The D.C. Firefighters Association IAFF Local 36 took a vote of no confidence on March 25 on the leadership of D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe.

The union called Ellerbe “inept” and “incompetent” with “a two year record of failed leadership.” The vote of 300-37 vote was the latest move in a battle between the chief and the union as the city has faced numerous incidents where the fire department’s response has been lacking.

“It’s a sad day when those who serve this city see no other recourse but a vote of no confidence,” said Edward Smith, president of the union, in a statement. “Our membership feels strongly that Chief Ellerbe is ethically bankrupt and his poor managerial practices place our members and the public needlessly in harm’s way.”

Ellerbe did not comment.

But in a statement he said: “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 visitor. 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.”

Even though the union has voted against Ellerbe, he still counts Mayor Vincent Gray and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Paul Quander as supporters. Quander said in a statement that he supports the chief and his ability to move the agency forward.

Members of the local chapter of the International Association of Progressive Black Fire Fighters (IAPBFF) are also supporting Ellerbe and oppose the no-confidence vote.

“He’s a good manager and he’s been directed to make some changes,” said Nathan Queen, chairman of the board of the IABPFF and a board member of the IAPBFF. “Change needs to take place to better serve the citizens and the visitors to the city.”

The union highlighted failed points of leadership. It pointed out a report by the inspector general highlighting problems with the department’s fleet, high attrition rates of paramedics, improper staffing of support units, inability to provide protective equipment and managing by intimidation.

The union’s vote comes on the heels of a report released March 22 by Quander detailing a March 5 incident where a D.C. police officer was injured in an accident and a Prince George’s County ambulance transported him to Washington Hospital Center when no D.C. ambulance arrived in a timely manner.

The report states that on March 5, three units were improperly out of service and the emergency liaison officer failed to monitor available units that day. The report makes recommendations for department improvements such as daily reviews of response times and out of service units, along with an alert system to notify officials when available transport units number fewer than five.

Many believe the union is trying to discredit Ellerbe because he wants to change the work hours. Currently firefighters work a 24-hour shift followed by three days off. The new schedule would require them to work shorter, more frequent shifts. Firefighters who live outside the area would have more difficulty working the new shift, opponents of the change said.

“The district grows to over a million plus every day and at night time we’re half that amount. He wants to put more resources on the streets when we have the most people and the union is objecting to that because it’s a significant change for those that live far away,” Queen said.

The D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety was scheduled to hold a hearing on March 28 to address fire department response times.


Teria Rogers

Special to the AFRO