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Firefighter's union: 'No confidence' in D.C. chief

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The District's firefighters union voted overwhelmingly Monday to declare it has "no confidence" in Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, dealing an embarrassing -- but likely not career-ending -- blow to the embattled official.

"This motion was not reached in haste," said the resolution, which members approved 300-37. "The lives and careers of many of our members have been adversely affected by the lack of action, the inappropriate action and the harassment by ... Ellerbe."

The four-page resolution also accused Ellerbe of policy decisions that "jeopardize the safety" of firefighters, residents and visitors, along with "an extensive and unfortunate history of management by intimidation and retaliation."

Edward Smith, the union's president, described the vote as a "huge step" that his membership supported because of a widespread feeling that "the public is at risk and firefighters are at risk under the current leadership."

In a statement, Ellerbe indicated he does not plan to leave his post.

"Despite the 'no confidence' vote tallied by the local firefighters union, I am very optimistic about the department's future and encouraged by the service we provide to District residents and visitors," Ellerbe said. "I remain deeply committed to resolving the issues before us. I look forward to strengthening our capabilities and putting our resources to better use in order to uphold the confidence of those we serve every day."

And Mayor Vincent Gray, a longtime Ellerbe friend, has stood by the chief.

"We're trying to work to continue to improve the fire department, and we're doing it with the chief," Gray told The Washington Examiner last week.

Deputy Mayor Paul Quander, who oversees the fire department, said Monday that Ellerbe would "continue to stay focused on the work at hand."

But Monday's vote -- the first "no confidence" motion the union approved in more than a decade -- is certain to intensify pressure on Ellerbe, whose department has been under siege since a March 5 incident in which a Prince George's County ambulance had to transport an injured D.C. police officer to the hospital because the city didn't have one of its own available.

Quander said last week that the District was planning to discipline seven employees in connection with that episode.

But other troubles have also surfaced that have raised harsh questions about Ellerbe's agency.

The District's inspector general said in a report Thursday that the department's reserve fleet was not prepared and "there may not be enough reserves if there were another Sept. 11-type event."

And the department has also come under scrutiny for providing misleading information to the D.C. Council, an episode Council Chairman Phil Mendelson characterized as "an embarrassment."

Although Ellerbe appeared before lawmakers last month for the fire department's annual oversight hearing, he is scheduled to return to the John A. Wilson Building on Thursday to answer questions about the recent criticisms of his agency.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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