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DC fire chief grilled about apparatus & EMS staffing. Can’t account for no new apparatus in 2013 budget or say where new ambulances are deployed.

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Andrea Noble, Washington Times:

The District’s fire chief was at a loss Wednesday to explain to a D.C. Council committee why his department sought no money in this year’s budget for trucks and ambulances despite a fleet that is aging and in disrepair.

The city is expected to receive 30 new ambulances this year through $6.6 million allotted after vehicle maintenance and replacement became an issue following a series of high-profile malfunctions. But D.C. Council member Tommy Wells grilled Chief Kenneth Ellerbe about the lack of funds appropriated this fiscal year, which started after problems with the fleet were already well documented.

“There was no money in the budget for this fiscal year for fleet replacement — none. And I’m sure that you will get it in there,” said Mr. Wells, a Ward 6 Democrat and mayoral candidate who heads the council committee with oversight of the department. “But I cannot ignore the fact that no capital dollars were requested to see that you had the trucks and ambulances you needed in this year’s budget.”

Chief Ellerbe said the issue was a possible “oversight” and added that the person in charge of the budget has since retired.

DC Ellerbe council hearing on fleet & staffing

Sam Ford & Jay Korff, WJLA-TV/ABC 7:

The District of Columbia's Fire Department recently came into possession of 13 new ambulances to supplement the city's aging fleet, but there's one problem: D.C. Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe apparently doesn't know where they're located.

The chief was grilled during an appearance before the D.C. Council on Wednesday, during which Councilman Tommy Wells questioned whether or not the maligned department had a handle on its systemic problems plaguing the agency and compromising public safety.

"I don't see that you are making change yet," said Wells.

Some of the issues at hand include: ambulances with broken fuel gauges and no air conditioning, engines catching fire, brakes working improperly, and not enough ambulances to respond to critical calls.

"Certainly, updating a system that's been in disrepair for 15 to 20 years cannot be accomplished overnight, but at least we have identified a starting point and a path forward," defended Chief Ellerbe, who also touted that response times are down, more paramedics have been hired, and 13 new ambulancecs are currently in use.

But when asked where these ambulances were, he replied that one was being repaired while the other is at the White House. He could not say where the others were stationed.

He also admitted that the only tower truck in the fleet has been out of service since April and should be scrapped.

ABC7 also found that Chief Ellerbe did not know how many of the department’s pumper trucks had passed a safety certification test – and also was unaware that only three out of 23 ladder trucks had passed such a test.

"It doesn't mean that the ladder trucks don't operate. It doesn't mean that they don't operate well. It just means we haven't had somebody go in and test those ladders," he said.

But Ellerbe could not assure firefighters that they are working on safe vehicles. Union officials, who have repeatedly aired these concerns as well as many others, remain frustrated.

"It's going to take a large infusion of money and significant hiring to fix the problems," said Dabney Hudson with the D.C. Firefighters Association Local 36. "I didn't hear that that was going to happen, but we are hopeful that it does."


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Paul Wagner & Bob Barnard, WTTG-TV/Fox 5:

It was another stressful appearance Wednesday in front of the D.C. Council for Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe.

Ellerbe spent two hours in the hot seat explaining why his department, responsible for Fire and EMS services in the nation's capital, continues to be plagued by problems that strike at the core of its mission.

"Our focus right now is what the city needs," Ellerbe told the committee chairman, councilmember and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells. "From apparatus to personnel."

The D.C. Fire and EMS Department is routinely one of the busiest in the nation. But, according to an outside audit, the department's fleet of fire trucks, engines and ambulances is in a "critical state with chronic long-term management, maintenance and replacement issues."

The district-based consulting firm, BDA Global, released its report last week.

"The report shows enough of a systemic failure that it requires a new paradigm," Wells told Ellerbe. "A radical change."

Ellerbe replied: "There is an extreme sense of urgency and while we understand that it's going to take an extraordinary effort to respond to these challenges. We're prepared to do that."

But Chief Ellerbe admitted there was no money for new apparatus put in the fiscal 2013 budget. An oversight he blamed on a former department official.

The chief did provide some positive news to the Wells' committee. He says 17 new ambulances will be in the city by the end of the year and that the department has hired seven new paramedics.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • 19262007

    Yawn.  SSDD…

  • 1tech

    No surprise here, blame the guy that retired for his incompetence!!!

  • UseToBeDC

    The level of incompetence is absolutely ASTOUNDING!!!!!
    It would be nice to see Mr. Wells verbalize that in a hearing.

    While I am sure LRB would just pass the buck it still would be good to see.
    Hopefully this loser is unemployed soon.
    And the Union needs to compile a video of all of these appearances by LRB so they can forward it to any department that might consider hiring this inept "Administrator" in the future.

  • Watchdogdc

    The level of incompetence of Chief Ellerbe has again shown. He again has attempted to blame others for what he is responsible for. To attempt to blame a retired member for his level of incompetence is unacceptable and should have been voice by Mr. Wells. The budget process for the 2013 budget started as soon as the fiscal 2012 year started which was one year after Ellerbe assumed his current position. If he had any sense of what a Fire Chief job really is he would have noticed during the preparation process for the 2013 budget there was no funding shown for the replacement of apparatus but he is so clueless as what really goes on in a Fire Department he failed no notice one of the most important aspects of what it takes to do the job. Looking at his record there is nothing positive that has taken place since his appointment. The two most valuable assets that any Fire and EMS Department must have and maintain is the Emergencey Response Apparatus and the People it takes to staff the apparatus the two very thing Ellerbe has neglected since his arrival. The longer Ellerbe is allowed to have any input or authority over the Fire and EMS Departmet the worse the situation will get. If you take a look at the staff he has placed around him in the Office of the Fire Chief he has done nothing but put incompetance in positions that will do what ever he tells them to do regarless of the consequences. The best thing that can happen for the good of the citizens and the Fire and EMS Department as a whole would be the departure of Mayor Gray, Deputy Mayor Quander and Kenneth Ellerbe. Quander should be replaced by Chief Lanier and Ellerbe should be replaced by the recently demoted Chief Donnelly who has done an outstanding job in his previous postion with the departments Homeland Security Division and was doing an outstanding jobe attemptimg to get a handle on the mismanaged fleet dvision before Ellerbe drummed up some BS to demote him all because he is able to do what Ellerbe can't which is manage the agency in the manner it should be mannaged. Hang in there Chief D you will get your rank back in time wih a fat retro check because you were demoted without cause I don't think being smarter than someone who is inept is cause for demotion.

  • Mark

    Maybe the guy who let's the Chief know where all of the apparatus is retired, too.  It seems to me that he would prepare a bit better for a meeting where he knew that these issues were going to be discussed.

  • Fire21

    Can't fix 15-20 year old problems overnight.  Well, maybe they could at least start by buying some new apparatus!  Maybe they could budget for more manpower.  This guy puts his incompetence on full display every time he shows his face in public.  Just like another "leader" in Washington, he places blame on others who are no longer in office.  Totally disgraceful that LRB still has a job.

    • ukfbbuff

      Since Ellerbe arrived at the DCFD he has been trying to change the current duty week and with it, he's lagged behind on the proper staffing of equipment, as well changing the FD's name and many other things.

      But the old "Blame" Chief Rubin for things that happened during his tenure does show his incompetence.

      I mean, one has to come in to the Chief's job with a "Plan and Vision", not just go about things in a hum drum, "Badge Heavy" way as he has.


  • Volunteer for life

    Thanks Dave. One thing we all agree on is this guy is truly a failed leader.

  • Retired Chief

    Is the DCFD part of Obamacare?

  • Wow-Just wow

    So the fire chief didn't see the budget before it went to the Mayor or Council? So the retired guy did it all himself? I can understand that the fire chief may not know exactly where the new ambo's went, but he should have looked behind him, somebody in his support staff should have that answer or could get that specific answer in less than a minute. Not saying that they could have but they should have that answer. As for the budget process – it must be an extreme challenge to plan for new apparatus. Although on a bar napkin we could probably come up with an easy one. Once you determine how often the apparatus should be replaced such as every 10 years, then look at your list of apparatus. Now that a consultant has located all the apparatus determine which ones are the oldest and budget them for replacement this year, and magically you can figure out each year thereafter. A bar napkin may work, but an easy spreadsheet would provide budget numbers for many years. But I guess the spreadsheet guy retired too. 

  • tired of lies

    Just once I would like to see the council pursue perjury charges for lying under oath.

    There was a time when that dept. had a comprehensive plan for maintaining and renewing the fleet. This included buying app. w/a warranty and service plan to improve the maintenance process, Why was that abandoned?


  • David S.

    Why does this person continue to run this department ,get rid of him can anyone tell me who is responsible for him to continue to be the chief of this department ?

  • Anonymous

    This jackass will never believe what you our I say because he is an educated idiot. Said it before and I will say it again…how many mayors gave him the job and how many chiefs promoted him? Why? He wasnt worth it. Took his buddy to get him where he is. Was never about his ability to lead or function. He simply cant lead if he has to do it on merit or worth. Keep up the work your doing LRB. We all know when your buddy in office is gone, you will be too.

    Face it…you just plain suck. You will never amount to a Ruben.

    • DCFD Taiban

      Oh! you should be ashamed to mention his name (rubin). If your beloved rubin  was so knowledgeable, competent and great, how come he hasn't land a chief job? I don't know of any department that has open their arms in wait of the #1  draft pick (lol).

      Cathy Lanier retained her job, now she is one competent leader who was able to be retain by the incoming  administration. If Rubin was doing such a great job he would"ve either retained his job here, or land a job somewhere else. The mayor can't use you if you can't balance a budget.

      Yeah!!! mayor Gray run again, I think I'll help your campaign this time around. You have truly turned this city around thank you, where do I sign up?.

      • Hydro Engineer

        If the Mayor can’t use you if you can’t balance the budget then why does “lrb” still have a job? Overtime is out of control and He wants to try and cut an entire shift to help his messed up budget. He was given a budget to fully staff the department and has failed to hire new recruits. We have over 200+ vacancy’s in the department, and when does the next recruit class start????

      • Anonymous

        So if Ellerbe doesn't get a chief's job after this, does it make him a failure. You can't use retirement as an excuse, he is younger than Rubin.

  • the ear

    Don't worry more incompetence on the way. When does Eugene start his retirement job.

  • Watchdogdc

    The newley appointed operations Chief has already assumed his position. There has not been much interaction as of now so the Jury is still out on his level of competence. This will get interesting to say the least. One can only hope that the voters in the District will finally get something right and elect someone other than Vince Gray. If they do get it right Liarbe and his cast of clowns will be gone. Another thing that should be pressed now that it has been mentioned is the level of certified pumpers the fleet has. I am quite sure none of the pumpers ave been pump tested per NFPA standards in years. My guess would be that 30 to 40 percent of the current pumpers fleet would fail and need to be placed out of service for repair due to lack of quality maintenence.

  • UseToBeDC

    With the level of incompetence at the upper levels of the department now, especially considering they have almost no fireground experience I implore the brothers in DC to BE CAREFUL!!!
    The damage done to the DCFD can be reversed when an competetent replacement for the astoundingly inept LRB is gone.  Your health and well being cannot be replaced.  Know that and plan accordingly!!
    Take care all!!!

  • Anonymous

    Weel dude, if you weren't going to answer any questions at the hearing, why didn't you just skip it and go to the funeral of a respected active member? Heck, you could've stood next to PGFD's chief! He attended.

    • DCFD Taiban

      Why do you guys like to thro around the phrase "a respected member". So if the  firefighter who passed wasn't a "so called respected member" as you like to put it, God rest his soul, the department head shouldn't have went.

      I get tired of you using that phrase, you would label someone "respected" regardless of how they conduct themselves, whether they have integrity or not, your phrase is high subjective.

      This is not an attack against a fallen member at all. As far as I'm concern FF Cohee was a good guy from my experience with him, which was very limited. By the way I would like to thank the union for helping the chief solidify his agenda of changing the schedule.

      If the union heads had an once of intelligence, they would have known not to continue to perpetuate  their rhetoric of staffing shortages (i.e. medics FTE's ect…) You had to beat a dead horse. You (local36) accomplished nothing for us because the leaders aren't savy enough and don't know how to play the game.

      You eggheads played right into a trap. Now we will have plenty of staffing per the 3 shifts along with NO overtime. Who fault is that? I say it's the unions fault, you had a piss poor strategy. Your strategy was lets make the fire chief look bad at all cost, all the while we gained no ground or benefit for the members.

      When we get a union head who possess political acumen and knows how to make alliances versus dividing the gap between management, than and only than we can move forward. The level of incompetence at that level is incomprehensible (local36).

      I blame both sides, management as well as the local for not coming together for the betterment of the department. But the burden falls upon the local, for spearheading a campaign of character assassination, childish tantrums, feeble stances (T shirts) and down right making us the laughing stock of the fire service

      I think we should turn our backs on the local heads, because they have failed us, look at where we are headed 3-3-3. Vote them out and lets get someone in there who can concentrate on the needs of the members, and not  worry about personal vendettas.


      • Anonymous

        Alot of what you blame on the union,"feeble stances (T shirts) and down right making us the laughing stock of the fire service" were not actually union stances but individual members acting on their own accord, and then blaming the union because they didn't get away with what they were advised not to do. As far as being the laughing stock of the fire service, how can the chief blame someone else for his second largest expense (Appartatus) having a funding level of zero in the 2013 budget.

      • Hydro Engineer

        We (the members) are the Union and our Board does what the Majority asks for and more. The Union Board is doing a Great JOB!! Keep up the good work!!

        • Hat trick

          Hydro, you say the chief hasn’t hired, yes he has,he has continued to hire (cadets).whats wrong, do the cadets not increase our ranks. A new exam is due I’ll give you that,but the last administration just plainly eradicated the program without good reason.Did you weep or raise your voice for those who could’ve filled our ranks.

          What about the union did they make a claim to have the program reinstated. No,they did not,because they (union) didn’t care about those potential members.Anybody who knows an once of this department knows there hasn’t been NO love for the medics on the engine co’s. The union used them as propaganda for a false cause.What have we gained since the current union been in place. Can you list them because I haven’t seen nothing. Come on give me something of real substance. Surely you must know what others don’t,so can you please enlighten or educate us on the great job the union has done.

          I know there are many who don’t like the fact that only cadets and medics are being hired,but did you complain when they (cadets) were prevented from being hired by the last chief. I’m gonna gamble and say you didn’t just like the rest of the peanut gallery. If we go 3-3-3 the staffing issue is solved, there will be plenty of medics per shift along with FF EMT’s.

          The staffing shortage was a staple of the unions cause, so if the new shift remedies that why no embrace of it. I know because we would have come to work from afar for many days.I say if the new schedule benefit staffing instead of hiring new recruits and saves money than do it. I’m not concern about someone who lives hours away wanting a good DC job, but isn’t willing move closer so they wouldn’t have a long commute. When you have answer for me about what the union has done please let me know,BTW how do you all like the new dental plan,sucks doesn’t it,yea!!! For the union.

          • HOOKMAN

            Hat trick…..can you define in your opinion where “moving closer to DC” means…Did you mean move to DC or just outside of it. Can you also provide safe and affordable single family housing in the neighborhoods you recommend. Since you’re such a big advocate of protecting DC jobs for DC residents, then im sure you’ll make sure the new AFC/Operations Chief moves into the District within 180 days or he’ll have to forfeit his position as the DPM states…RIGHT?…Don’t want any outsiders taking them good DC jobs right ?????…..

            Until you do this, ill continue to live in the rural confines outside of DC where my son can grow up in a safe environment unlike the one you probably live in.

          • Hydro Engineer

            I guess you only care about yourself, because 3-3-3 shift would cut Technician position's and officer position's.

            And yes I did advocate for the cadet program, but I advocated it to raise it's standards and not recruit "at risk youths". The Chief is now hiring single role medics which is against the direction the city wants him to go.

            The Union won the rule against the Chief, so he can not Promote to acting positions. The Union won the case that prove the Chief retaliates against members. The Union has won several Trial board cases that the Chief has wrongly accused members against. The Union has shown several incidents that show how incompetent the Chief is yet the Mayor will not do the right thing and FIRE HIM!!!!!


    Speaking of the new AFC of Operations..i wonder if he went to the hosptial after the hearing was over….it seems at 2:35 the Chief is overome by CO or is having some unknown medical emergency as his eyes begin to close and his chin seems to come in contact with his chest…… 2:36 I get a little concerned for the chiefs health and safety as his neck suddenly snaps forward…..

  • Ricky3956

    The reports says that the average age of the firstline engines and aerials is 7 years.


    DCFD Taliban…..the Fire Chief doesn’t need me, you or anyone else to make him look bad….He accomplishes this all by himself….apparently you didn’t watch the hearing with the blank stares, fumbling paperwork around and looking at each other when it came to one ? Where are 11 of the 12 new ambulances…..I fail to see how the incompetence of one
    individual is the fault of Local 36…you must be related to the mumbling incoherent fake Rastafarian that went on a Kenneth Ellerbe is the best thing to come to the DCFEMS since sliced sandwich bread….just like his pathetic out of touch rehearsed praise for the King (which had nothing to do with the oversight hearing), you to go off topic and mention an active member who recently passed and this has what to do with ?????. Yes its true in the Fire Service that some are more popular or just downright deserve to be praised as being a firemans fireman as Fireman Cohee was described, but making him a reason for your comment shows what kind of person you are….I never worked with him, but saying he’s not deserving of being called respected brings new meaning of what a scumbag’re well deserving of thus honor. The incompetent inept idiot that’s the highlight of this topic is ne who’s not respected, therefore, a person in the fire service can easily be labeled as “not respected”….

    Someone who has a plan that benefits a small percent of the current membership, promotes his hidden agenda by way of a shift change/schedule which in the past has been proven ineffective, DOES NOT give everyone a level playing field, cannot effectively manage an agency with over 2000 employees, purposely fails to hire and procure equipment, retaliates and engages in a childish petty like manner does not and will never gain the respect of the majority….

    So continue to praise the King and his followers like Rufus the Rastafarian & Alvin “the weasel” Bethea, because even if the Council said hey, yeah a shift change is needed, this soft sweet speaking FEMS Agency Head and Moron Mayor will be long freaken gone…Not one councilmember, including those running for Mayor, have ZERO to gain by doing something that favors the current Mayor and his sock monkeys agenda…’ve waited how long for that overtime check????…..that will be nothing compared to the proposed shift change come litigation time….heck…you might have 10 years of paying for your Obamacare gold package by the time this got ruled on…..

  • Harvey1

    This is exactly what happens when incontempent people are anointed to positions that are completely out of their limits.  Then these people surround themselves with people just like them, race included.  It is happening in every major city in our country.  Look at what has happened and is happening in DC.  "WE the PEOPLE" had better wake up and take our country back.  The DC FD deserves a lot better than what it has.  It is tasked with protecting our irreplaceable structures and people there.  The idiot that put this low level intelligent person in as chief should be replaced too.

  • Hat trick

    Take your country back, whats that mean. Oh I know you want to go back to the days of the 80’s,and down the line. You want to go back to the days of inequality for some,like when YOU had the advantage over everything.

    Well I’m here to tell you,as long as a republican or a chief like Rubin isn’t office, your glory days are of the past.Any person character or their management style can be exploited,if you constantly point out his flaws.

    These guys here at DCFire loved the “Rube” because he let them do what ever they wanted. Why? Because he was too busy with self gratification,you know promoting himself.

    I wished he (rubin) had went through with his plan to close firehouse and layoff some to close the budget gap. I wonder would they still praise him.We are not where we should be as a department,but we can’t go back to the days of shultz and rubin. I’ve said it once and I say it again,the union board needs to go,they haven’t done anything but creat a hostile environment between management.

    • Hydro Engineer

      So run for Union President!!!!!!!!!