D.C. fire department gets A+ grade despite calls for chief's resignation

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer,Vincent Gray

Since the inception of Grade D.C., the mayor's office has proudly trumpeted the city's marks -- even back in June when almost every participating city agency scored a C-, C or C+.

Steadily the grades have improved, and now an A+ for the department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services is at the center of a mini-controversy.

During Mayor Vincent Gray's news briefing Wednesday morning, Dorothy Brizill, a local watchdog, questioned how the agency could be performing so well during a period when the fire chief has faced so much public scrutiny.

As it turns out, only 10 different items -- three tweets and seven reviews submitted to the Grade D.C. website -- went into calculating that March score.

With such a small number of data points in March, just a few more reviews could significantly alter the department's score.

The city provided The Washington Examiner with the 86 reviews the department has received since it began participating in the Grade D.C. program in October. The majority of the reviews are positive and receive an A+ designation.

The reviews do not seem to mention ongoing concerns about Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe's department, which claims it inadvertently overstated the condition and readiness of its reserve fleet.

One A+ March review said it came from a nurse who makes several calls for assistance a year, complimenting the department's response times. Another A+ review came after a safety briefing for a local business group.

"I would hope the public still holds the firefighters in high regard," said Ed Smith, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association. "I would dare to say that we deserve part of that credit for that grade."

A company called newBrandAnalytics runs the Grade D.C. program, which costs the city $250,000 a year. Zach Boisi, their client services director, told The Washington Examiner that the program -- which was first designed for businesses looking to measure their online presence -- isn't exactly a comprehensive score.

It wouldn't be very good at reflecting an agency's internal problems, Boisi said -- such as if an agency underreported the problems with its reserve fleet, as the fire department has admitted to doing.

To get figured into the grades, Twitter users need to mention an agency's official account in their post. Besides collecting data from social media, Grade D.C. also accepts reviews on its website.

The firm works to delete duplicates, but otherwise it doesn't filter the reviews, which means government employees are not blocked from reviewing their own agencies.

"That's part of the Wild West of social media," Boisi said. "As you get a larger sample set you hope to make less statistically significant any fake reviews that come through."

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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