Loose Lips

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

  • Inside looking out

    I can answer it !! He found out coincidentially yesterday. Just like he had the back up ambulance plan in the works for months and coincidentially rolled it out after last weeks hoopla dog and pony show about the ambulances not being available. Its a shame that a Chief with an otherwise solid record like Branch will be made the fall guy for this. If Branch told the Fire Chief about his discovery and retired a few weeks ago, then why did the Fire Chief wait until the Union report came out before he said anything? Can't wait to see next weeks big coincidence

  • JS

    The response from DC Fire and EMS is as disappointing as it is unsurprising. It's also a complete slap in the face to the Rosenbaum family who agreed to forego a financial settlement from the District in exchange for systemic changes in the management and training of DC Fire and EMS.

    Seven years later, and it seems that little has changed, DC Fire and EMS still can't be trusted, and it is still mismanaged.

    The next time someone complains that people filing lawsuits are only in it for the money and not for real change, I hope someone reminds them that apparently, forcing the District to pay out big chunks of cash are the only way to get the District to take settlements and verdicts seriously. Cash is king, promises to fix the system are cheap.

  • management 101

    It's probably past time to privatize EMS transport in DC. Privatization isn't the answer to many government problems, but, in this case, it give DC residents two, independent chances at having your life saved: by the incompetent city government or by the greedy private contractors. It's easier to fire a whole (private) agency than it is to rebuild a fire department. If 85% of the calls are for EMS, maybe the fire department could focus on getting the other 15% right. Does Lockheed-Martin operate ambulances?

  • Drez

    Lol I guess Chartered might.

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  • watchdogdc

    The truth of the matter is Chief Kenneth Ellerbe is completely aware of the situation of the current apparatus situation he is aware of the staffing problems in the agency and just as he always does he fires, threatens, trandfers or demotes others to cover his shortfalls. Chief Ellerbe micro manages this agency down to the level of calling the on duty operations chief and telling them to move people that are riding in various postions on the apparatus. Ellerbe has created this deplorable condition within the agency to support his agenda to change the current shift structure currently worked by the department personnel to a shift that is designed to take its toll on the members of the agency who live outside the district and hopes the long term effect it has is to keep those outside the city from applying for future position. The current staffing shortfall has reached over 200 fully funded positions that the chief has failed to fill. There is infact a current employment registar with over 500 quailified applicants waiting to be hired. As for the state of the apparatus fleet Chief Ellerbe controls the funds used to purchase the apparatus needed to respond to emergencies but fails to authorize those tasked with ordering the apparatus to do so. If you look at the current crisis within the agency one would have to ask why with these items both personnel and apparatus approved in the agencies budget why the number of vacancies exist and why the fleet of vehicles are in such deplorable condition. It's clear the answer is the complete mismanagement of the agency by Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and supported by the Deputy Mayor Paul Quander who himself has no background in Fire and EMS Service. The Chief has returned money from his budget each of the two years he has been in his position and thinks he doing a great job by doing so when in fact he has now created a situation where the agency no longer can provide the basic services to the citizens. Ellerbe and Quander must be replaces ASAP before someone else had to needlessly suffer or die because of their ill mined plans and inabilities to effectivly manage their positions.

  • Terry Miller

    What happened to the ready reserve units that were supposed to be available in case of an emergency? They were supposed to be fully stocked and stored in a garage that was specially built for them. Did they build that garage or not? I know that they had capital money for that and I know that they used federal funds to put together the ready reserve units. Somebody should ask about this.

  • SayWhat

    They need to get rid of that attorney Marcelene who make her staff go and take money and food to her mentally ill brother when they should be doing work. Plus she doesn't inform the Chief of things that he should know about until the last minute.

  • TJ

    DC needs to HIRE not appoint a Fire Chief. The Nation's Capital should have a premiere service not good old boy political hiring pool.

  • ubba dubba

    what about the pool? what is the status on the investigation into filling the pool up with water

  • shizam

    mr. wells,
    please ask branch if he was given an ultimatum by LRB. probably sounded a little something like this. "retire now or you will be demoted". ask Branch to come in and testify now that the chief does not own him. i think he will have some inside scoop that will finally clear up just how much of a liar LRB really is.

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