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Latest from DC: Like Detroit, ladder trucks in Nation’s Capital not inspected. Chief says lack of reserves last year is the reason.

DC Breaking Local News Weather Sports FOX 5 WTTG

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Detroit’s ladder problem

WTTG-TV/ Fox 5 reporter Paul Wagner still can’t get DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, Deputy Mayor Paul Quander or anyone from Mayor Vince Gray’s office to sit down for a chat about all of the recent problems facing the department. But Wagner’s report last night prompted yet another statement from the chief acknowledging another serious problem uncovered by the reporter and IAFF Local 36.

According to Wagner’s story and Chief Ellerbe’s press release, DC’s aerial ladders are in need of inspection. A union official says records indicate the last time annual inspections were done was in 2009. Chief Ellerbe’s statement only confirms they weren’t done last year. The reason, according to Ellerbe: “Ladder trucks were not tested last year due to a lack of reserve trucks.”

Even though this latest press release from the chief now confirms the lack of reserve trucks was an issue last year, the chief also confirmed this week that the department inaccurately reported to Councilmember Tommy Wells last month that there were 13 reserve ladder trucks in the fleet. That screw-up is being blamed on Deputy Chief Wayne Branch. Branch put in his retirement papers last month when the issue of excessive overtime at the apparatus shop became an issue at the same hearing.

So, how many reserves are there to back up the 16 front line ladder truck’s protecting the Nation’s Capital? That still isn’t clear. There is no press statement yet from Chief Ellerbe on that topic, but the union told Wagner last night that so far they can only account for one reserve. This much is known, one of the 16 trucks in DC was shut down this week because there were no reserves available.

Now the question is what will the DC Fire & EMS Department do about untested aerial ladders? In Detroit earlier this year, they faced a very similar problem. When it was discovered that the Detroit Fire Department had not kept up with NFPA inspection standards firefighters were ordered to stay off aerial ladders unless there was an imminent life safety issue. No indication yet that the DC Fire & EMS Department will go that route.

As you will see in the story above from Wagner (and can read here), DC’s inspector general was already looking at fleet issues last year but has not issued a report. Wagner also pointed out more potential security problems with all of the apparatus parked on the street near the shop (a practice that goes back decades).

Here’s Chief Ellerbe’s complete statement released to WTTG-TV/Fox 5 on Friday evening:


F&EMS ladder trucks are currently beingtested, with the most recent test taking place this week, on Monday, March 11,2013.  Ladder trucks were not tested last year due to a lack of reservetrucks.

With regard to the procurement issue, the processwas complicated by the fact that a winning bidder refused to grant theDepartment a five-year warranty.  When the bidding process was reopened,the vendor filed a protest, further delaying the order.  The new processis almost now complete and we expect a new vendor will soon be awarded thecontract. New ladder trucks are being built to the specifications developed incollaboration with members of the firefighters’ union.

As we previously have indicated, since 2011, theDepartment has made purchases of apparatus.  These deliveries include:

6 Engines

4 Trucks

2 Rescue Squads

32 Ambulances

Also, on order for this fiscal year (2013) are:

6 Engines

2 Trucks

13 Ambulances

1 Boat

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