Loose Lips

Wells Calls on Deputy Mayor, Fire Chief To Resign

As the chairman of the D.C. Council's public safety committee, mayoral hopeful Tommy Wells knows better than most about the myriad scandals in the District's Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. But unlike colleagues David Grosso and Mary Cheh, though, Wells hadn't called for fire chief Kenneth Ellerbe's resignation up to now.

Following yesterday's hearing on Medric Mills' death, though, Wells is going further than anyone else on the Council, calling for Vince Gray to ask for the resignations of both Ellerbe and Ellerbe's boss, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander.

In a letter to Gray, Wells said the fire department is victim to "systemic mismanagement," listing everything from ambulance fires to a shortage of paramedics. Wells said in a press release that he had hoped to find out in yesterday's hearing what measures Quander and Ellerbe were taking to make sure that the Mills incident wouldn't be repeated, but instead was "stunned" by what he saw as a lack of action. 

"The only additional corrective action was to issue a memorandum reminding firefighters to 'follow the rules,'" Wells said.

Quander's office referred questions to mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro, who described Wells' new resignation call as another political ploy from the candidate.

“We all know what it is," Ribeiro says. "It’s another shameless and idiotic political stunt on his part."

Update, 5:05 p.m.: Ribeiro tells LL that Wells is "hypocritical at best" for calling for complaining about Ellerbe's performance after opposing an ambulance redeployment plan that the chief had backed.

Wells' statement and letter to Gray after the jump

Today, DC Councilmember Tommy Wells, Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, issued a letter to Mayor Vincent Gray calling for the resignation of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Chief of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. Councilmember Wells released the following statement in regards to the letter:

Yesterday I chaired an oversight hearing to give the Gray administration a chance to explain what happened in the Cecil Mills case—in which five firefighters failed to respond to a personal plea for help at the firehouse door. Specifically, I wanted to hear the Mayor’s plan to fix the situation so it will never happen again. The administration's response was deficient and disappointing. Our city deserves better.

In fact, there is no plan—or even apparent capacity—to rectify the failings of the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department and restore public confidence in reliable emergency response. Therefore I am calling on Mayor Gray to immediately ask for the resignations of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and the Chief of the DC Fire/EMS Department.

I was stunned to learn that the Mayor’s representatives had no plan to respond to the Mills case beyond disciplining the firefighters who failed to assist Mr. Mills, who suffered a heart attack across the street from their firehouse. The only additional corrective action was to issue a memorandum reminding firefighters to “follow the rules.”

But my response is not based on a single incident. There is systemic mismanagement throughout the department that was evident even before I became chair of the council committee with oversight of public safety one year ago. The department has a consistent record of failure. The shortcomings evident in the most visible and horrifying incidents—in which citizens like Mr. Mills have lost their lives—are just the tip of the iceberg.

From burning ambulances, uncertified fire trucks, and no procurement plan to adequately equip our fire and emergency personnel, to a shortage of paramedics, delayed response to emergencies, and poor training and management, this department has enormous and urgent challenges to overcome. Yet the administration has no coherent plan to improve the department’s performance.

Blaming racial divisions, union membership, or other perceived motivations for the department’s dysfunction must end. It is a disgrace to place responsibility on the rank and file employees who put their lives on the line for DC citizens every day. Whatever the divisions in the department, only strong leadership, sound management, and a new culture of excellence can resolve them.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Miss Lu Lu Hog

    This is a political stunt by Tommy Wells because he's running for mayor. However, I don't have no faith in D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and he should have been terminated a long time ago. I remember Ward 4 D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser asked for Kenneth Ellerbe's resignation. Boswer didn't request the resignations of former D.C. Councilmembers Kwame Brown, Harry Thomas, and Michael Brown. All these former D.C. Councilmembers were convicted of felonies. What a mess this city is in!

  • dcgovcorruption

    Now Tommy,
    Have you been drinking again with the dc firefighters at the tune in restaurant again. You keep acting up and you want have any job come January 2015.

  • Inside looking in

    No Wash Post endorsement, no Labor endorsement. In other words Wells is yelling "look at me"! "look at me"! I can ask for resignations from city cabinet members. Mr. Wells for your information DCFEMS was in shambles waaaaaay before you were a council member. Do some research. The way your campaign is going I can see why you are desperate to get a headline.

  • HUAlum71

    My 13 y/o Grand Daughter could have written a better letter than the one attached. Considering the seriousness of Wells' premise, the letter is sorely lacking in substance.

  • Inside looking in


    In this video you can clearly see the persons who are upset who the fire chief is.

  • justsayin

    Although they each have oversight responsibility, none of the council members ever give a damn about making agencies (i.e., CFSA, OTR,DCFEMS)accountable until some highly publicized unfortunate incident occurs. They ignore complaints from citizens until a high price is paid, and then they hold special hearings,news conferences, and offer empty condolences to the citizens. I wouldn't elect Tommy Wells to clap classroom erasers.

  • April 1

    The best part of this election cycle will be the fact that both Tommy and Gray will no longer be a part of our government.

  • truth hurts

    Ribeiro is acting like a jerk. Public tax revenues pay for salaries of official Mayoral spokespersons. During just the past few weeks, Ribeiro, acting in his public capacity, has called the elected Ward 6 councilmember a "dope", an "idiot", and a "hypocrite at best" for criticizing Gray's administration.

    Maybe he wants to be like Thies, Gray's campaign manager, who has publicly called all competing candidates smurfs, and publicly compared Bowser to Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and George Wallace.

    Gray's one city spokesmen ... nasty. Remember gray's mantra last time? Character. Integrity. Leadership. Mixed in with some b.s. about how he'd demonstrate civility and be the adult in the room. Instead he chose these low-life mouthpieces to speak for him.

  • Ward-8

    Wells is blowing smoke up his own ass,Yup, lets just fire the Chief and just forget about those incompetent employees who keep gaming the system. what he should be doing is revamping the District Disciplinary system. One can't put all of the blame on the chief had any of these incompetent workers been employed by a private company, they would be looking for another job. Screw ups tend to keep screwing up until they know there are real consequences for failing to perform ones duty other than a vacation with pay while the District cumbersome disciplinary procedures and appeals takes years to resolve, until this is corrected, there will be more gross negligence by District employees.

  • Pandering Tommy

    In this episode of Pandering Tommy. The FEMS Union convinces Mr. Wells to do their bidding and ask for the chiefs resignation. Tommy of course goes all in with a shallow press release and some signature finger wagging to ask for not just the chiefs resignation but Paul Quander's as well.

    When asked why he's asking for the resignation now Mr. Wells had this to say: "You know me and my people [blacks & pastors]are tired of the Gray Administration.I need the FEMS union endorsement to look like a serious candidate so Quander and Ellorbee have to go.In honor of Cecil Mills and more votes I will add his picture to my next campaign mailer."

  • drez

    Tommy is half right, but DM Quander and FEMS chief Ellerby both owe their jobs to gray, and it's gray that needs to go. Cut the head off the snake and be done with it.

  • S.E.

    "Yesterday I chaired an oversight hearing to give the Gray administration a chance to explain what happened in the Cecil Mills case—in which five firefighters failed to respond to a personal plea for help at the firehouse door".

    "It is a disgrace to place responsibility on the rank and file employees who put their lives on the line for DC citizens every day".


  • noodlez




  • madmax

    The Fire department has 1800 members 3% of the members
    are bad apples. That 3% makes the whole department look bad!!!
    The department runs 175,000 plus calls per year.
    Alot of calls Fire and EMS are positive!!!
    Yes 97% of the members do a outstanding job & love doing their jobs! Not all the members are bad people!!!
    All members need to be held accountable!! Chief & Deputy Mayor included!!

    The members involved in the Mills incident & The Chief must go!!!

  • Ivy

    Martin Moulton aka "Drez" why don't you get a job to occupy your wasted time and leave Gray alone.

  • HUAlum71

    Ivy: I've also been wondering about the drez obsessive compulsive disorder thing with Gray. Bet there's an interesting story to be told there. Nah.....drez will never own up to a truism and he probably isn't even on the Mayor's radar screen so I guess we'll never know.

  • Duckie1967

    Thank goodness I don't live in DC, and live in Virginia. I will not spend one penny in DC. I think everyone is so bent on looking at "PROTECTING" an incompetent leader that they are forgetting that someone who did A LOT for DC died right across from a Fire Station. What if that was your father??

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  • Betsy Donahoe

    Wells is right. Quander and Ellerbe should be fired. Imagine if we had a good fire chief, who made sure people were trained, fire engines worked, and firemen responsive to the needs of the populace. What a difference it would make in the lives of people who live in the District. Neither of these two gentlemen seem able, or motivated to change the systematic failures of the fire department. Time for a change.

  • DCShadyBoots

    LOL at those who are still hating on Gray.

  • S.E.

    "Thank goodness I don't live in DC, and live in Virginia. I will not spend one penny in DC".

    We thank you.

  • Titanic

    You guys are probably right. Ellerbe isn't to blame for any of the problems in the Fire Department. There's just a few problems with your assumptions, truth.

    Ellerbe has continually failed to hire paramedics, to not only replace the ones who have left, but also fill all the unoccupied, budgeted positions. The department has lost DOZENS of paramedics since Ellerbe was appointed. He's hired 8.

    DCFEMS had an apparatus purchasing plan before Ellerbe was appointed (developed by former Chief Rubin). He immediately canceled it. Then he touted the fact that he returned apparatus money in his first FY as a huge success. He didn't start ordering apparatus until the union and news began reporting on the disgraceful condition of the fleet. He blamed Rubin.

    He and Quander blamed the rank and file for ambulances catching fire. Independent investigation by MPD proved that this was false and it was from sketchy maintenance practices at the shop (such as using cut-up street signs as heat shields).

    The fact that he didn't take those under investigation for the Mills tragedy off the street until the media started reporting on it. He allowed them to finish that shift and work one more before putting them on administrative leave. He still hasn't taken the cadet/rookie off the street, even though the rookie admitted that he didn't know what to do with a walk in, even though walk-ins happen on a regular basis in DC.

    He also made a "personal" call to the rookie at the center of the Mills case, no doubt coached him on what to say, and interfered with the investigation.

    He was found guilty of retaliating against the Union President.

    He blamed the rank-and-file for a "sick out" on New Years. The IG proved that it was a lack of planning by the Upper Management, short staffing numbers because of a failure to hire, combined with the provisions limiting overtime in the Budget Support Act which caused a perfect storm to occur. Ellerbe wasn't able to see an obvious problem and plan for it.

    Before he was appointed by Gray, Ellerbe left the department to work in Sarasota, FL, because he realized he was not going to be hired in DC to be the chief (even after he acted as interim chief). Before he left, he made a shady deal to keep him on payroll in DC while he went and worked in Sarasota. This deal would allow him to pad his retirement account with $600,000 dollars at the tax payer's expense. It was canceled once the media caught wind of it.

    Overtime has skyrocketed over the last two years. Ellerbe claims it is because members are not coming to work. The truth is that members have been retiring and resigning to go work elsewhere because of the working conditions under this administration. Ellerbe, until recently, had not hired any new recruits because he was trying to cut 1/4 of the department with a switch from 4 shifts to 3. Now the department is terribly understaffed even though there is, currently, a list of qualified, vetted people waiting to be hired as recruits. Ellerbe has refused to hire them and chose to use the cadet program as the only means of hiring. The cadets take twice as long to get on the street since the training for cadets is required to be twice as long as regular recruits because many of the cadets are straight out of high school and have little to no previous employment experience.

    The cadet program under Ellerbe eased its requirements and allowed convicted felons to be hired as long as they only had 1 felony. The cadet program could be great if it searched out those who are hard-working, honorable, and that believe helping others is their calling. Ellerbe just cares that you have a DC address from certain wards of the city (whether its actually yours or borrowed is irrelevant, but that's another story).

    Ellerbe failed to hire for the first two years in office because he wanted to switch to an OLD work schedule which would cut 25% of the department and force the remaining members to work 48-56 hour work weeks (depending on implementation). Every reason he offered for why the shift should switch has been disproved. He has tried to compare the FD work to that of ER doctors and claim the 24 hour shift is too tough for cognitive performance. The Canadian government did a study comparing cognitive performance of Firefighters among 5 of the most common schedules. The study proved that the 3/3/3 shift Ellerbe proposes is the WORST OF ALL TESTED and that the current 24/72 schedule is the BEST for cognitive performance.

    Here's the Canadian study

    Ellerbe's only plan to improve ambulance coverage would have put more ambulances on the street during the higher volume times. The city council voted it down because the "plan" would have left 14 paramedic ambulances completely unstaffed from 1-7am. That's a reduction of services by over 35% of the ambulances and 33% of paramedics over the early morning hours. And with the various current transport delays, Ellerbe's redeployment plan would put the citizens of the district in serious jeopardy in the overnight hours.

    So, you guys are right. Ellerbe is an innocent victim. He hasn't failed in any capacity. [end of sarcasm]

    After all these failings, the real question is why hasn't Ellerbe been fired? Sounds to me like he has some dirt on Gray, perhaps some information about his shadow campaign. Or maybe Gray is blind to the failings of his (admitted) lifelong friend.

    Please stop supporting Gray, blindly, and pay attention to the facts.