Share

D.C. Council looking for improvement in fire department

|
Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Phil Mendelson,Vincent Gray,Tommy Wells

D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe had a taxing March: Ambulance shortages prompted fresh scrutiny, the city's inspector general labeled his agency unprepared for a disaster, and rank-and-file employees declared they had "no confidence" in him.

But Ellerbe has remained entrenched at the helm, protected and bolstered by Mayor Vincent Gray.

"He's been a firefighter for 30 years," Gray said. "I'm delighted to be working with him."

But last week, the veteran firefighter who has long defied accusations and complaints was transformed into a chastened public official.

During a five-hour hearing before city lawmakers, Ellerbe apologized for the ambulance mishaps and for an embarrassing episode in which his department submitted inaccurate information about its fleet to the D.C. Council, data that Ellerbe relied on to run his agency for about a year.

"I don't want to try to defend myself against criticism that we rightfully earned," Ellerbe said later. "The thing we have to do now is identify where our challenges are and move forward."

Ellerbe's remorse and pledges to improve, however, are falling on increasingly frustrated ears.

"The deputy mayor has a better handle on what's going on and what needs to be done than the department does," D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson told The Washington Examiner. "We cannot provide satisfactory EMS to our citizens if, every time something goes wrong, we are going to 'learn' how to do it."

Asked twice whether Ellerbe should keep his job, Mendelson replied, "It's time that the department got it right."

Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells was more supportive -- but not much.

"Someone would have to be guilty of malfeasance in order for me to say they should not have their job," Wells said. "I don't see that."

But, Wells added, "He is absolutely on the line."

Ellerbe is certain to face more questions in the coming months. Lawmakers are poised to closely examine his $203 million request in next year's budget, and Wells said he plans to continue probing the department.

Lawmakers said Ellerbe could rehabilitate his image if he follows through on the improvements he has publicly promised.

"They've laid out a remediation plan," Wells said, "and that's what I will hold them accountable to."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment