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I admit I can’t keep up. I’m at FRI in Chicago trying to figure out everything that is going on with the DC Fire & EMS Department and there are just too many stories and not enough time. There were people here eager to get the scoop directly from Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, who was scheduled to give a class on Thursday called “Fire Proofing the Fire Chief”. I’m told by a number of people the chief was a no-show.
Over the last two days there has been significant news on three fronts. Andrea Noble at The Washington Times confirms that the city reversed course on a long standing policy and is hiring single role paramedics. As a follow-up to the ambulance fires, Surae Chinn at WUSA9.com and others are reporting that mud flaps, in addition to street signs, are being used as heat shields in some ambulances. The best and most comprehensive article, giving a clear picture of the serious problems with EMS in DC, came from the AP’s Ben Nuckols. Nuckols did some comparisons that may support the claim by the IAFF’s Lori Moore-Merrell that DC has one of the worst systems in the country. The only thing Nuckols seemed to miss is when he compared the number of on-duty medics in DC to other cities he used the number 35. Even Chief Ellerbe admitted in City Council testimony the city doesn’t have enough medics to fill those 35 slots.
Now let’s forget all that serious stuff for a moment and pay attention to the sideshow that The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis has chronicled. DeBonis confirmed former Chief Dennis Rubin’s claim earlier this week that Kenneth Ellerbe, while still in Florida, texted a message that he wanted Rubin’s job and his “head on a stick”.
As for The Rube, he broke this story and provided details of his battles with Ellerbe in an article called “Saying Goodbye: The Hostile takover” for FireEngineering.com on Wednesday. In the column, Rubin used that same silly technique he used in his book “DC Fire” of describing very clearly the people he sees as his enemies but omitting their names. In Wednesday’s column, Rubin never named Ellerbe or even mentioned the whole article was about his exit as chief in the District of Columbia. What’s that all about? I just don’t get it. It isn’t like we didn’t know. But the skillful Mike DeBonis was able to pry the name “Ellerbe” from Rubin’s lips. Still that’s not the best part.
In an even stranger turn of events, Debonis was able to get backing for Rubin’s claim of the “head on a stick” text from none other than Firefighter Chris “HOOKMAN” Sullivan. Sullivan originally got that message from Ellerbe and later posted it on The Watch Desk. What is so strange is that The Rube and The HOOKMAN are mortal enemies. The Rube fired the Hookman (Sullivan later got his job back). It’s like Lex Luthor vouching for Superman. And on top of it, through a spokesman, Ellerbe admits he wrote the “head on a stick” message.
This is all too much for my brain to take in for one day. I am going to lay down now as you read a few excerpts from this DeBonis exclusive:
“It’s truly disgusting, most importantly, to watch the public’s trust to erode,” Rubin said in the interview.
Rubin said he was compelled to speak out after being repeatedly denigrated by Ellerbe and other city officials as fire department woes mounted. “It’s a string of never-ending direct and indirect comments,” he said.
In March 2012, WRC-TV reported on hundreds of fire-resistant polo shirts that were sitting unused in a warehouse. Ellerbe attributed the issue, in part, to “trickery in terms of one administration to another.” More recently, a department statement issued for a WUSA-TV report said the department’s efforts had gone “far beyond what Dennis Rubin did” as chief.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a longtime critic of department management, questioned Rubin’s credibility in critiquing department matters.
“I don’t think he’s the best commentator given the state of the department when he left,” said Mendelson, who clashed with Rubin during his time as chairman of the council’s public safety committee.