Firefighters Vote “No Confidence” in D.C. Fire Chief

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Firefighters passed a "no confidence" vote on Chief Kenneth Ellerbe Monday by an overwhelming majority. Mark Segraves reports. (Published Monday, Mar 25, 2013)

    D.C. Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe received a majority vote of no confidence Monday morning by D.C. firefighters.

    With a vote of 300 to 37 by the members of the D.C. Fire Fighters Association, Ellerbe was given a no confidence vote due to his “two year record of failed leadership.”

    “Chief Ellerbe is ethically bankrupt; and his poor managerial practices places our members and the public needlessly in harm’s way,” according to a statement released by Ed Smith, president D.C. Fire Fighters Association Local 36. The statement goes on to say that Chief Ellerbe “has needlessly endangered the public through excessive delays in response due to staffing and fleet mismanagement, and dangerous situations for the fire fighters who are sworn to protect the citizens and visitors of our city.”

    "Despite the 'no confidence' vote tallied by the local firefighters union, I am very optimistic about the department’s future and encouraged by the service we provide to District residents and visitors," read a statement released by Chief Ellerbe. "I remain deeply committed to resolving the issues before us. I look forward to strengthening our capabilities and putting our resources to better use in order to uphold the confidence of those we serve every day."

    Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Paul A. Quander Jr. released a statement saying, “I have every confidence that Chief Kenneth Ellerbe will continue to work to provide the best fire and emergency medical services to the residents of the District of Columbia. He will continue to stay focused on the work at hand to push for better service deliver. I continue to support the chief and his efforts to modernize and move the agency forward. There remains significant work to be done. The best way to achieve that goal is working together.”

    A small group of Ellerbe supporters showed up to protest the vote. Some said it was racially biased, News4’s Mark Segraves reported. The fire department is majority white, and most of those voting Monday were white.

    News4 was invited inside the meeting to see the votes counted but was quickly stopped by those fearing retaliation for their vote.

    D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has backed Ellerbe with support despite the scrutiny the department has faced over the last few months.

    A report by the D.C. Inspector General’s Office earlier this month said the department’s ambulance fleet had dangerous gaps in coverage and a “dangerously high and unaddressed attrition rate of paramedics that threatens the lives of D.C. residents everyday who are in medical distress.”

    “The public’s safety is at risk and every member of this department is at risk,” Smith said.

    In three separate incidents the department has been criticized about not responding to emergency calls soon enough. In one case three D.C. Fire and EMS ambulances that were supposed to be on duty the night an injured police officer was waiting for help were improperly out of service and did not respond to the calls. In other incidents a person died of a heart attack after waiting 30 minutes for an ambulance, and a stroke victim was taken to the hospital in a fire engine because the ambulance was seven miles away.

    Although Monday’s vote does not carry legal significance, it does put increased pressure on the department to institute changes. Fire Chief Ellerbe is scheduled to appear Thursday before the City Council’s Public Safety Committee to explain the information submitted on the maintenance of fire trucks and engines.

    In 2001 the union voted no confidence in Chief Ronnie Few, who also came under fire for management problems, Segraves reported. He resigned six months later.