DC Mayor Vincent Gray says he’s “outraged”. Yes, Mayor Gray, anyone in this region and even around the world who has seen this story about a firefighting crew in the Nation’s Capital refusing to walk across the street to help a dying man is outraged. The difference between you, Mayor Gray, and those reading or watching the story is that YOU have the power to finally do something about the failure to respond that occurred not only at the Rhode Island Avenue firehouse, but at other levels of the City government. Here’s an outline to help you:
By all accounts so far, this new firefighter didn’t know or wasn’t trained to do the basics of his job. I’ve never been a DC firefighter, but here’s what I would have done when a citizen approached to tell me about a man down across the street. I would have hit the firehouse alerting system immediately and announced we have a response for a man down at the shopping center. With another firefighter, I would have then grabbed the EMS gear and started across the street to the patient, knowing the rest of the crew would alert the dispatchers to the call and bring the ladder truck over right behind us.
Mayor Gray you need find out exactly why an on-duty member of the DC Fire & EMS Department didn’t know how to do this and immediately address whatever issues you find.
Lt. Kallene Davis
Everything I need to know about the failings of Lt. Davis are from her own words in the statement she wrote to Chief Ellerbe on Sunday, published by The Washington Post and WTTG-TV/Fox 5. Just read these three sentences on Lt. Davis’ immediate reaction to learning there was an emergency across the street from the firehouse.
I then asked F/F G. Murphy to get me an address and I will be right there. F/F G. Murphy did not return with an address. This was an (Unusual Occurance) in that my order was not followed. I proceeded to look for him.
“I will be right there”. Really? No, lieutenant, your job is to “go” right there and be in charge. The address is very simple. It’s the odd side of the 1300 block of Rhode Island Avenue, Northeast. Get there and then provide a specific address to OUC. Even if you don’t know that your firehouse is 1340 and just know that it’s located in the 1300 block, you should be aware by now that as the numbers increase on a street in DC, even is on the left and odd is on the right. Again, I am not a DC firefighter and I know that.
“I proceeded to look for him”. That’s your priority over dealing with the emergency across the street? You run a five person ladder truck. If one of your firefighters can’t be found, I think you should still be able to handle a man down call with the other three and then deal with your personnel issue.
Whether it’s all the fault of her firefighter, as Lt. Davis outlined, remains to be seen. But based solely on her own version of her own actions to an emergency response, it’s clear Lt. Davis is not able to do the job she was hired to do.
F/F G. Murphy
All we know publicly about Firefighter Murphy is based on Lt Davis’ account. Obviously if that account turns out to be accurate there is no excuse and needs to be dealt with harshly. Let’s hope we can see his statement so we can at least judge him on his own words as we’ve done with his lieutenant.
Chief Kenneth Ellerbe
Like the crew from Truck 15 B, Chief Ellerbe failed to respond. He’s done so in multiple ways. Some of which we’ve covered in recent days.
- By all accounts Chief Ellerbe was alerted to the serious accusation by the family of Mr. Mills on Saturday. The chief didn’t order the crew to desk duty until Wednesday or Thursday. By contrast, you may recall that Chief Ellerbe ordered another lieutenant sent home immediately upon learning the officer wore the wrong jacket to a drill at the training academy.
- Chief Ellerbe has failed to respond to the news media and level with the public on a situation that greatly impacts the image of the department, its firefighters and the chief’s own leadership. As we’ve noted before, this has become SOP with Chief Ellerbe during a crisis.
- Simultaneously over the past week or so Chief Ellerbe has been handling a different issue, the recent arrests of about a dozen firefighters on various criminal charges. The chief ordered background checks on all 1800 or so uniformed employees of the department. As we pointed out previously, this was another response failure by Chief Ellerbe. The chief once again failed to respond to the transition report by former Chief Dennis Rubin. In that report more than three years ago, Chief Rubin listed the background checks as a priority program in progress. Chief Rubin also listed the hiring of paramedics, apparatus replacement and issues with apparatus maintenance. Chief Ellerbe also ignored those issues until each became a crisis for the department.
Deputy Mayor Paul Quander
Like Chief Ellerbe, Paul Quander has failed to respond as an effective leader in yet another public safety crisis. Quander has allowed this event to linger on for an entire week without a clear accounting of what happened and how it’s going to be fixed. This also includes what happened at the Office of Unified Communications (OUC – DC’s 911 center). Quander should have known since the end of business on Monday (if not sooner) whose fault it was that the response to the 911 call made on behalf of Mr. Mills was sent 26 blocks away to the wrong quadrant of the city. Quander should have provided that information to the press and the public immediately.
The only positive sign in Quander’s handling of this crisis compared to some previous ones is that, so far, he hasn’t tried to divert our attention with one of his outlandish charges that turn out not to be true. These have included bringing up the possibility of an organized sick out of firefighters on New Year’s Eve 2012 (the inspector general reported the personnel shortage was actually a management failure) and that there was the possibility of sabotage in a series of ambulance fires (the city’s own reports indicated they were a result of poor maintenance). I guess there is still time for Quander to create a false diversion for this crisis.
Mayor Vincent Gray
Yes, Mayor Gray, you have also failed to respond and have brought about a crisis of confidence in one of the most important services your city provides. Besides not insisting on a clear and detailed response to this incident early this week, you have not been holding your deputy mayor and fire chief responsible for consistently poor performances. It’s three years into your administration and you still let these two guys point fingers instead of taking responsibility for problems under their commands.
At this point (and for quite a while now) it’s not Adrian Fenty or Dennis Rubin’s fire and EMS department. The problems never were sabotaged ambulances or a sick out or any other of the excuses that have been used to divert attention from the real issues. The problem is leadership. Until you recognize it and properly handle it, you will be dealing with many more of these issues in public safety and people in charge who only know to make the crisis worse.