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Just days after D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe admitted to big problems with DCFEMS equipment, our team did some digging to see if this kind of neglect common in other cities.
According to internal documents obtained by the ABC7 I-Team, only five of the District Fire Department’s 26 ladder trucks have passed a national recognized safety test – and none of the agency’s 53 pumper trucks have been tested since 2010.
This means that when District ladder and pumper trucks respond to an emergency, the community cannot be assured that the equipment will work properly, according to the agency’s own records.
These vehicles are supposed to be tested annually to ensure that the ladder can hold weight and the pumper’s pressure control system will function. But based on internal documents, many of the ladder trucks that failed the test were put right back on the streets and haven’t been re-tested in years.
Local 36 official Dabney Hudson says this lack of oversight is putting both members and citizens at risk.
“There's no reason we should be in a situation where a vehicle that we know failed a test is being used everyday," she says. "It wouldn't happen in the majority of the jurisdictions, and it shouldn't happen in the District of Columbia."
We found this ladder truck at the department’s repair shop that had its parts literally held together by tape. It failed the test back in August, but fire officials say it remains in service.
Last week, our own Bruce DePuyt confronted Chief Kenneth Ellerbe on NewsTalk.
DePuyt: "How many of the ladder trucks are certified as safe?"
Chief Ellerbe: "Yesterday, there were three out of 26. Today, there are five."
DePuyt: "Those are terrible numbers."
Chief Ellerbe insists his is not the only department facing this issue, because these tests take both time and money:
"This is not isolated in Washington D.C.," he insists. "This is an industry-wide issue."
But after contacting similar-sized agencies, we found the opposite to be true. Fire departments from across the country told us that all their pumper and ladder trucks are safety-certified.
Only in Atlanta did we find a few uncertified ladder trucks. But all the agencies say any truck not up to spec is taken out of service – which does not seem to be the policy in the nation’s capital.
“Let's fix them and let's give everybody the peace of mind that they deserve when they dial 911 and have an emergency," says Dabney Hudson.
In an email from DCFEMS spokesperson Tim Wilson, he states:
The Department has conducted additional testing of its pumpers to ensure the accuracy of gauges, capacity ratings and pressure control systems. However, these tests have not been performed since 2010. Going forward, the Department will implement annual pump testing to make sure the operability of its pumpers are kept up each year.
There are 4 ladder trucks that have been certified and are currently in service. One is not in service. The total comes out to 5.
Going forward, the Department will implement a plan to test one or two ladder trucks per month to make sure their certification status is updated annually.
ABC7 had figures sent in from various fire departments across the country to compare with D.C. The first number is the amount of pumper trucks that have passed the safety test out of the total number of pumper trucks. The second number is the number of ladder trucks that passed out of the total number of ladder trucks.
Columbus: 52/52, 22/22
Nashville: 51/51, 18/18
Seattle: 43/43, 14/14
Phoenix: 85/85, 20/20
Indianapolis: 58/58, 29/29
Atlanta: 37/37, 16/20
Other than a few ladder trucks that didn’t pass the test in Atlanta, everyone is right up to code.