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Fire Chief Supporters Demonstrate at D.C. Council

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A group of community activists protested outside the D.C. Council chamber Monday in support of the city's fire chief, saying recent criticism of the department is politically motivated.

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A small group demonstrated in support of the city’s fire chief outside the D.C. Council chamber Monday just days after a scathing council report found the department in a state of crisis, and despite a call for him to resign, the chief said he's not going anywhere.

D.C. residents received flyers, emails and phone calls asking them to show up Monday morning and support D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, and about 20 people showed up.

“We are here to support the chief and we will continue to support the fire chief,” ANC 8E Commissioner Anthony Muhammad said.

Community activists who organized the demonstration say the attacks on Ellerbe and his department, including a 29-page report pointing to a critical shortage of paramedics, are motivated by politics, not public safety.

“The chief is trying to improve upon those problems and make things better and he’s being met with resistance, and we’re saying enough is enough,” ANC 5A Commissioner Ronnie Edwards said.

Last week, Council member Mary Cheh called for Ellerbe to resign. Council member Tommy Wells, who is running for mayor, wrote the report but so far has not called on Ellerbe to resign, but he did block a move by Ellerbe to redeploy paramedics

“All of a sudden we have people in the City Council that are calling for his resignation,” D.C. Federation of Civic Associations President Barbara Morgan said. “I think that they need to let him just do his job and go on with the business of the city.”

Though the council chamber was empty, Wells did invite the organizers into his office to share their views. The meeting lasted about 20 minutes, and both sides agreed to keep the dialog going. Commissioner Edwards said he’s planning more public events in the next few weeks.

Ellerbe has continuously declined requests for formal interviews, but when News4 caught up with him at a Fourth of July parade, he was quick to defend himself.

“Residents who I have engaged are very supportive of what we’re trying to do,” he said. “They know that this city is moving and growing and they know that the things that we’re trying to do exhibit our understanding that the city as moving and growing. Anybody that’s going to be in leadership has to expect that there’s going to be criticism, there’ll be maybe folks that don’t see your vision, but that’s part of leadership. It takes courage to be in these positions.”

Follow Mark Segraves on Twitter at @SegravesNBC4

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