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DC fire chief responds to call for resignation. His bosses blame previous administration & say Ellerbe isn’t going anywhere.

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Read letter from Councilwoman Cheh

Other coverage: Mike DeBonis, The Washington Post; Andrea Noble, The Washington Times; Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/Fox-5; DCist; Meta Pettus,; Mark Segraves, WRC-TV/NBC 4; Will Sommer, Washington City Paper.

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).

Justin Karp, WJLA-TV/ABC 7:

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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  • alan

    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.

    What the hell is he smoking? That must be some good stuff if he believes this crap.

  • JustSayin’

    It would seem that the Mayor is indicating that
    he has the perfect puppet in the position of Fire Chief
    and that his reconstruction of the DCFD is proceeding correctly.

    It would be very difficult to draw another conclusion other than
    what has been happening of late is what is supposed to happen.

    Detroit FD model for DCFD in the Nation’s Capital.

    A model for all America in the near future perhaps.???

  • mark

    I believe they misspoke, they meant to blame Bush.

    Seems to work for the Executive Office, might as well for DCFD.

    • Rich Schaffer

      that’s because in that instance it is true. in this instance I believe it is not.

  • Fire21

    The mayor isn’t aware of CM Cheh’s call for LRB’s resignation? He must be the only person in America who hasn’t heard of that. He and Quander must be the only people in America who support LRB. There is nothing that I have read on this site that would indicate to me that anything is being done right in the DCFD. Mary Cheh seems to be the only one with gonads large enough to speak up about it though. This is about to come to a head…hopefully the head changes!!

  • ukfbbuff

    So how is Dennis Rubin handling this claim? Saying “Horse Feathers”?

    Ellerbe has been “Chief” for the past 30 moths.

    The incompetency resides with him now.

  • Anonymous

    1. Detroit has better morale and is operating within its own economic reality. Difficult job in Detroit but the brotherhood is intact.
    2. The Dep Mayor cites shorter response times. This is because of mandated 1 minute from receipt of call to response and turn around times at the hospital without food, break, or time for data input on the epcr.
    3. Paramedic class is non-existent. Catastrophe is coming. Mark my words.

  • Mr. Obvious

    Yes, it is true that the Council does not have the authority to fire any mayoral appointee. However, the Council controls the purse strings. Want to make a statement – reduce the Chief’s salary to $1. The mayor can be behind the chief all he wants, but when the chief has to hit his savings to live – how long is that going to last. Money talks – BS walks….

  • Pennsyltuckian

    “Stay the course”… In another interview Quander speaks about his accomplishments. What has he done? I’ve seen 2 scathing reports (between Wells’ and that released when Local 36 voted no confidence) that outlines a laundry list of failures but no one can tell me 1 positive thing that has happened under his administration. Morale sucks (for those few dumb enough to stick around through this circus) and public safety has suffered due to his agenda. I echo the sediment that thankfully someone has stepped up (Cheh) and taken a stand.

    Dave, do us all a favor and ask the tough questions that no one else will, such as to cite all of Ellerbe’s accomplishments that Quander is referring to.

    • dave statter

      My days of asking questions are over. Still have plenty of them, though.

  • David

    Obama has been president 5 years and he still blames Bush. What is the Statute of limitations one has before you have to start taking responsibility?

    Stay strong DCFD Brothers

    • Is that you John Wayne?

      Funny you bring up Obama in comparison to Chief Ellerbe. They have both been very disrespected like no other president and FireChief. It takes time to sweep out the trash from a previous administration. I don’t know if you’re a member but the last administration basically ran the dept. into the ground like Bush did for Obama.

      Cheh we know youre probably running for mayor and giving lip service. And if you had a clue of what have been going on in this dept you would choke on your statement. Its about time a chief came along and had the balls to stand up against the status-quo.

      Whether you like it or not Chief Ellerbe is gonna serve out his term. I’m for anyone who is about change and forward progress. Its not about the letters dcfd, its about dedication to your duty as a sworn member. I think some of you care more about the letters on your back than your commitment to the public. Keep them in check chief,this is no volley house like the admin was trying to turn it into.

      • INVICTUS

        John Wayne,
        You seem to have some insight into the motives of Ellerbe. Maybe you can ask him to honestly explain something to the stakeholders of Washington D.C., which is the Nations Capital, so that would be every American citizen, even those in PA, MD, WV, VA, OH, and all those that live in the district. Ask him to explain why he is not hiring off of the 2008 recruit register? If you subtract the hiring freeze time imposed by Ellerbe the list is only 2-3 years old. I am sure the citizens of this country would be interested to know that there is a hiring list in DC that Ellerbe has been trying to bypass. I am also sure that the ACLU, DC Human Rights Office, and DC Inspector General would love to hear what he has to say.

      • Pipeman27

        What flavor kool aid is your favorite?

  • rose color glasses

    He made the same mistakes in Florida !!! Left for DC before it all caught up to him

  • Steve in NJ

    D.C. Needs to hire a “Consultant” to “help” them on their “depleted and outdated fleet?” How manny chief officers does D.C. have? They need to bring in an outside consultant? Aren’t the chiefs SUPPOSED to be the experts on topics like apparatus purchase, replacement, etc. (that’s how you become a chief, right?)? What a sham. What a complete waste of money. Should they hire a “consultant” to help them run incidents above a 1st alarm? How about a “consultant” to write policies and procedures? Is the fire academy run by a “consultant?” What a complete joke and disgrace the D.C. Fire Chief is. I really feel for the men and women of the DCFD. How sad.

  • Sally

    Is it just me, or does the chief have the same look as the mayor way back that was elected, booted for crack, and then re-elected. D.C. is a disgrace to humanity. This stuff could only happen in Detroit, D.C., and possibly Atlanta.

    • Bobby Eugene

      And Memphis.

  • Retired Chief

    Taking a page from El Presidente’ with the Blame Bush theory is a bit out of context for Ellerbe I believe, he must be living under “The Dome” where they use a bucket brigade for fire protection.
    Quander states they are “gaining traction”. What the hell does that mean?
    Sorry to say but it looks like the FUBAR FD to me.

  • David S.

    As Eddie Murphy always put things in perspective How Long Will This Bull S*** Go On.

  • SrFireOfficial

    Text of my email to CM Cheh supporting her decision to seek Ellerbee’s resignation….
    Dear MS Cheh:

    I would like to take this opportunity to applaud your courageous decision to seek the resignation of Kenneth Ellerbee as the District of Columbia’s fire chief. Since 1983, history has clearly demonstrated that the appointment of mayoral cronies to this position has been detrimental to the advancement of the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. In fact, the same challenges facing the department today including a lack of available EMS transport units, a deteriorating apparatus fleet and poor morale almost mirror the same problems faced 30 years ago when then-Mayor Barry’s friend Theodore Coleman was the District’s fire chief.

    After a nearly 30 year fire service career in Northern Virginia and a former District of Columbia resident and taxpayer for a similar length of time, I feel exceptionally well-qualified to speak on the topic of fire and emergency services. Structure fires, mostly in residential buildings, are a daily occurrence within the District proper and are usually quickly and efficiently brought under control with nary a mention in the local news. As the nation’s capital, demands are increased on EMS services due to the number of visitors and large scale special events that regularly take place within the District’s borders. It is essential to maintain a large, well-equipped and staffed fire department that is prepared to address all of the emergencies ranging from mundane to extraordinary that will confront a large, densely populated urban municipality.

    Chief Cathy Lanier merits retention of her position by effectively leading the Metropolitan Police Department; the same caliber of leadership should be expected from the fire chief. This charlatan of a fire chief has clearly demonstrated that he lacks the knowledge, skills and abilities to effectively lead his agency and overcome the challenges it faces. His removal is merited by the fact he is unable to effectively maintain a properly staffed work force (i.e. paramedic retention) and inability to effectively maintain the department’s rolling stock.

    I implore you to continue to seek his removal whether by forcing his resignation or outright termination of his employment as the fire chief; the members of the District of Columbia’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, its citizens and visitors served deserve a competent leader. Further, his replacement should be appointed only after a nationwide search finds an exceptionally well-qualified leader ready to embrace the unique challenges of being Fire Chief, District of Columbia and the candidate’s abilities and qualifications are vetted by the Council.

    Thank you for your efforts and consideration in this crucial public safety issue.

    Sincerely yours,

    • Is that you John Wayne?

      First of all the rank and file do not applaud Cathy Lanier like you so suggest….nor their union leader. I’ll agree that Rubin was ordering apparatus and hired medics. But he failed and lost control of the daily workings of the dept.

      You had members in telestaff and the deputy office hooking their buddies up…basically monopolizing overtime. Favoritism was out of control as well as the disciplinary system. Its clear and apparent why these members do not want chief Ellerbe here.

      He represents change that most are not accustom to. Yeah he ran into a brick wall of resistance….because he doesn’t play ball. He’s not down with the bad traditions of this department.

      It’s not about the medics leaving….most of them can care less if the medics leave. The medics catch hell from their own back step about the runs they partake. When the members learn that you don’t run this department… than things will smooth out. Until than we will be right where we are stagnant.

      Also upper and middle management need to learn that you (officer) are not the (privates) buddy. When you learn to supervise and stop being one of the guys, than the department can start operating like a professional dept.

  • Anonymous

    Quander’s own statements say LRB should resign.

    “hired a consultant to help address the fleet issues” Really? Isn’t that what the chief’s job is?

    “just now getting the momentum” Really? It’s been 2 1/2 years Paul. Why is the momentum only now beginning?

    “inherited the problems” Again, it’s been 2 1/2 years. Why haven’t the problems started changing till now?

    Mr. Quander, thanks for helping us speak up. You obviously can’t be any smarter then the jackass your supporting.


    John Wayne…you seem to be the one who’s John Wayne oneday, Anonymous the next…what names next…Mary Poppins???….your tone is repetitive, so its easy to decipher your the same person always sticking up for this incompetent person….

    We get the hate for the career fireman who volunteer in their respective jurisdictions and that volunteering was a stepping stone to be a career fireman….Away from anyone who loved Rubin, your mentor dislikes these types of individuals, because if you didn’t walk in Kenzin’s footsteps, you’re on his im gonna get you sucka list….

    So once again i ask you…WHAT HAS THIS INEPT IDIOT done to move this department forward….I’ll provide the amswer since all you can do is say he’s moving the department forward, but don’t list the positives he’s accomplished…Answer: NOTHING

    You and his few followers idea of moving forward is by treating every and anyone outside of Kenneth’s SE DC comfort zone unfairly by being a vindictive cowardly evil NON CHRISTIAN piece of garbage….this my friend has ZERO to do with moving a department forward, but EVERYTHING to do with a payback mentality…

    Did Rubin leave a mess when he left ?…with the empty checkbook he believed he had to creating DFC positions to pour his coffee…yeah…I’d say yeah he did…whether President or DC Fire Chief…they all leave something behind to clean up…some more than others….

    So you come in not qualified for the position to begin with and only get appointed because of Uncle Vinny…your first course of action is to cut overtime amd run the department as if it were in a financial crisis…compound this with lack of hiring, filling vacant paramedic positions for the sole purpose to promote a schedule change and hire more cadets, you now have the ingredients to run this department into the ground….first hint of an incompetent stooge completely in over his head was when Kenzin spole to hundreds of empty seats at UDC so he could tell them about how great the uniforms are and that the shop is now open twenty FO 7….wow wee…pat yourself on the back…

    then of course is the failure to procure apparatus, fix broken apparatus, have reserve apparatus readily available, failure to adequately staff etc., and so were ready to move this department forward????

    so the recipe for disaster is now in the oven and we now have gone way past the budgeted overtime which in turn makes the origimal #1 goal of cutting overtime seem quite ridiculous, but proves to the 99% of us that this guy couldn’t manage a kids piggy bank…i dont see how this becomes the previous admins fault…

    then we HAVE and our told by CM Wells we do have money to FULLY fund the department, but choose to not spend, but continue to run the department as if were in financial trouble….not sure how this becomes the previous admins fault….

    I also don’t see where disparate treatment towards people who are either not like yourself, volunteer or were one of Rubin & Schultz’s cronies something to blame on the previous admin…this is just a continuation of disparate treatment im different form, because of the payback cowardly leadership style Kenzin decided to lead by, rather than do what he publicly said he’d do…treat EVERYONE fairly and EVERYONE has a level playing field…what a freaken crock that statement turned out to be….kind of like the leader of the pack….a joke

    Mr Quander…with all do respect…please go climb into the deep hole your subordinate has put this department into and never say another word…just when clueless about FIRE/EMS has a meaning all to itself…you my friend come along and give it new meaning….your lack of balls and pathetic stat

  • 19262007

    Politicians are something else aren’t they? This entire MANUFACTURED crisis in DCFD makes it painfully clear who is the cause of this country’s economic woes. It’s not the dedicated public servants who do the actual work, it’s the greedy, self serving scumbag politicians and their hand puppet appointees with their small minded agendas driving things into the ground. “When small men attempt great enterprises, they always end by reducing them to their level of mediocrity.” Napoleon Bonaparte

  • Gomer Pyle

    I heard there is a huge list floating around PG County and some other neighboring counties of Career fireman who support the idea of DC supplementing their Career staff with a Vol Corps. It has been told to me that there are over 200 folks from these jurisdictions willing to to sign up for a dedicated duty night to help out the District – I also heard Ellerbe is bringing in a soon to be retiring PG Battalion Chief to impliment the combination staffing plan.

    I truly feel bad for the good guys who are getting the shitty end of this fire chiefs nonsense but to the rest of you who do completely stupid things on your days off, well you get what you deserve…..Karma!

    • Anonymous

      Can I be a live in and pick and chose my calls? Can I bump the oic,driver, Lineman,or tiller man out of there spot? We could send the on duty crew home and handle everything with vollies and save thousands of dollars for the tax payers. Could I wash my car inside and leave a mess or just leave a mess for others to clean up? Oh I know cause all kinds of hate and discontent and be a general pain in the rear just because I can and do what ever I want because hey what are you going to do fire me or take my paycheck? You can’t because I am a volunteer……………………..shut up stupid. Big cities went to a paid force because of these reasons and others that I won’t, can’t or don’t know about.
      Good luck d.c.

    • bill

      Ha. You really think LRB would have any white boys from the county come in.

  • 19262007

    Gotta love the rumor mill and everyone who bites on it!

  • DC fire capt

    Good words of wisdom, Hookman. However, please do not forget the work place change of LRB telling a woman firefighter that “She has good genes”, or stares too long at her name tag. Not to mention his transparency. I have yet to see any transparency. Oh yeah, and his shining stars. Where are the stars?
    John Wayne, since you support ERB’s change can you answer my questions without smoke and mirrors? Are you one oh his shining stars who hide around the corner to snitch to boss man?

  • Watchdogdc

    Just as he has always done Ellerbe is trying to blame someone else for his failures. He again has tried to blame the previous administration for what is going wrong. All of the paramedics have left under Ellerbe’s watch. The previous administration had an apparatus replacement plan. We are almost three years into this administration and not one positive thing has happened for the agency it has been one negative after the other. The current administration turned in 10 million dollars in unspent budget money last year that was earmarked for the purchasing of new apparatus. There should be an investigation launched by the same people that are getting convictions on all of the other Vince Gray associates into Ellerbe and Quander’s actions in dealing with public safety. There has now been a lawsuit filed by the family that lost a loved one due to the manufactured staffing shortages created by these two trying to push their own political agenda. These two constantly try to place the blame on the number of people that were off that day when in reality that is not the true reason there were units unstaffed. The real reason was Chief Ellerbe said he was going to place units out of service so he did not have to pay overtime. I can tell you for a fact that no one in my assigned fire station which houses an engine and ladder truck was contacted about working overtime on new years eve. There was not an honest attempt to fill those vacancies. There has to be some sort of criminal element be conducted by Gray, Quander and Ellerbe when all of the current positions in the agency are funded in the current budget and the staffing levels are allowed to reach this critical situation that has contributed to the death of a citizen. Mr. Machen should be looking to this complete package of mismanagement and file the appropriate criminal charges on this group of people for their negligence.