

  • Is that you John Wayne?


  • 19262007

    @Is that you John Wayne?,
    Residents should get preference in hiring, no doubt about it. So with nearly 200 vacancies why has there been such pitiful hiring? The one city team has been in place for over 2 years and there have been only two cadet classes (city residents) and one recruit class hired. What gives? The DCFD is 100% funded, in fact, the city council tried to give us even MORE money, but no, upper management said things were hunky-dory, we’re good! The city is flush with cash, $1.6 BILLION and more rolling in, but upper management wants to get rid of 400 spots, 25% of the department, HALF of which could be job opportunities for city residents! Come on one city team what’s the REAL reason?

  • 19262007

    Going to 3-3-3 increases our work week hours from 42 to 56, keeping our salaries the same, that’s about a 20% pay cut, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s a 15% pay cut, and the city wants to offer a yearly raise of 12% for three years? Ummm, we still work more hours, still lose money, and the city has more extra cash than its ever had in its entire history?! The city has no good reason, at least one they want to admit to publicly, for changing our current shift. They want to give us 12% yearly for three years with our 42 hour work week, now we’re talking, but the same “raise” with a huge increase in hours? It’s still a FREAKEN PAY CUT and the city is nowhere close to being broke. My vote is a resounding NO!!

  • 19262007

    Anyone who thinks going to 3-3-3 with anything less than an immediate 20% bump and AT LEAST 10% yearly for the next 3 years is in dire need of some 2nd grade arithmetic lessons! You have the last administration to thank for the yearly 10% raise (MINIMUM) and this administration for the 20% immediate bump that would be required to keep us from losing money while working more hours. The 3-3-3 shift change makes zero sense, it’s not about saving money, “preventing” fatigue, and it’s really not about the commuters, they’re just being scapegoated. Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors…

  • Anonymous

    “You have the last administration to thank for the yearly 10% raise (MINIMUM)”

    Really???? What did I miss?

  • 19262007

    Ummm, Fenty administration refused to negotiate with any city unions. We have passed the two year mark with the one city team, going on 7 years without a new contract. Because of the Fenty administration any new negotiated contract will be large. Have you been unconscious?

    • Anonymous

      I seem to recall being offered 1,1,1 by the former AFC-PP and former Local 36 VP.

  • 19262007

    Because of the previous administration’s refusal to negotiate with city unions, any kind of raise offered in good faith by the current administration will be large, 10% minimum. That’s what the city (you, we) has to thank the last administration for. Yeah I know, clear as mud.

  • UseToBeDC

    They recently unveiled a Martin Luther King Jr monument in DC and he once said that he dreamt of a day when people would not be judged by the color of their skin.

    Hire the most qualified people regardless of their skin color or place of birth/residence.

    That would be the right thing to do(In fact I bet the EEO policy of the District forbids discrimination based on skin color et al)

  • uptown saturday nite

    no one is being discriminated from being hired (usetobeDC),that was the old glory days of dcfd…you know the ol rich in traditions.

    @ 19262007 I don’t have the slightest ideal why the dc govt wont hire more or haven’t given us a raise. It doesn’t look good when u have a surplus and still don’t do right by ur employees.

    I don’t want to go to 3-3-3 for me becuz it will interfere with my ability to pay child support lol. Things will eventually work out for the best.

    We first need the union to tone it down a lil. They are making management angry and its trickling down hurting everybody. Summer is coming and its gonna be hot…can someone type a special report to have the chief reconsider wearing t shirts. Officers do your job if he grants us to wear t shirts outside the fhouse.