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Reporter ambushes DC’s Deputy Mayor & still can’t get answers on fire department fleet. Union believes ladders untested since 2009.

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Previous coverage of Chief Ellerbe & the DC Fire & EMS Department

March 8 press conference on recent EMS issues

Chief Ellerbe says ladder trucks not inspected last year because of lack of reserve rigs

Washington Post Editorial Board supports Chief Ellerbe’s EMS redeployment plan & shift change proposal 

Anyone who has heard my presentations knows my philosophy on ambush interviews of public officials by reporters. Because often they provide more theatrics than substance I tried to only use them when an official continuously refused to answer questions on important public issues. Apparently my friend Paul Wagner feels the same way. He has been trying since last week to get some answers from Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander about the state of the fleet of fire trucks protecting our Nation’s Capital. When neither man would respond to Paul Wagner’s requests for interviews he went in search of Paul Quander and found him.

Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/Fox 5:

The D.C. Fire Department admitted on Friday its ladder trucks had not been put through stress tests last year because there were no reserve trucks to take their place. An admission that came after FOX 5 aired a story with a claim by the firefighters union the annual testing hadn’t been done since 2009, risking the safety of firefighters as well as citizens.

The accepted protocol within most, if not all fire departments is that ladder trucks be stress tested annually because of the danger of collapse. It’s an industry standard.

On Friday the D.C. Fire Department admitted it had not tested the trucks last year and left the question of testing in 2011 and 2010 unanswered.

On Monday FOX 5 went to see the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety in hopes of getting some answers.

Paul Quander has so far ignored every single request for comment since the middle of last week.

At first we were told Quander was unavailable when he suddenly left the office and we tried to get some answers. The video reveals our exchange.

“Hey Mr. Quander can I talk to you about a couple of issues?

“(Quander) not right now I am going down to…(Wagner) “There are some serious issues about safety right now and you are the head of public safety in the city”.

“(Quander) as I said I can’t talk to you right now, I have a meeting I need to go to and you didn’t schedule anything”.

“(Wagner) But you ignore me sir, I email, I call, I’m looking for answers and you are not giving us answers, the fire department admitted Friday night Mr. Quander it didn’t have any reserve trucks last year and they are not testing these ladder trucks isn’t that a public safety issue? Isn’t that a public safety issue sir? You are the head of public safety, firefighters are possibly in danger who are climbing these ladders that haven’t been tested, how come you are ignoring me?

In the same press release from Friday the fire department said it had tested one truck on Monday March 11th.

“Well Paul it’s pretty disgusting because we had a firefighter fatality in 1999 on Cherry Road”, said Union President Ed Smith, “One of the recommendations in that report was to keep the reserve fleet ready and there was a truck out of service that night and there was a delay on the second truck responding, we had the same delay when four firefighters were hurt on 48th Place, so apparently we don’t ever learn our lesson and the city is putting everybody’s safety at risk”.

The after action report on the Cherry Road fire lists current Chief Kenneth Ellerbe as taking part in the report which recommends “the department maintain an adequate reserve fleet”.

Last year in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania an aerial ladder collapsed while fighting a blaze at an auto repair shop, seriously injuring one firefighter.

Later this week, perhaps by Wednesday, the city will announce the outcome of an investigation into why there were no ambulances to take an injured D.C. Police officer to the hospital in a hit and run crash March 5th.

One other note, City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said today he still has confidence in Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe but he needs to put the EMS transport problems and fleet maintenance issues behind him.

Mendelson says it’s unacceptable for a stroke victim to be taken to the hospital in a fire engine and if it’s best practice to stress test ladder trucks? Get it done.

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