Loose Lips

Did Fire Chief Tell Firefighters Not To Misbehave at Mayor’s Speech?

Unless you're a Washington Post print subscriber, you may recall that a couple of weeks ago about 100 firefighters stood up and turned their backs toward Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe in an act of insubordination meant to express their displeasure with how Ellerbe is running the department, including his decision to outlaw the "DCFD" logo.

Someone at the fire department apparently wants no such repeat performance at Mayor Vince Gray's State of the District speech scheduled for Tuesday night. LL has been sent pictures of entries in the official logbooks of half a dozen fire houses with notes telling firefighters that they'll face punishment if they act up at tomorrow's mayoral shindig. All of the notes were written on Saturday, with most saying they were "by the orders" of Deputy Fire Chief Larry Jackson. Two of the notes say firefighters have to wear the "appropriate uniform" if they attend the speech, which is likely a reference to the now prohibited DCFD-festooned gear.

Ed Smith, president of Washington Local Fire Fighters Association Local 36, has posted a letter on the union's website, in which he describes a conference call where Jackson allegedly told on-duty battalion fire chiefs to spread the word that any firefighter who "exhibits any form of disrespect or insubordination" at the mayor's address will face "swift punitive action." Smith says that upon learning about the conference call he approached Ellerbe for an explanation.

"Through a series of emails, Chief Ellerbe contends the message was taken out of context and poorly conveyed," Smith writes. Smith says he asked Ellerbe to put out a note clarifying his position, but the chief hasn't done so.

Ellerbe spokesman Lon Walls says the whole episode is "much ado about nothing." Walls says that while Ellerbe expects his troops to behave professionally at the mayor's speech, he did not send out "any kind of directive like that."

"There's not been any message," says Walls.

Well, whatever the message is, we'll see how effective it is at tomorrow's speech. Smith, for the record, asked his members who attend the speech to "be respectful and conduct yourself in the highest professional manner as you do every time you assume duty."

  • NE John

    You guys pay for your uniforms? Those blue ones or all of them? What about the yellow water gear you wear and the other equipment?

  • SimpleFacts36

    Members of the DCFD, district citizens or any other civilian for that matter are afforded the right to free speech and protest if they see fit. Free speech and protest are not automatically racism just because the leader may be one race or another. If a leader is doing a poor job of leading or managing those under his command and it is costing the city monies that could be allocated more efficiently and prudently then the public should know about it.

    What is unfair is to call a peaceful protest a few weeks ago the "most blatant, ignorant and racist public display of disrespect I have ever seen." The DCFD Communications DIRECTOR posts this on his facebook/twitter following the walkout of 150 members at the Administrator's State of the Department speech. The DCFD members sat quietly through 3 speeches on the state of the department and THEN walked out of the address. Nobody interrupted, nobody stopped the speeches and nobody acted ignorantly. You can expect the same today.

    Just to set the record straight, the members are not nearly as up in arms about a patch change, uniform change or morale decrease as they are about the Administrator's plan to cut the DCFD's numbers by 25% by transitioning to the new 3-3-3 schedule. We can deal with being beat up, sleep deprived and ruled by a dictator. What we can't deal with is hurting the citizens and visitors whom we are sworn to protect. This new schedule WILL have a direct impact on the service provided to the citizens. The Administrator has said in the past that having so many DCFD members living outside the city is a Homeland Security threat due to the ability to recall those members in a large-scale event. How does eliminating 1/3 of your available off-duty members solve this problem?

    Members of the DCFD should not be nearly as worried about these issues as the citizens and visitors of the District of Columbia. If you love your city and want to know more about the details of the administrator's proposals please ask one of the respectful, educated and diverse members of the DCFD tonight at 6th and I St. NW.

  • Bob Bob

    @NE John, We are issued the protective firefighting gear and other protective gear for performing specific tasks, our station wear that is issued includes uniform pants and button down uniform shirts. All other uniform items such as Tee shirts, jackets,sweatshirts, hats, shoes/ boots and winter gloves are all purchased at the firefighters expense. The 5 uniform changes this year have caused the firefighters to spend an exorbanant amount of money on uniform items.

    @Ward-8 Your right you will get pleanty of applicants and there will always be bodies in the seats of the fire apparatus, the problem you don't realize is the quality of the firefighters you will have in those seats. I'm not sure if your aware of the process that one goes through to become a DC Firefighter it all starts with a written test, and applicants get hired based on the test scores. Its quite simple the best and brightest get hired, and they are then subjected to a riggorous schooling and testing process in the training academy, If they pass they become firefighters. You can force out all the out of state firefighters,save yourself a few tax dollars, and then what will you be left with.....I'l tell you what, a whole FEMS department filled will 2nd best firefighters who might be able to help you in your greatest moment of need. I don't know about you but thats not good enough for me!!

  • daheyell

    I can honestly state that having met the chief for the first time last month, he did not leave a favorable impression. He misused his invitation to a community meeting to throw his rank and file under the bus with ocassional snide comments. When he completely blew off a safety question, I was done listening, and not interested in him politicizing his personal agenda, particularly his defense of the logo change. I'm an African American, and aware of and affected by the racial divide in this city, but IMHO, this issue is not a racially motivated one.

  • http://ward3dc.com WardthreeDC

    So before we going labeling everyone that disagrees with how things are run as being a rasicst we need to step back and look at the details since emotional charged statement are not a means to further discourse they are said to create a frame with which to paint a new unrelated issue with some thing we all know.

    It should be noted that the brother of the man killed Reporter Rosenbaum; And, thus responsible for the law suit against the District to change how the District Fire and EMS is handled -- has weighted in and said that the proposed plan is a very bad idea. http://wapo.st/xWB1gu

    Having dealt with the District on emergency related contracts, exercise and disasters and since 911 (even served on the Gray transition subcommittee for emergency response) I don't feel safe and that means non emergency trained citizens shouldn't Either and this about leadership not patches, schel

    Correct me if Im wrong disasters, fires and emergencies dont care what color you are and the Fighter Fighters run in the opposite direction of everyone else and many of them have been doing it for years and some generations and I didn't noticing anyone complaining about race until this new Chief came on.

    Also if we are going to ask for every Fire Figther to live in the District then every agency employee needs to be ready to move into the District and every political appointee and agency head better already be here.

  • Taaaat

    Your free speach is out the window when you are at work. When you are on the clock, your speech and dress better reflect the agency's thoughts NOT YOUR OWN. If you don't like it and feel so strongly about it.... You are FREE to RESIGN!

    You DCFD are becoming an embarrassment now both to your agency AND this city, and that's when you begin to jeprodize your employment. While you are crying about you ammendment rights you need to read your Govt employee handbook and find out what is expected of an employee.

    Damn near every Govt employee in DC is working under a contract that expired years ago.... What makes you think you can be disrespectful to the person the Citizens that you SERVE elected to represent them? Who the /(&$ do you think you are?

    As for your commute, during a real 40 hr work week, that is a personal decision you have to make just like every one else, to work or not to work. You OBVIOUSLY are getting SOME enjoyment from your job because even though you live two hours away, you CHOSE DCFD to be your employer. Now you can decide to change that at any time, but while you are here, I, as a DC Citizen expect you to respect me, my visitor AND my elected officials.

  • Terry Miller

    Regarding #42's comment: Applicants get bonus points for being a D.C. resident. There are no points for being a minority. The recruitment problem is systemic. Applications for the entry test (which is given only every few years) are accepted for only a few days. An applicant has to know when that is happening and be ready to stand in line for a long time to get on the list to take the test. Applicants with friends and relatives inside the Department know about the dates because they learn from their contacts. Since firefighting has been mainly white in continues to be mainly white, until the process is changed. But firefighters don't like change. I think recruitment of city residents and minoriites (not necessaryily the same) would be better if the test was given on a regular basis (say monthly) so that people who don't have contacts within the Department get a chance.

  • Brokenhearted

    @taaat the issue is he's trying to deny our off duty right to the first amendment. Which you would know if you actually read the article.

  • Holdadice

    ....and with Taaaat, I feel I can rest my case!

  • seDCdude

    These anti CHIEF rants are filled with the same selective amnesia, biased opinions, LIES, "dressed up" excuses as to why their baltant disrespect of the FIRE CHIEF resonates with the like of the "usual suspects" round' here who are cold shameless in their defense political views.

    The doom and gloom you paint can so easily be debunked and that contract issue was certainly active during Rubin's tenure and none of you "attempted" the level of disrespect shown to chief Ellerbe...

  • SEis4ME

    @Brokenhearted, what about telling you not to show out at the SOTD is an infringement upon your first amendment rights?

    You have the "right" to say whatever you want. You do NOT have the right to experience no recourse for exercising it.

    I have the "right" to get in a meeting and turn my back towards my boss. He also has the right to fire me.

  • DCFD

    DCFD can’t catch a break. When we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did….
    Got rid of one racist DC Fire Chief with Antisocial personality disorder. (ASPD) is described by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fourth edition (DSM-IV-TR), as an Axis II personality disorder characterized by "...a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood. AND now we have another racist Chief that suffers from (ASPD). Ellerbe is the worse. At least Rubin looked out for the White boys and threw a select group of Blacks a few bones. Ellerbe is plain destructive; he’s destroying the entire DCFD. His small traveling circus of Black clowns is too stupid to know the difference. The real is every Black DC Fighter knew Ellerbe was “going to be on get back” for the many years Blacks suffered at the hands of racist White leadership in DCFD. But, no one expected this Hostile Type Sociopath “A hostile sociopath is an angry, resentful, and aggressive person that purposefully rejects the social norms and mores of society and displays antisocial and traditional psychopathic traits as a result of their hostile beliefs,” would turn on Blacks and certainly not (less than one year) this quick. Well, he has and it’s only going to get worse. The good news is people like Ellerbe and his brain dead brother normally self-destruct when given the power to do so. For the good ole boys that means he’ll hang himself soon….! For the “never been and never will be black progressives” AKA progressive Black Fire Fighters, this means continue doing nothing and the buffoon will bamboozle himself soon.

    Ellerbe will soon be another failed Gray appointee…. So do us all a favor Ellerbe and make your short (one term) stay sweet.

    PS: DCFD, fret not, for Ellerbe will bring the true, honest, and fair men and women of DCFD together against him before he succeeds at launching the DCFD into a RACE WAR.

    Ellerbe, we are ALL on to you. Your tricks (divide and conquer) are old satan. Your little games failed at every level (Sgt, Lt, Capt, BFC, DFC, XO) and you’re now failing as FC…. You are a failure and have been your entire life: you know it and soon the world (www.) will know it…..
    Smile kenzin AKA Loserbe “for only you know why you’re smiling.”

  • http://www.aclu.org/affiliate/washington-dc Green Eyeshade

    Click my name or go to this link to contact ACLU of Washington DC:


    Civil rights lawyers will recognize immediately that DCFD executives just committed constitutional tort. Either individually or in conspiracy (agreement) they violated first amendment rights of public employees. They threatened retaliation for free expression of opinion in public event. They demanded political support for elected official as condition of retaining public job or avoiding adverse action. Open & shut case of civil rights violation. If DCFD officers can find evidence the threats were made according to city policy or Mayor's order they can sue for damages under Supreme Court case called "Monnell."

  • http://www.aclu.org/affiliate/washington-dc Green Eyeshade

    SEis4Me @60 is just flat wrong on the law. First amendment DOES protect even public employees for expressing opinion freely at public event. They are not engaged in performing public duties when attending public event.

    DC community naturally has trouble accepting this after watching repression of OccupyDC, but first amendment is VERY powerful. DCFD officers who are threatened with retaliation have open & shut claim for violation civil rights.

  • DCFiremanRetd

    Why don't you address the issues instead of tiring people with your one and only line of thought....race? Nothing is about race until you and a couple others show up with a boulder on your shoulder that you don't know how to get rid of and you turn to race because you have no answers to any of the problems the DCFD has because of Ellerbe.

    Ellerbe would have been respected had he at least tried to earn it instead of returning with a vendetta and lies. This entire situation of forbidding guys to show up tonight and then denying he did it is a lie. Don't you get it - if he lies to anyone at all, he will lie to you as well, eventually.

    And you are wrong. The issue of a shift change was not active during the Rubin administration contract negotiations and when it was ever mentioned in any situation, the top brass refused to entertain the idea. When Rubin changed the patch he allowed us to replace the old ones as we needed to buy new shirts. And your buddy Ellerbe lied when he commented online that the 24 hr shift change was sunsetted after 3 years according to the Hammon v. Barry case. Go read it.

    Take the race crap and shove it and address the real issues. You can't or won't and you and the few others will continue, here and elsewhere, your wolf-calls of racism.

  • DCDem

    Any firefighters that shows their ass during the Mayor's address should be fired to provide space for a more professional public servant who needs a job. You have a first amendment right to speak your mind but your employer also has a right to fire you.

  • DCFiremanRetd

    Don't you read the comments before you? The commentor with the ACLU link just explained the law - you CANNOT be fired for speaking your mind off-duty. What about the first amendment don't you get?

  • Knowledge

    In a radio address made during his final evening in India, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. reflected, "Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation."

  • DCDem

    Insubordination should never be rewarded. Ask any successful businessman.

  • DC Fire Fighter

    Ellerbe SUCKS.....

  • DCFiremanRetd

    You really are showing your lack of intellect. There is NO insubordination in lawful, off-duty actions. Mr. Ellerbe cannot dictate to us, or you, what you can or cannot do off-duty and just because he tries does not make us have to abide by his unlawful order. The US Constitution protects us from tyranny such as you suggest. We have the right to disagree with our political leaders, in public, and in private. You are one of the duped in America.

  • DCDem

    D.C. Firefighters bitched and moaned when Rubin was here and now they are bitching now that Ellerbe is here. What you do off duty is your business. However, if you disgrace professional firefighters with insubordination while on the job, yes, you should be fired.

  • DCFiremanRetd


    While on-duty, not "on the job."

  • seDCdude

    @ DCFD

    Keep posting, you reveal true shit with each word you type trying to blast Chief Ellerbe!

  • seDCdude

    Exactly at DCdem

    What you have are bleeding heart racist red necks posing as firefighters.....DCFD's last post speaks volumes to that guilty conscious held by some of em'....

    Most of them are aware at the discrepancies in charges dealt out under Rubin to BLACK firefighters and all the other gross negligence under THAT regime, but because Chief Ellerbe threatens their comfort zone with proposed and active "changes" they wanna cry like bitches,

    It was all good when Hurlehey's gump ass and flynn and a few straight racists were pushN charges like no tomorrow...

    Suck it up or roll out, that simple!

  • Inside looking in

    Oh I love reading the comments section of local the media outlets. It gives me a insight to what my co workers really think. The funny thing is all the cries of the 1st amendment, but no one wants to attach there name to there quote. The fear mongering (everybody is going to die now), that's old school scare tactics. I wonder where they picked that up from? This job has been divided along racial lines before Ellerbe came back, I guess some people have had their heads buried in the sand the last four years. Don't believe the rhetoric we are all not in this together.

  • SEis4ME

    Hello FireDep't idiots, an "off duty" military commander had tough shyt to say about the President of the United States. He was relieved of his duties and the issue of "free speech" never entered the discussion.

    To say that you can do or say whatever you want (while "off duty) and not face swift sanctions is a pipe dream.

    Is this is your understanding of the "law" then maybe DCFD needs to seek new recruits anyway.

  • DCDem

    I have heard one legitimate gripe from public servants in the District this year, thus far. That being the reduction in salary due to four imposed furlough days last year based upon the typical piss poor fiscal forecast of the city's CFO that under-reported revenue by 240 million dollars, per actual findings that came out this year. An entire District workforce was financially impacted by the non-counting CFO. Some were even terminated as a result of this under reporting.

    You will never satisfy completely unionized workers and the interests of their management. There must be a balance. The described insubordination of the firefighters isn't something I'm seeing being tolerated in any other major city in the nation.

  • NE John

    Remember Susan Ellerbie? She was awesome

  • S.E.

    I say let Firefighters do it...........it will show their true colors.

  • S.E.

    Correction.....I say let the Firefighters do it..............it will show their true colors.

  • Holdadice

    @SE: We have already seen that group of firefighters' true colors...and they are UGLY.

  • DCCitizen

    Funny how all of the firefighters that showed up to protest (about 50 or so) were all white. I'm not making it a race issue but you all keep saying it isn't and your whole dept feels the way you do but I saw it with my own eyes. So are you telling me that it just so happens that a majority of your dept is white? And if so its because no other race has ever been interested in a firefighter job? And those that were just weren't qualified for the job? However you spin it... It's Not a good look... Just my observation.

  • Knowledge

    In a radio address made during his final evening in India, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. reflected, "Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation."

  • Ward-8

    Bob Bob just in case you got lost in la la land, not all DC Residents are dumb or unable to qualify to be a fireman if they chose,As a life long DC resident my children all boys by the way graduated from DC Public schools with honor, graduated from college on the Dean list the same as the children of a number of my DC friends,all of whom could have easly qualified to be a Fireman however, they chose other employment and are employed in other Goverment and Private Industry based on compective placement. The bottom line all of the arguments are petty Bull Shit in order to maintain the status quo. Changes hurt when a warp mind is resistance to such change!!

  • tony

    I will say this to the Chief Ellerbe. He must get control of his workforce. There's simply too much public disrespect been shown to him. Whether some of the firefighters like it or not, he is the Chief. The Chief must at some point flex his power and influence. Any CEO of any business or organization will tell you that when you lose the respect of your workers, you can pack your things and leave. The issues that some of the firefighters have with their boss are the same issues that most people have with their bosses. But, most people are not going to publicly disrespect their bosses out of fear. The Chief must put his foot down and reclaim the respect of his workforce. Usually, such respect is often given out of loyalty or fear. Chief Ellerbe must demand the respect of his workforce. And those who wont comply should be dealt with swiftly!

  • DCFiremanRetd

    @Tony - are you and ellerbe like the rest of his ghost writers on these comment sections? Demand respect? You are a fool.

    The first amendment applies ONLY TO ACTIONS OF THE GOVERNMENT which would interfere with freedom of speech, religion, assembly...Private corporations can and do engage in activity that would otherwise violate the first amendment.

    After you take the time to read the Constitution, ask someone to explain it to you because you and a few others on here have no clue what you are talking about.

  • InIt2WinIt

    We need new firefighters. Those who understand the concept "respect for authority". What is displayed by them on this blog is an affront to the citizens of the District of Columbia. Blacks bitched about Rubin, whites bitch about Ellerby. Shut the hell up, do your job, or hit the fuckin' bricks!

  • seDCdude

    @ DCfriedRetired&TIRED

    only fool in thread is your clown ass along with those who align with your perturbed views............

    Funny that this is the new deal with racists, to pull out Constitution and Amendment references to justify your stupidity...dumbass!