$70,000 in D.C. Fire Shirts Unused

Chief Ellerbe doesn’t approve of patch ordered by previous chief

By Darcy Spencer
|  Thursday, Mar 8, 2012  |  Updated 10:20 PM EDT
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About $70,000 worth of shirts ordered for the DC Fire Department are sitting in a warehouse in northeast Washington unopened.  Darcy Spencer explains why.

Darcy Spencer

About $70,000 worth of shirts ordered for the DC Fire Department are sitting in a warehouse in northeast Washington unopened. Darcy Spencer explains why.

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D.C.'s former fire chief ordered tens of thousands of dollars worth of polo shirts for firefighters, but they've been sitting in boxes for a year because the current fire chief won't let them be handed out to firefighters.

The $70,000 in shirts is sitting in a warehouse because of a patch of which Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe does not approve of his firefighters wearing.

“I don’t want to waste anything, but I don't want to be responsible for something somebody else ordered that they know we’re not going to use, either,” he said. “Sometimes there's trickery in terms of one administration to another, as well.”

Former Fire Chief Dennis Rubin ordered the 1,700 fire resistant shirts as he started to phase in the new patch, but they've apparently been gathering dust in the warehouse for about a year. The firefighters union believes the shirts should be worn.

“It's been a huge push for my membership for fire-resistive station wear, and we’re not backing off of that,” union President Ed Smith said. “As long as it’s provided – these shirts have been paid for by the taxpayers, and they should be in use.”

The issue flared up at a D.C. Council Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday. Chairman Phil Mendelson was obviously frustrated over getting the runaround about the polo shirts, which he had been told didn’t exist.

“This has been a big rumor, and there have been a lot of complaints about it,” he said.

Fire officials said they've received inquiries from D.C.'s Inspector General's Office about the shirts. The Inspector General's Office did not return a call seeking comment about the issue.

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