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A small group of people, including ANC commissioners and retired firefighters, showed up at the Wilson Building Monday in support of embattled D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe.
One by one the members of the group expressed their displeasure with the way the city council was treating the chief and suggested politics and race had something to do with it.
The 20 or so supporters gathered reporters together on the fifth floor just after 11 a.m. and questioned why the chief was taking so much heat from certain members of the D.C. Council.
They noted no one called for the resignation of the last fire chief, Dennis Rubin, who is white, and suggested politics and perhaps race was at play with a potential high profile endorsement from the firefighter’s union.
“I too feel that things have gone on before he became our fire chief,” said community activist Barbara Morgan. “Nothing was done about it, but all of a sudden, we have people in the city council calling for his resignation. I think that they need to let him do his job and go with the business of the city.”
But when one man, ANC 8E Commissioner Anthony Muhammad, noted no one had asked for Chief Rubin’s resignation following stories that reflected badly on the fire department, reporters asked about race.
“I’m saying they didn’t call for his resignation,” Muhammad responded.”
At that point, standing right behind Muhammad, Morgan said, “In so many words I would say that. They didn’t do anything about Rubin. He sold our fire trucks. Nobody called for an investigation. This man is here, step back, let him do his job for those of us who are here and did not leave the city and are still here.”
Several people, including retired firefighters, laid some of the blame for the chief’s troubles on firefighters who are resisting the chief’s desire to end the highly popular shift schedule of 24 hours on and 72 hours off.
“Is the fire chief a pawn now because we have members of the city council, incumbent members of the city council running for mayor, is the endorsement of the union more important than doing the work for their constituents?” retired firefighter Nathan Queen said.
The fire chief’s troubles spiked a little over a week ago when a report from Tommy Wells, the head of the judiciary committee and a candidate for mayor, said D.C. Fire and EMS was in a crisis and he had no confidence the fire chief would be able to implement his ambulance redeployment plan.
When asked, no one in the group said they had read the report.
We tried to talk to Chief Ellerbe outside headquarters on Monday, but he went inside the building when he saw our camera.
A few minutes later, he came out of the building and got into his car, but drove away without saying a word.
Chief Ellerbe later sent an email explaining that he couldn’t talk at the time because he was dealing with a sensitive personnel issue and had since returned to his office. However, when FOX 5 asked to come up for an interview, there was no response.
Wells says he told the group when they came to see him that he has not asked for the chief resignation and encouraged them to read the report so they could fully understand the issues.
D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has faced withering criticism over the past several months over his leadership of D.C. Fire& EMS. But on Monday, a small crowd of about a dozen gathered at City Hall to support the embattled chief.
His supporters questioned why Ellerbe is at fault and why alleged deep-rooted problems were never attributed to the former fire chief, Dennis Rubin.
“When a fire engine was sold, no one called for the resignation of Mr. Rubin,” says Anthony Muhammad, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner.
Firefighters supported a vote of no confidence in Ken Ellerbe in late March.
Last week, D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh called for Ellerbe to resign, citing a scathing 29-page report showing a fire department in disarray.
Even though they said they hadn’t read the report, Ellerbe’s supporters dismissed it, saying the councilman who issued the report, Tommy Wells, has political reasons for issuing the report since he’s running for mayor.
D.C. firefighter Nathan Queen said, “any judiciary chairperson can go and pull off the shelf any issue with the fire department and all they have to do is change the date. The same issues still exist now that existed 30 years ago.”
A March report indicated that nearly half of the District’s fleet of ambulances were out of service at that time, leaving just 58 of the 111 at the city’s disposal able to be used.
That investigation and disclosure came a few weeks after an MPD motorcycle officer had to wait nearly an hour for medical service – from a Prince George’s County unit – after being hit by a car in Southeast.