WASHINGTON (AP) — Embattled District of Columbia Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe announced Thursday that he will step down in July after three years marked by complaints of poor service and staffing shortages in the department.
The fire department announced Ellerbe, 54, has submitted paperwork to retire. In interviews Wednesday, Ellerbe said he is not being forced out but that it became clear he would not be able to stay in his job through year's end after Mayor Vincent Gray lost his bid for re-election. Ellerbe will leave July 2.
Ellerbe said he has modernized the department and has no regrets. One of the biggest challenges, he said, was to merge the firefighting and medical service operations.
"This leadership has attempted some very bold changes," Ellerbe said, adding that he accepts criticism as part of his job. "If you are willing to move an agency that has been stuck in tradition for over 200 years into a new environment, and you expect to fly under the radar, you are fooling yourself."
The city's firefighters union has called for Ellerbe's ouster for months, along with D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells.
The fire department has faced criticism for delays in patient care and the death of an elderly man after firefighters ignored calls for help from bystanders.
An Associated Press analysis last year found the beleaguered department was adding ambulances and paramedics to its ranks but was still well short of the staffing levels of other similar-sized cities. The department was trying to make do with less than half the paramedics employed by other urban fire departments that respond to a similar number of medical calls — more than 130,000 per year.
The fire department announced Assistant Chief Eugene Jones will serve as interim fire chief. He joined the department 18 months ago after working for the Prince George's County fire department.