Phil Mendelson: 'Embarrassment' that fire department misled D.C. Council

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Phil Mendelson,D.C. Council,Vincent Gray,Prince Georges County

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Monday that the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department suffered an "embarrassment" by being forced to acknowledge it misled city lawmakers last month about the state of its fleet.

"It's always a concern of mine that the council receive accurate information," Mendelson said. "It's an embarrassment to the department that the information they provided turned out to be incorrect."

Mendelson's comments came days after the firefighters union accused Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe's agency of providing inaccurate information to the council about the number of vehicles the department had available for use.

The department later acknowledged that it had misled legislators, and the episode helped prompt the retirement of a deputy fire chief.

Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor Vincent Gray, said the incident was not a deliberate attempt to deceive lawmakers.

"It was an error," Ribeiro said. "Mistakes were made."

And the city's firefighters union said it was ready to move beyond the controversy.

"It doesn't matter to me who did what," said Edward Smith, the union's president. "Let's fix it and get back to work."

The fire department has been the subject of heightened scrutiny since a March 5 incident in which an ambulance from Prince George's County had to transport an injured D.C. police officer to the hospital because the city did not have one available.

The episode is the subject of a wide-ranging internal review, and preliminary results are expected this week.

The review's findings are certain fodder for a March 28 council hearing probing the fire department, but Ribeiro said lawmakers will see that department has improved during Gray's tenure after deteriorating under former Mayor Adrian Fenty.

"The previous administration left the city unprepared. ... It takes time to turn around a department that was neglected for so long," said Ribeiro, who noted the agency has ordered or received 45 ambulances since Gray became mayor.

But Smith said he believed the District was falling short on key metrics for fire departments: staffing, equipment and training.

"If we could ever put those three things together and do it right, we'd be the best in the nation," Smith said. "So far, we're not hitting on all cylinders."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner