Washington, D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has announced his retirement after three years marred by intense scrutiny and complaints of poor service in the department.
Ellerbe's retirement will be effective July 2.
“This was a dream for me when I became a firefighter in 1982. I will be eternally grateful to Mayor Gray for believing in me. He showed tremendous strength and fortitude in allowing me to do this job,” Ellerbe said in a statement released Thursday.
Ellerbe, agency chief since 2011, said he was not pushed aside and is retiring voluntarily.
The agency has been under intense scrutiny during Ellerbe’s tenure. News4 has reported paramedic shortages, ambulance breakdowns and slow response times.
In recent months, D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services employees were questioned for alleged inaction after a D.C. man collapsed and died across the street from a city firehouse.
Ellerbe has also been criticized by the local firefighters’ union, International Association of Firefighters Local 36, for his handling of the agency, its workforce and policies.
“I think we've left the department in a much better position than when I got here," Ellerbe explained Wednesday. "Our budget has been balanced for three years. We've got a handle on overtime. The things I set out to do have been accomplished. So it's time to go look for something else.”
On an interim basis, beginning July 2, Ellerbe will be replaced by Eugene Jones, assistant fire chief of operations for the department. A longtime member of the Prince George’s Fire Department, Jones joined D.C. FEMS in November 2013.
When asked if he had been forced or pressured to retire, Ellerbe answered, “Absolutely not.
"And I want to be very clear, Mayor Vincent Gray and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander have been extremely supportive. We knew the challenges going in. We set a road map and we have checked those boxes."
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Ellerbe said his leadership helped eliminate budget crunches, created by excessive overtime pay, that existed before his tenure began.
"We don't have that issue anymore," Ellerbe said. "The fleet was in a deplorable state. Now the fleet's in a better position. We have a pipeline of paramedics and cadets. So, versus 2011, we're in a much better position. The person who will be replacing me will be receiving the department in a better condition than I found it.”
D.C. Council Member Tommy Wells, chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee which has called many hearings surrounding the fire department, said he's looking forward to more change.
"We've gotta keep moving forward, there's no reason to lose any ground here," Wells said.