A D.C. Council member is calling on Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe to resign following months of controversy about the department’s readiness and management acumen — including headlines about poor ambulance response, a deteriorating fleet, a dwindling corps of paramedics, questionable arson statistics and more.
The call from Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) came after the council’s Public Safety and Judiciary Committee last week raised grave concerns about the department in the process of rejecting Ellerbe’s request to change ambulance shift patterns.
“In my opinion, the report was a devastating indictment of the current operations of [Fire and Emergency Medical Services],” Cheh wrote in a letter to the committee’s chairman, Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). “It is now very plain that the agency’s ability to respond to emergencies has been significantly degraded, and I lay that fact at the doorstep of poor management. I believe that the current Chief no longer has the confidence of the people of the District and should resign.”
Cheh also called on Wells to request a “comprehensive plan” from the department to restore its “excellence, reliability, and prestige” by setting out its equipment and staffing needs. “I am aware that there are various other ‘plans’ floating around, but apparently there is no real plan with implementation dates and so on,” she wrote.
Wells, a mayoral candidate, has not said Ellerbe should resign, but told WRC-TV last week that he would replace Ellerbe should he be elected mayor.
Cheh was one of three council members who called on Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) to resign a year ago after the disclosure that an illegal $653,000 “shadow campaign” had been waged on his behalf during the 2010 mayoral race. Gray has not resigned, and the frosty relations between Gray and Cheh appear to have recently thawed.
Mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribiero had no immediate comment Tuesday on Cheh’s letter. In an April WAMU-FM interview, Ellerbe acknowledged the controversies that have plagued his tenure and said he expected to be held accountable: “I don’t believe that if my performance fails that I will still have a job,” Ellerbe said.
Update, 5:15 p.m.: In a statement, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Paul Quander said the department is “in a much better position and operating more effectively” under Ellerbe.
“There is still work that needs to get done to make the department the best it can be,” he said. “I support Chief Ellerbe is his efforts to make that happen. … We should stay the course.”