Image from WTTG-TV/Fox 5.
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A D.C. firefighter filed a police complaint accusing Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe of assault, pointing to an encounter last week when the chief showed up on the scene of an ambulance fire and grabbed the man’s cell phone from his hand.
The report, made available Wednesday, states “the suspect grabbed and removed a cellular telephone” from the 33-year-old firefighter’s hand, causing injury to his right wrist. Chief Ellerbe is not named in the report but a police spokeswoman provided the report number when asked about a complaint involving the fire chief and D.C. officials have confirmed the investigation.
The report centers on an Aug. 13 encounter in which an ambulance caught fire in Southeast D.C. while responding to a medical call. Photos and videos taken at the scene, which captured the department’s embarrassing moment, were widely distributed through social media that day.
Ellerbe, himself, acknowledged in an interview Tuesday that he approached the firefighter and inquired about his phone and photos taken at the scene of the Aug. 13 fire in the 4700 block of Benning Road SE.
Ellerbe, however, denied a physical confrontation and said he asked the firefighter for his smartphone, which he said the firefighter voluntarily handed over. The chief said he looked at the phone and gave it back. Ellerbe had seen a picture of the flaming ambulance posted on the firefighters union Twitter account 23 minutes after the first fire engine arrived.
Neither Ellerbe nor a fire department spokesman responded to requests for comment Wednesday morning.
“His job is safe,” Ellerbe told News4 Wednesday. “I can tell you that I didn’t snatch the phone from him. I asked him if he had [a cell phone], asked if I could see it, he gave it to me, and that was the end of it as far as I was concerned.”
Representatives with the D.C. Firefighters Association said they were not involved in the filing of the complaint.
“It’s definitely something that we want to see investigated,” union official Dabney Morgan said. “If there was something egregious there, we hope appropriate actions are taken.”