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Your DC update: Chief Ellerbe won’t stop to talk about private ambulances taking over special events. Former Chief Rubin gets a brutal book review.

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I’ve finally come to the conclusion over the last few days the best thing former DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Dennis Rubin could have done for his reputation and legacy was to not write the book “DC Fire”. The headlines about the department over the last year or so may say everything that needs to be said and probably bolsters his image a lot more than whatever Rubin could say about his time  in charge in DC (more on The Rube’s book in a moment).

It has come out since Friday that the situation is so bad in the department private ambulances have been brought in to handle special events details at Nationals Park and the Verizon Center. This is all related to the severe shortage of paramedics and a fleet that is in shambles. On top of that, the current chief, Kenneth Ellerbe, is once again seen walking briskly away from TV cameras, refusing to sit still and talk with reporters about the serious problems facing the department. Here’s some of what WTTG-TV/Fox 5 reporter Paul Wagner wrote:

Four private ambulances were used to transport patients at Monday night’s Nationals game and a concert at the Verizon Center, and they will be in place at Nationals Park again Tuesday night. There were so many breakdowns over the weekend, fire department mechanics couldn’t keep up.

On any given day, D.C. Fire and EMS has 39 ambulances on the street around the clock with four ambulances in reserve. But there were so many breakdowns since last Friday the fire department had to draft mechanics from other agencies in order to get them back in service quickly.

It is a situation Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe did not want to talk about when we caught up with him walking down U Street on Tuesday.

I’m so glad I retired from TV news before this administration came into office. With my fat gut I’m not in shape enough to be running after the fit Chief Ellerbe like reporter Paul Wagner has been doing while trying to get some questions answered. I needed a nap after just watching the video. The most useful quote from the fast walk down U Street with the chief on Tuesday may have been, “Don’t push me sir”.

Andrea Noble of The Washington Times is also writing about the need for private ambulances after Chief Ellerbe provided a fairly optimistic evaluation of the prospects for the summer at a council hearing in April saying, “I’m confident in our equipment and I’m confident in our personnel.”

As for The Rube, though he hasn’t been a fire chief for two-and-a-half years, he is also taking a big hit this week from the local news media. Will Sommer, who writes Loose Lips (LL) for the Washington City Paper, posted a column online Monday titled, “LL Reads Dennis Rubin’s D.C. Fire So You Don’t Have To”. It isn’t kind to the former chief or his book. Actually the review is quite brutal. It gets on Rubin for a number of things starting with this comment:

Rubin’s book, which is meant to teach fire officials how to deal with crises, totally avoids one of the biggest scandals of his term: the donation of a fire truck to a Dominican Republic town.

In the video below you will see how the chief handled this mess as it played out initially during a city council hearing on April 1, 2009. It was far from Rubin’s best moment, but I was convinced then and still am now that the chief and the department were forced to be the fall guys for this mini-scandal involving close associates of Mayor Adrian Fenty. The inspector general’s report on the whole affair can be found here. Sommer is right that an honest look at that caper by Rubin would have added great value to the book. Possibly instructing our nation’s future fire chiefs on how to avoid being put in that position.

More from the April 1, 2009 hearing on the fire truck & ambulance donated to Sosua, Dominican Republic: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4You can find the inspector general’s report and more details here.

Sommer also writes that Rubin uses the book to settle scores, describing his antagonists with everything but their names. In fact, I am one of those who gets the full Rubin treatment (as does the City Paper). He talks about me in the first chapter as the reporter who had been a volunteer firefighter and had a reputation for being “difficult for years”. Guilty as charged. But I’m pretty sure you will find his facts are wrong when he claims I was the reporter asking pointed questions about Rubin’s race at the 2007 press conference where Mayor Fenty introduces his new fire chief.

While Sommer didn’t find much he liked in the book, I believe there are some valuable parts for future fire service leaders. In particular, I was intrigued by the chapters describing why Rubin stopped the cadet program, the importance of background checks and how the Secret Service refused to allow a large number of firefighters to take part in Inaugural events because of their pasts. Those topics are a lot more useful than finding out what celebrities the chief hobnobbed with, which is something else Sommer highlights:

The best “What is Rubin thinking?” moment, though, comes the day after President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Rubin had been promised a spot in Oprah Winfrey’s studio audience for her broadcast from D.C., but two fires are holding him up. At one fire, Rubin encounters an elderly woman and a mentally handicapped man who eventually died from their injuries. Later, Rubin’s stuck at a fire that’s spreading between row houses. “At the rate we were going, I would likely miss my chance to be in Oprah’s studio audience,” Rubin moans.

Rest assured, reader, Rubin makes Oprah’s taping, where he gives her a fire department shirt. “How great was that for branding DCFD to the world?” Rubin says.

While he has never explained why, Dennis Rubin suddenly stopped speaking to me about four-years-ago. To be fair, this blog began about the same time he took the job in Washington. It put him under the microscope where his triumphs and failures were on display almost daily for the rest of the fire service to see.  That was something a little bit new at that time and I’m sure it wasn’t always pleasant. It very well could be the reason behind the silent treatment.

I still want to do my best to be fair to the former chief. Dennis Rubin is invited to use this space to write a response to the book review (unedited by me), promote “DC Fire”, and talk about me any way that he would like (I sure talked about him a lot for almost four years). 

While I don’t believe the book is as useful a teaching tool as it could have been, I know for some it will at least be entertaining to view the inside of the often troubled DC Fire & EMS Department through Rubin’s eyes and learn what one fire chief thinks of Dave Statter. That reason alone may be worth the price of admission.

By the way, I am also making the same offer of writing a response to his critics to the current chief, Kenneth Ellerbe.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Anonymous

    Ambulances with broken AC systems during the summer is nothing new here…’s been going on for at least the past 30 years.

    I seem to recall Rubin refusing to speak to reporters several times. Especially when confronted about the worker exchange program involving Ellerbe and the state of Florida.

    • dave statter

      The only time I recall the Rube doing that to me was, in fact, about the Ellerbe deal when he was walking out of Channel 9 and raced for his car and let my friend Pete Piringer handle it. Rubin did intitially refuse to talk with me on the sprinkler demo until I told them I would be forced to do an ambush interview (since he already had given an interview to Ed Comeau) and showed up outside Grimke a short time later.

    • Nostradamus

      Actually, Anonymous, it’s never been this bad. Yes, AC systems have gone down but we have usually had the reserves to take up the slack and we definitely had adequate reserves prior to Ellerbe’s destuctive negligence. You can repeat all you want how this has all happened before and it has, but it has been dealt with better by EVERY previous administration in my 25+ years, including Ronnie Few, and that’s saying something. Pretending that this is nothing new and Ellerbe is just getting more scrutiny than previous chiefs just shows either your ignorance of the past or your blind allegiance to the current adminisration. Either way, it severely undermines your credibility.

      As far as this ambush interview, it just emphasizes the fact that Ellerbe is totally unsuited for operating at the executive level of a major organization. Anyone familiar with him can see how close he came to losing it and why he has been shielded (or forbidden) from talking to the media unscripted for the better part of this year.

      “Don’t push me”?

      “The doctor handles the medical operations”??

      “I’ve been on vacation”???

      Really? Being out of town didn’t stop him from weighing in on the on the Frager’s fire as it happened. For him to imply that he couldn’t answer questions because he just got back from vacation was bush league as were all his response to Paul Wagner. And anyone even remotely familiar with the inner workings of the Department knows he is intimately involved with every decision from transfer lists to trial boards to the detriment of the entire Department. Despite what Ellerbe may think, he has overplayed his hand (I think he knows this but can’t admit it). He is on the downside of his tenure as chief. But make no mistake, he will ensure the end is as painful as possible for our members and as drawn out as it can be.

      Ellerbe created this hostile atmoshpere by confronting and dressing down the media on multiple occasions, it’s now his bed to lie in. I’m sure Dave could use some of this footage for educating PIOs and chief officers.

      • Anonymous

        “Actually, Anonymous, it’s never been this bad. Yes, AC systems have gone down but we have usually had the reserves to take up the slack and we definitely had adequate reserves prior to Ellerbe’s destuctive negligence. You can repeat all you want how this has all happened before and it has, but it has been dealt with better by EVERY previous administration in my 25+ years, including Ronnie Few, and that’s saying something. Pretending that this is nothing new and Ellerbe is just getting more scrutiny than previous chiefs just shows either your ignorance of the past or your blind allegiance to the current adminisration. Either way, it severely undermines your credibility”.

        Not hardly…….remember……the way the previous administration handled it was to allow you to wear shorts and t-shirts.

        • Anonymous

          Yep, that’s right, shorts and and t-shirts were a big problem when (F)LRB arrived.

          This Dept upper echelon is beyond embarrassing. The only thing that has saved it is that lack of a major incident were lives are involved.

        • Anonymous

          Just an opinion, Dennis Rubin was the only US Fire Chief that I can think of that advanced throught each rank in multiple departments without ever taking a promotion exam, I have been told. He is an incredible, articulate, knowledgeable speaker.

          IMO, he is also a charlatan. He worked for an anti-labor and self-righteous mayor and atty general, who made it difficult to work for the interests of all. His operations chief was a poor choice and the two will be forever tied at the hip. In the end, DR was a tireless self-promotor.

          The worst part is he laid the ground work for the calculating, racist, Sun Tzu wannabe, who is now the Fire Chief. Yes, read Sun Tzu if you want a little more background on Ken Ellerbe’s mentality; it was his favorite book as an adolescent according to his brother.

          He duped all and most disturbing branded the blacks as UT’s if they don’t follow, hook, line, and sinker. He has most certainly set race relations back 10 x further than DR could have ever done.

          As for those calling for the end of “traditions,” it is the lack of knowledge of the fire service and a fundamental disconnect of what really matters about the job that evades your thinking. Kenny Ellerbe wants discipline but ask him how many dark hallways he has climbed down in his career. Very few. It is a political game for him, that is so far removed from the what the blue-collar black and white firefigher takes pride in. So sad, and sad for those that support him at this point (maybe 5% of the Dept).

  • David

    Maybe chasing Ellerbe around would keep you fit. How long will the mayor stick his neck out for this guy and how long with the citizens let this continue?

  • Anonymous

    The fire truck donation pre-dates my moving to the area, so I don’t have any background other than this video you posted. That being said, as a corporate executive, I’m trying to understand how this was a scandal. In watching the video, Rubin handled himself very well, acknowledging what he knew and did not know, but immediately and without hesitation taking responsibility for whatever may have happened on his watch. Maybe I’m just too used to seeing people make excuses and hide behind others.

    I found the council member’s questions towards the end to be somewhat absurd, as I fail to see why he expects a DCFD chief to have intimate details regarding the travel of employees of other agencies.

    • dave statter

      It became somewhat of a scandal in the way the who thing was handled, including that testimony. Read the IG report. My impression and yours on that video are very different. It is one to say you take responibility and another to be candid about what happened. It took the IG to determine that.

  • Nat Turner diaries

    You know whats funny about all of this (running to the press) We said that this would happen even before it had started. These members are Soooo!!!! predictable. Dave there was no secret that this was going to manifest, and I am no swamee.

    Dave I believe you know the real reason the membership are running to the press,and it has very little to do with apparatus or medics leaving. The current fire chief is not part of business as usual, the old way of doing business.

    Let me be frank, there is a certain element who enjoyed monopolizing prime assignments,controlled the overtime,and were sheilded from punitive action. This element hate the fact that some of their beloved icons were discipline for rogue behavior.

    Taking away the shorts probably didn’t cut to deep, but telling them they can’t wear dcfd, why that was blasphemy to some. To some Ellerbe represents disrespect to their so called tradition. Being assigned to this department for 25+yrs affords a person to have a pulse of the department, so you tend to know the players, movers and shakers.

    Theres a reason why that element didn’t run to the press like they do with the current chief. For one, Rubin basically let the department run amuck. As long as the members could respond on calls looking like pig pen who gave a heck. They were in heaven, wearing T shirts in the summer,shorts in the winter,it was out of control.

    Rubin basically ran the department like a volunteer department. Yes he may have ordered some apparatus, but he ran our budget into the ground. Dave this is all by design, they are going to keep the full court press on the chief until they think mayor V. Gray can’t take it no more.

    That element want someone who is going to give them that warm and fuzzy feeling again. Where no one puts out draconian rules that have been on the books and yet not enforced.

    The council is so naive, they don’t want to know the truth. Anyone who comes along and goes against the grain is going to have an upstream battle. How dare he (Ellerbe) come here and change OUR department, my daddy and his daddy were here!. Dave that element do not control the department anymore and can’t operate and conduct themselves with impunity.

    Oh did I forget to mention the shift change that probably was number 1 or 2.

    • Ted

      Nat, great, the rules are being enforced, but the fleet has fallen to sh*t. What excuse will you make for LRB on that one?

    • Anonymous

      You know what is funny about guys like you Nat, and your daddy ellerbe? You act so righteous in your condemnation of “tradition” and the “status quo”, but any half rational person can see that your angst is a byproduct of a narrow, jealous, racist mentality. Instead of getting on the job, and getting into the job, guys like you are consumed by your hatred for your brothers. I truly feel sorry for you, because the FD is a wonderful thing. It saved my life, and kept me out of jail. So drop the fairness and equality greivence crap: it comes off as the moaning of a troubled brother with an inferiority complex. I wish just one reporter would ask LRB “what is wrong with the status quo in dcfd”. He would smirk, as he always does when he is getting ready to lie, and say something passive about being ‘progressive’ or ‘moving the department forward’ when in reality the only thing moving forward is him running like a b*%$@ when he is confronted by the media. The saddest thing for the city is that the mayor supports this man.

  • Nat Turner diaries

    And another thing the union cried about the membership not having NFPA compliant work station uniforms. But you can ride around this department on any given day and see members wearing the old uniforms that they say will stick to ya.

    If it was all about safety every member would be wearing the compliant uniforms. The union isn’t even pushing for the guys to wear it. Its all a smoke screen. Paul Wagner if your out there why don’t you do a story on why the chief has bought NFPA compliant uniforms, but the membership refuse to wear it. Whats that about??????

    • Nostradamus

      Nat Turner-

      In response to any negative comment about Ellerbe,the ONLY thing that is said is that “he is not part of business as usual, the old way of doing business.”

      Beside that, can you please give me a list of a few accomplishments? I ask this because even the chief himself couldn’t list anything signifcant at his own State of the Department address besides “we look better” and “the shop is open 24-7 now.” Neither of which have helped the delivery of fire and ems services. I would also contend that the recent order allowing 1/4″ beards does nothing to enhance service delivery, safety of the members or appearance. In fact, a compliant fit test is now impossible. I’m curious as to how MES will handle it.

      I can really only think of two:

      1. He brought back the cadet program. While I believe the last iteration of the program should have been revamped, I do not think the entire program should have been scrapped altogether by the previous administration.

      2. He reduced response and chute times. I contend that this is his most signifcant accomplishment, one that no other adminisration has done to any degree.

      Beyond those two, I’m really at a loss and I would really like to know what I am missing. And if the response is that he is ham strung by the Council, please remember that EVERY fire chief in DC and anywhere else has political realities they need to work within, Ellerbe is not unique in that respect. In fact, he has some pretty significant positives going his way- a supportive mayor and deputy mayor and full funding with a decent budget being two of them. So if your response is that it’s the Council’s fault then Ellerbe is not qualified to lead in this arena.

      So is it possible to get some insight into these accomplishments? (Without mentioning tradition, Pennsylvania, Rubin or Schultz)

    • bill

      Nat Turner…..screen name says it all. 25+ years so you know the pulse of the dept. You must have been one of those sitting on the “rock pile” down at the training school that couldn’t pass EMT. The pulse of the dept has flat-lined. There are only a few of you “stars” out there that support this clown of a “chief”.

      Ellerbe is part of business as usual….Old school DC politics. If there was any kind of a mayor, he would have never been offered the job, let alone get away with all this bullshit. As far as Rubin, I didn’t like him much either. He did blow the budget, but let’s face it….you’re real problem with him was the discipline. Well maybe if you break the law, you shouldn’t have a job here. Everyone knows Ellerbe’s agenda and who he’s looking out for.

      As far as the uniforms. I never chose to wear shorts, but what’s wrong with them and a t-shirt. As long as they’re not in shreds, they looked fine to me. This isn’t a white-collar job. Looks a lot better to me than some guy with hair down to the middle of his back dragging the aid bag up the street moving like molasses. Oh, and I don’t wear the compliant uniform because every time I’ve gone to property they don’t have my size.

      • Engine 345

        For God”s sake please do not talk about Rubin and Law, there was so much BS swept up under the rug, you thought you were at a HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS

    • Brian

      until he orders enough to get every member enough uniforms than the argument is mute. I have been to property several times and am met with the same response every time….not yet, we still don’t have any to issue you. I have one set of the new FR uniform. One set out of the four I should. I change my uniform at least once during my shift when its 100+ degrees. You do the math.

  • Snarff

    I was starting to get withdrawals its been at lest two weeks without a DC Fire and EMS story.

    The paramedic “shortage” is a manufactured crisis anyways, I know 5 paramedics including myself who have applied for DC when they opened the position in June. Of course you are going to have a shortage if you don’t hire.

  • 20 year capt

    Nat, anyone with eyes can see that this isn’t a case of disgruntled members going to the press, but rather the press coming after a recalcitrant agency head.

    There’s only so many times you can cry that “it’s only because he’s not like *them*”.

    Ellerbe is incompetent at both leadership and management. His only asset is that gray seems to have given up on reelection and doesn’t care what Ellerbe does.

  • Seriously Nat Turner

    Wow bro nice rant!!! I am almost, nah not really impressed. Why did you stop using the name X-ray? It fit you oh so well, people can see right through you!!

    Man, sometimes some of the things that come out of your mouth just astonish me. I cannot believe you have been fooled to this degree. I swear if Daddy E said to fly a plane into a building you would do it, still rocking that wave cap 90’s look and your old EGA!

    Ugh, I am so tired if the bickering and arguing all around. I still love my job! I still live my city! But no I do not care for the top dawg at the moment. And yes I am an inner city, black, cadet fire officer!

    • it must be christmas

      Nice try at your improvisation of being a black guy “Black Cadet Fire Officer”. I think it’s pretty obvious your not black,so stick to being who are and leave the (bro) stuff to the realist “bruh”.

  • Anonymous

    Cowardice was what I saw during the Wagner/Ellerbe 10k… Nothing more nothing less…

  • dido

    Just glad we can grow beadrs again, safety first u

  • bs

    Last time I went to property there were no short sleeve shirts. I was told to cut the sleeves off the long sleeve shirts. When asked when short sleeves would be in I was told probably around the time the winter coats arrive………a world class joke from every angle

    • it must be christmas

      Really? Ive been down to property several times this year and found them to have plenty of uniforms. There are times when supply gets low for sure. But like someone on here said, you could ride around and find many wearing the old uniforms. So my guess is property should be over flowing with shirts and pants, since no one is wearing the new gear.

  • cs

    This seems to be the rising trend with leaders these days. I do what I want and float along until I made my money attitude.

  • Just a thought

    Keep up the Good Work Chief. Chief Rub In destroyed the department and caused MILLIONS in $$$ from lawsuits and divided the department along racial lines.

    • dave statter

      But to be fair, he also has a pretty good record of defending himself against those suits. Anyone can sue. Proving their case and getting damages is another thing. And don’t let the millions of dollars fool you. A DC police detective who just won his lawsuit claiming retaliation for speaking out against “All hands on deck” was awarded $2.

    • Anonymous

      Are you kidding? How did he divide the Dept on racial lines. Ellerbe has for sure. Rubin fired shitbags no matter the color. Quit reaching

      • It must be christmas

        You know why you say Rube didn’t divide the department, because you benefitted greatly from his reign. Just talk to the brothas they will tell how they felt about Rube


    I gather Im the misfit Rubin often tweets about and withiut name dropping, writes his Cyberbullying article in Fire Engineering magazine where he talks about dealing with the 1% and one individual in particular….He’s an amazing author….You’d think he was a 30 year veteran of the DCFD, when in fact he quit the department twice….I find it amazing there’s no mention whatsoever about his speaking all over the country while he was here and that he was absent for much of his 4 years…….of course he thanks the great Adrian Fenty….he turned a blind eye to Rubin and let him do whatever he wanted……the books say he was at work, but the books can also be fudged…..umder Rubin…it was either be a yes man to him or find yourself working in the basement somewhere…….many (except me) were fooled by this guy….oh yeah..he let everyone wear shorts and hob nobbed at the local firehouse or social gatherings like he was one of the fellas…..people buy into this kinda act he put on for 4 years, so when compared to the idiot that took his place….the Rube is an angel, when in fact he was no beter than Ellerbe…just because Rubin didn’t mess with the traditions like Ellerbe has dome..dont think for a minute that this self serving dirtbag would lay his life down for ine if the brothers…..he also fails to mention in his book the alleged NREMT cheating scandal that was swept under the rug and no final report by the Inspector General ever surfaced about it….then there was the sprinkler demo failure at Galludt U, where a fireman received superficial burns and Rubin downplayed it by saying it was a nickel sized burn, but he took responsibility for something that shoukdn’t have occurred in the first place…..though I could care less about his book DC Fire, as it sounds like its been written in the same manner as his fire service career has been about….HIMSELF!!!!

    As far as the lawsuits go….technically there against the DC Government with Rubin being named as a defendant….whether a plaintiff wins or loses…..nothing happens to Rubin…the DC Government defends him and he’s responsible for nothing… Curt Varner of Firelaw blog states….hus friend is 11-0 in lawsuits against him….though the law is quirky and most of the suits are very hard to win….its hard to prove Rubin did this or that by himself….though he escaped and has this stellar court record to brag about…..don’t think for a minute this guy is the epitome of ethical and moral character….since Mr Rubin quit DC for a second time….nobody has taken much interest in hiring him….though a finalist for places like Plano, Tx and New Orleans….his past I believe has caught up to him and therefore, nobody is wanting his services….I think thats why he’s written the new book and pitched his documentary to Discovery….to promote himself….well…he better try a new way to better his reputation, because he’s a front runner for the Fire Chief’s job in the town…yes…the town of Gilbert, AZ…..a lil far removed from the Natiins Capital he still braggs about don’t ya think……


    I agree Dave…regarding the video…candid is an understatement….if Anonymous were to have followed Rubin throughout his 4 years and watched his many testimonies…a reasonably sane person with half a brain could see what Dave has pointed out….I could also post 2 council hearings where Rubin didn’t know if his Assistant Chiefs were career service employees ir excepted service employees….this was pretty big because excepted service employees are required to move into the District of Columbia within 180 days of taking the position of Assistant Fire Chief…because 1 of his 3 AFC’s was a pre 1981 hire he was not required to move, but his other 2 stepchildren did not move within 180 FORFEIT THEIR POSITIONS!!!!!………however, its real easy to take respomsibility


    cont…. when you know nothing will happen to you because the great Mayor Fenty had his back…

  • http://h Too Old To Work

    Dave, if you were still working, you’d have to be assigned full time to DC FEMS. I’ve already put up two posts about it this week alone. It seems that when their ambulances DO run, people jump out of them or steal them. Sometimes both.

  • IslaFire

    I’m not familiar with this Rubin guy. But I just read his article in FE. What a hack. Seems like he is trying to justify something but I’m not sure what it is. I’ve worked through the reign of a despot Chief in a large metro FD and when the guy left, everybody was happy. Well, everybody except a handful of hacks that licked his boots. Writing an article about how to avoid being criticized after you’re gone seems a silly topic for Fire Engineering. Probably more suitable for the IAFC publication.

    • dave statter

      While Rubin is not a fan of or me personally, I will say this, the transition document of which he speaks, really gave a detailed outline that predicted many of the problems the department is having right now. That said, I don’t like this BS he does in his book and with this article. If you are describing someone in a way that can only be one person, have the balls to name that person. Everyone knows he is talking about Kenneth Ellerbe much like it was extremely obvious he was talking about me as the former volunteer firefire/dispatcher/reporter in his book. To me you lose a lot of credibility with that misguided technique.