Mystery Deputy Fire Chief Blamed for Faulty Reserve Fleet Info
In case you missed it, Fox5's Paul Wagner reported yesterday on the firefighter union's claims that Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe had submitted faulty information to the D.C. Council about the state of the department's fire trucks. The union says several of the trucks Ellerbe told the Council were part of the department's reserve fleet had been sold or had been out of service for years. After the piece aired, Ellerbe put out a statement saying the union was right and thanked them "bringing this inaccurate information to our attention."
Ellerbe blamed the mistakenly submitted information on an unnamed deputy fire chief in charge of fleet management, who Ellerbe says has decided to retire "as a result of this oversight and inaccurate communication, coupled with an increase in his division's overtime expenditures." Ellerbe says he "accepted" the deputy's decision to retire and has already found a replacement (who is also unnamed).
Problem solved right? Not so fast. Ellerbe's statement raises a couple questions.
No. 1: Who is the deputy chief?
Lon Walls, a spokesman for the department, declined to name the deputy chief to the Post yesterday when it followed the Fox5 story, or to LL this morning. But the department's organization chart from February lists Deputy Chief Wayne Branch as the head of fleet management, and two fire department officials confirmed to LL that Branch is the deputy chief in question. Reached by phone today, Branch says he has no comment.
No. 2: When did Ellerbe find out that his department had submitted faulty information?
This one is a little tougher to answer, as it turns out that Branch announced his retirement "a couple of weeks ago," according to Walls, not after the Fox5 story ran.
In his statement, Ellerbe says he directed Branch "to conduct an audit of his submission of fleet readiness to ensure the accuracy of his report" in the wake of "recent reports" on the city's reserve numbers, which only came out yesterday. Ellerbe's statement continues by saying that Branch's "research revealed" that he had submitted faulty data, which you'll remember is part of the reason why Ellerbe says Branch is retiring.
Union boss Ed Smith, whose organization Ellerbe thanked for bringing this issue to light, says he did not talk to Ellerbe about the faulty data submitted to the Council before the Fox5 story aired yesterday.
So when did Ellerbe find out he'd given the Council inaccurate info? A couple weeks ago when Branch announced his retirement or following yesterday's reports?
"I really don't know," says Walls. "I can't answer that."
The department will need an answer to these questions by next week when it has another Council oversight hearing. The head of the public safety committee, Ward 6 Councilmartyr Saint Tommy Wells, says he plans on asking Ellerbe what he knew and when he knew it.
"I'm extremely concerned that a document was provided and supported under oath that appears to have been substantially inaccurate," Wells says.
Here's Ellerbe's statement:
Photo by Darrow Montgomery