Loose Lips

Fire Department Puts on Its Brave Face

Citizens of the District of Columbia: There is nothing wrong with your fire department's ability to provide ambulances to take the sick or injured to the hospital. Or at least that was the message top fire officials and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander were selling at a news conference today.

The conference came after a rough three days for the department that began Tuesday, when the city couldn't find one of its own ambulances to transport a seriously injured police officer to the hospital and instead had to ask Prince George's County to send an ambulance. Then, yesterday, firefighters had to transport a man suffering from a stroke to the hospital in a fire truck because the nearest ambulance was seven miles away, in rush-hour traffic.

Fire officials tried to put a positive spin on both events. The fire department's medical director, Dr. David Miramontes, said the fact that a Prince George's county ambulance was deployed to the District when no District ambulances were available shows that the city's "mutual aid" agreements with surrounding jurisdictions are functioning.

"Tuesday, the system worked," he said.

And Quander praised the firefighters involved in yesterday's incident for taking matters into their own hands and not waiting around for a faraway ambulance.

As for why the city's having a difficult time getting its own ambulances to people who need them, Quander says he's investigating why 10 of the 39 ambulances that were supposed to be on duty were offline during Tuesday's incident. Quander said his investigation will be widespread and will spare no one who might be at fault, from top management on down.

"Everyone will be held accountable," Quander said.

A few minutes later he then voiced public support for Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe. "Our citizens are well served by the men and women of this department and by this chief."

The firefighters union says four of the out-of-service ambulances Tuesday were offline for mechanical reasons, and that the department has a long history of not being able to get its equipment working properly. Officials said that starting yesterday, the department will now have two fully stocked ambulances on standby at the department's repair shop ready to replace any broken on-duty ambulance that comes in for repairs.

Quander says the department had been working on its standby plan for months and its implementation "just happens  to coincide" with Tuesday's incident. Asked whether he thought that was an amazing coincidence, Quander said: "I asked the question. I asked the exact same question. What I was told was that they have been working on this, they have put it into place. It's operational, and it's available today."

Sounds like someone has just the right amount of healthy skepticism needed for a thorough investigation.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • drez

    10 of 39 ambulances were out of service? 25%?
    Things are looking up! New Years' Eve it was about 30%.

  • Concerned Patient

    There is nothing acceptable about members of FEMS playing games to get out of runs - if in fact that happened. If it did, they should be held accountable and be made an example of. HOWEVER, the current Fire Chief appears to have demonstrated, in numerous ways, that he is not an appropriate leader. Anyone leading a service agency should know this: if you're people are miserable, they fear you and distrust you, they will not provide good service to their customers.

    I do not suggest for a moment that the members, or their union, should run the Department. But the Mayor and Deputy Mayor should be held accountable for not taking action when their is a clear pattern of incompetence and abuse. When they see a city agency spiraling out of control, they must act. While Police Chief Lanier is not always popular in her Department, there does not appear to be the same level of disgust and low morale in her Department. Police officers, by and large, come to work and provide the service they should. The fire department is smaller, less complex and enjoys in inherently less difficult relationship with the public. There is no excuse for Chief Ellerbe to lead his men and women down a path of anger and poor performance.

    Perhaps even more concerning than the recent news at the fire department is the fact that Chief Ellerbe has acted on his own to dismantle the reforms made under the Rosenbaum Task Force recommendations. Those reforms, wether one agrees with them or not, were conducted openly. The removal of those reforms has been done under cover of darkness and with no public input. It is clear that Chief Ellerbe has been returning the Department to a divided fire and EMS system and that he has undermined the previous efforts to incorporate EMS resources, officers, training and management. As has been reported over the last two years, the EMS supervisors are not fully staffed, promotions are regularly held up, EMS Chief Officers have been dismissed or demoted, many costly new hires have already quit, a record number of paramedics gave up their certifications and new EMS programs have been abandoned. These issues, combined with erratic and incompetent leadership are now having very clear consequences to the public.

    I strongly encourage Councilman Wells and Mayor Gray to take action before the situation deteriorates further. Many residents hoped that Chief Ellerbe would continue the reformative and data-driven actions of the previous administration, but with more accountability and greater efficiency. In fact that has not been the case. Many of us dismissed our concerns that Chief Ellerbe, a childhood friend of Mayor Gray, was appointed without a nationwide search being conducted. However, it appears we should not have been so quick to relish new leadership.

    I hope, for the safety of our community, that Chief Ellerbe is removed and that a nationwide search for a professional manager is conducted. It took decades to reconcile the role of EMS and implement rational data-driven management in the fire service. Once this is undone, we will all suffer the loss of at least another decade to build it back up.

  • management 101

    Not enough ambulances, employees putting ambulances out of service when their needed, a failure of management.

    It's trivial to add ambulances, we're in a budget surplus, and this chief has told the council he doesn't need any more money. That's one solution avenue.

    Employees putting ambulances out of service may be just part of doing business - there is understandably some necessary down time for each ambulance and crew. However, if each ambulance is self-managed by the crew, that crew needs to be fully engaged in the department mission, and that requires inspirational leadership from the chief, to his deputies to the supervisors, and down to the crew leaders. Every bit of news about him confirms that Ken Ellerbe is incapable of inspirational leadership. Furthermore, management should schedule shift changes to occur outside of peak demand hours, as well as establishing a procedure that allows for seamless coverage during shift changes.

    Finally, you can raise the bridge or you can lower the water. DC needs to have a serious conversation about what it expects it's Fire and Emergency Services to provide. Right now, they provide emergency ambulance transportation to any and every person who calls 911, regardless of condition. 39 ambulances less 10 means that 29 ambulances were busy with other patients. 80% of 911 patients don't require ALS treatment enroute to the hospital. Some fraction of these don't require ANY emergency treatment, and could be better served with out-of-hospital clinic care. The citizens of the District of Columbia need to determine if they want to use their expensive, and apparently scarce, fire department to provide non-emergency ambulance service to their neighbor, even if it means that they might not have an ambulance available when their father has a stroke.

    I suggest that they do not. When someone calls 911 in the district, they should expect an immediate and timely response, and professional service from caring professionals. However, if those professionals determine that your condition is stable, and is not an emergency, you should feel relieved, thank them, and call for a taxi or private ambulance. It may even be in DC's best interest to pay for that taxi or private ambulance, as it is no doubt cheaper than paying for the pension and benefits of a unionized fire department employee.

  • Ward-8

    There are several things at play, When Chief Rosebaun was here as quiet as it is kept, he matained the good old boys status que for folks who look like him. When Chief Ellerbe came in he ran into a wall of this entrench status que who are resistng any changes, dispite Ellerbe's best efforts, he is being un-officially undermined by those who don't want changes and are instigating others ,although this may or may not be Sanction by the Union,there is no doubt they know about it and are just turning a blind eye as expected,After all dues still get paid and the Union Leadership still get their perks. The only way to break this entrench status que is strict enforcement of regulations putting some folks in the unemploment lines and or suspension of those folks who think the DC Goverment owe them a paycheck for just showing up, then there maybe a few folks who beleive.

  • management 101

    Way to play the race card, Ward-8.

  • Ward-8

    management 101, you must be one of those folks who always yell one of my best friend is one of them, you seem to get race mix up with facts, I get it, when you don't like the facts throw up a distractor, it usualy work with low information people. Another fact, Every person the Fire Department transport, they or their insurance Co. get bill for the trip,the Average and minimum cost is $400.00

  • management 101

    What kind of distractor? Claiming a race issue under the former chief is to blame, rather than Chief Ellerbe's incompetence?

    Or calling others "low information people" while riddling your posts with misspellings and grammatical error?

  • Ward-8

    101 Gay folks tend to be very smart yet get Frustrated when they don't get a billy to suck on, did I spell it correctly, if there are grammatical error, I am sure a suger like you get the message

  • management 101

    I'm not frustrated. I just have to wait until the new DHS facility raises the property values in Ward 8 so that all of the low-information voters there get priced out of town. Then we can start having a city government that provides service, rather than jobs, to constituents.

    And despite your continued grammatical errors, I think I can parse your message. I believe that you are frustrated by the end of 'Chocolate City'.

  • Concerned Patient

    Most people don't assume that either Chief Rubin or Chief Ellerbe are racist. I'm sure those of you who work in that Department will lob those accusations all day long. I'll assume it just isn't true. However, if there are racial inequities, there are actions you can take to address them, which I do not see Chief Ellerbe taking. Being angry at your predecessor and and simply undoing anything he/she did is a mistake for anyone. It will be a mistake for the next Fire Chief. I think we (the public) expect our City's executives to act like mature adults, not children our for retribution. And besides, if there are lingering race issues, retribution is not the solution.

  • inside looking in

    They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I guess one segment of the workforce speaks for the whole workforce


    This about protecting a shift change. This is not about changing how EMS is run.

  • DCFD employee

    Did you know that in 2011 there were more than the 100 plus firefighters and single role employess off? No, and You wouldn't have known, because the city "upstaffed" for the holiday. No services were lost and plenty of ambulances were available.

    Did You know that single role providers are allowed to put there unit out of service from time to time to go back to the fire house for relief? No, You don't know that and I will bet that that might be the reason for some of those units being out of service when there was an obvous need for a unit. Nothing gets done about that or even talked about.

    I love my job and work my hardest to be there for the nations capitol and I know plenty of guys and gals that feel the same way.

  • truth hurts

    If a person has a heart attack, calls 911, and then dies because the ambulance never arrives, his family cannot sue the city. If the city council allowed people to file suit when the city ignored medical emergencies, service would improve. Until then, hope you don't get seriously injured.

  • name

    Time for a congressional takeover of FEMS/DCFD + EMS.

    This city is filled with nothing but children acting like children.

  • http://eyesthatsee eyesthatsee

    that name quander comes up with management and public safety problems for years. who keeps hiring this guy? there is something going on behind the headlines, from sick outs to not responding. we need congress to investigate. what's up with gray, mr. law and order.

  • Terry Miller

    The problem is, the Fire Chief has too much power. And because he has so much power, few are willing to buck the system and are mostly "yes men." These guys have no problem running into buildings but are cowards when it comes to standing up for the right thing. As for the race issue: If you followed the Department at Council Hearings , you would have seen that under Rubin virtually all top management was white. And under Ellerbe virtually all top management are African American. Coincidence?

  • name

    Why should the city upstaff for a holiday? Doesn't that result in higher costs for the city? You're paying people not to work and paying a higher rate for people to work a holiday. That's like 2.5x.

    This isn't f*cking Macy's at Christmas. Go to work with the same number of people: some people get Christmas off, some get Thanksgiving off and some get a summer vacation. No one gets all three.

    Bunch of whiney b*tches.

  • watchdogdc

    The real issues involving the Fire and EMS Department can be tied to one person Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. The current problems are manufactured by Chief Ellerbe as part of his agenda to change the current shift the Fire and EMS emloyees currently work. Since his arrival he has created nothing but controversy in the agency. Everytime Chief Ellerbe has been in the news it has been for something negative or to announce one of his poorly thought out plans he plans to put in place. Each and every plan he has announced has been challenged and proven to have many flaws in it that will have a negative impact on the service delivary to the citizens. One of the latest plans that is again being tossed around is the redeployment of EMS that will leave no ALS Transport units ti serve the citizens from 1:00 am until 7:00 each day. Lets take a look at a couple of recent incidents that would have been effected by that plan. The Fire in the 2600 Blk. of 33rd St.SE where numers people were transported to the hospital along with one child that did not survive, then there is the most current incident on N.Capital St. where numerous people were shot at 2:30 in the morning. If the plan to do away with the Advanced Life Support Units was not challenged by the Labor Union showing its many flaws it would have been in place on both of the mentioned incidents denying the citizens the Advanced life Support Care they pay for and deserve. This is not a race issue, it's not a labor issue it is a mismanagement issue thats all. The Fire and EMS Department has moved forward to be recognized as one of the top Fire and EMS Departments in the country since the events of 9-11 the progression forward has been under the direction of both African American and White Fire Chiefs so therefore it can be said this is not a race issue. The current set of problems are caused by only one Vendictive, Self Serving, Bully Minded person Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. His record of Lying to the council under oath, Being found Guilty of Retaliation against members of the agency, attempting to bully and intimidate department employees, falseifying his district tax documents, trying to collect retirement money in the amount of 600,000 thousand dollars he was not eligible to collect, purposly creating a staffing crisis to support his agenda that has cost one person his life, recently lying to Tommy Wells about not knowing what was taking place at the apparatus shop and forcing another well respected Chief to retire or threatening him with demotion because of the overtime, the transfer of another well respected chief after ruling on a trial board in a manner that was not what Ellerbe wanted but the fair decision based on the evidence, andlast but not least the case which is still ongoing involving Chief Stern who was demoted for his actions on a trial board case that also did not render the decision Ellerbe wanted but was also fair and within the guidelines based on the presented evidance. When its all said and done the results of this guy being the Fire and EMS Chief will cost more citizens their lives and the remaining citizens millions of dollars in lawsuit payouts. The citizens deserve better. Let your voice be heard by calling the Mayors office everyday demanding a change in leadership of the Fire and EMS Department.

  • physiocrat

    If NYE historically brings a higher than normal service demand, the city should upstaff. If NYE historically brings higher-than normal absenteeism, the city should offer holiday pay on NYE, or at least ensure that it's positions are covered by people who intend to work.

  • DCFD employee

    upstaffing for a holiday is due to the increased population for all the events going on.

  • watchdogdc

    The plan to staff all department apparatus in the past during the holiday season and times when the agency knows there is going to a higher number of employees off than normal has always been to call all of the Battalion Commanders and have them compile a list of employees available to work overtime. This is not a practice that has been done by this administration. In fact this administration has failed to fill over 200 vacant positions which are fully funded positions within the departments operating budget. This manufactured staffing crisis plan is all part of the effort Chief Ellerbe has undertaken to reduce the total number of Firefighters and EMS workers in the city by about 400 employees. None of the plans that Chief Ellerbe has for the department are designed with the best service delivery to the citizens in mind they are designed to make it miserable for the employees that live outside the city so they will have less people apply from outside. The truth of the matter is that the mismanagement and ill minded plans Chief Ellerbe has undertaken during his tenure as Fire Chief is now taking its toll on service delivery to the people. One person has already died, one has had to lay in the street with serious injuries,and one has had to be transported to the hospital in a fire truck which is not designed for patient care and transport. Now lets add in the the fact that there are noe reserve ladder trucks in the city and the plan to have ready reserve EMS transport units available has failed only 1 week after it was announced by Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander. This citizens of the District should be calling the Mayors office Daily demanding a change before someone else dies. With the summer months approaching fast which traditionally comes with an increase of service demand due to the high number of tourist that come to visit the Nations Capital it will without a doubt be a recipe for disaster a disater created by the current Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe all due to his incompetant leadership.