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Media tip of the day: If you have something to say, just stand there and say it. Anything else looks like you are running from the press and your problems. When you don’t stand still, or at least slow down to a casual stroll, the resulting image is similar to the shots you see of reporters trying to get a word in from a defendant on his way to court.
DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe is not on trial, but his tactics for dealing with the news media sometimes make it appear he is. Yesterday was not a good day for the chief in that a member of the DC City Council asked for his resignation. But both of Chief Ellerbe’s bosses gave the chief a vote of confidence. I am not sure Chief Ellerbe showed that same confidence in the way he handled the interview with WJLA-TV/ABC 7′s Kris Van Cleave (above).
D.C. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh called for Ellerbe to resign in a letter to fellow councilman Tommy Wells. The letter, dated Tuesday, indicates that Cheh believes that residents of the D.C. have lost confidence in Ellerbe’s ability to effectively lead the department and protect the city.
“This is what I think is a department in disarray,” Cheh said. “(It) seems he no longer has control or confidence of the rank and file.”
Cheh’s call for Ellerbe to resign comes less than a week after Wells and the D.C. Council rejected a department plan to redeploy the city’s maligned ambulance fleet to busier times and locations based on need. City officials said that the fleet’s state of disrepair, issues with overtime payments and consistent staffing shortages made the plan untenable.
She says that the judiciary committee report rejecting the department’s plan “the last straw” when it came to her support of Ellerbe as the city’s fire chief.
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“It made such a devastating indictment of how the department is being managed,” she said.
Ellerbe said Tuesday that he has no plans to resign and has nothing to say to Cheh or the rest of the D.C. Council.
“The committee believes that approval of this plan could have serious consequences for public safety and so cannot, in good conscience, recommend approval at this time,” Wells said last Friday.
After the rejection, Cheh hinted that she thought Ellerbe should quit.
“Unless he has an immediate response that has some comprehensive plan we could have confidence in, then he should be looking for something else,” Cheh says.
Serious problems with ambulance deployment and response times came to a head in March when an MPD motorcycle officer was hit by a car in Southeast Washington.
Three units that were supposed to be on duty but improperly declared themselves out of service did not respond, and the officer had to wait nearly an hour for mutual aid from a Prince George’s County ambulance.
Several city employees were disciplined after the incident, and a subsequent report noted that nearly half of the city’s fleet of ambulances were out of service.
“He doesn’t know about the deployment of personnel, and whether it’s indifference or negligence, it just seemed to me that he’s running the department into the ground,” Cheh said.
On Monday, more revelations of malfeasance against the department surfaced. Several sources say that in at least three instances, D.C. Fire inspectors manipulated inspection reports at a trio of Northwest Washington businesses.
The department has also faced allegations of sexual abuse of female firefighters and recruits.
The only person who can fire Ellerbe is D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who appeared Tuesday at a public event with the chief.
Multiple sources tell ABC7 that it’s highly unlikely Gray would let go his close, personal friend. On Tuesday, when ABC7 caught up with the mayor, he wasn’t aware of Cheh’s letter calling for Ellerbe’s resignation.
“I don’t know anything about it … haven’t seen a letter,” he says.
Statement from Deputy Mayor Paul Quander:
The District’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department is in a much better position and operating more effectively now than when Chief Kenneth Ellerbe took the helm in January 2011, “ said Quander, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice.
Many of the incidents that Chief Ellerbe has dealt with during his tenure have been rooted in issues that preceded his hiring as chief. In three decades with the department, he has gotten a deep understanding of the issues and challenges that FEMS faces.
In two-and-an-half years under his leadership, he has taken action to deal with many of those issues. As problem arise, they have been met with careful consideration and action to improve the department and better serve the residents of the District of Columbia. Moves to shorten ambulance response times have been made, and more lie ahead. The department’s vehicle fleet is in better order, with reserve units ready to roll when they’re needed. A work group comprised of citizens, firefighters and members of several city agencies will soon be making recommendations on how FEMS can further improve services.
There is still work that needs to get done to make the department the best it can be. I support Chief Ellerbe is his efforts to make that happen,” Deputy Mayor Quander concluded. “We should stay the course.
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