D.C. deputy fire chief retires after inaccurate information is given to D.C. Council

D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe acknowledged Wednesday night that his department submitted inaccurate information to the D.C. Council at a recent performance hearing and said that the deputy chief responsible for the report had retired.

The inaccuracy involved data on the number and readiness of fleet vehicles that officials submitted to the council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee last month. The union representing firefighters challenged that information and discovered that department leaders overestimated the inventory of available and reserve apparatus.

Ellerbe acknowledged the inaccuracy in a statement and said that his office had submitted an “old fleet schedule.” Because of the misstep, Ellerbe said that he accepted the retirement of a deputy chief of the fleet maintenance division, who officials said was responsible for the mistake.

“As a result of this oversight and inaccurate communication . . . the Deputy Chief has informed me of his decision to retire, which I have accepted,” Ellerbe’s statement said.

Ellerbe also cited problems with overtime expenditures in that division as a reason for the deputy chief’s retirement. Spokesman Lon Walls declined to identify the deputy chief.

Edward C. Smith, president of the firefighters union, said one of his members compared the inventory information that was given to the council committee with vehicle identification numbers to compile a list of available vehicles.

Among the findings, Smith said, four of 29 truck companies the department said were available either as front-line status or as reserves were unavailable. He said two were sold by the city and two others were out of service, one since 2010.

This union’s findings were first reported by WTTG Fox 5.

Smith said that his staff had just begun its analysis and that at least a half-dozen engine pumpers the department said were available were not. “We haven’t even got to the ambulances yet,” he said.

The department has been embroiled in controversy after several mismanaged incidents in recent months that are under review and reports of unacceptable response times by city ambulances.

Early this month, a D.C. police officer who suffered a broken leg after being struck by a hit-and-run vehicle waited 15 minutes for an ambulance from Prince George’s County. On New Year’s Day, a heart attack victim died after waiting 29 minutes for an ambulance.

Ellerbe said in his statement that he agreed with the union assessment and that he personally called Smith to thank the union for pointing out the discrepancies.

“I want to thank the firefighters’ union for bringing this inaccurate information to our attention,” he wrote.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who chairs the committee and held the hearing last month, said in a telephone interview Wednesday night that he has questions and concerns about the accuracy of the department's reporting on this issue as well as about ambulance readiness.

“With the information provided by the union and with the direct conflict with sworn testimony of the chief, I’m very concerned,” Wells said. “I will hold the administration accountable for accurate information in managing the fire department efficiently.”

Wells said that he will address these concerns at a hearing later this month.

Clarence Williams is the night police reporter for The Washington Post and has spent the better part of 13 years standing next to crime scene tape, riding in police cars or waking officials in the middle of night to gather information about breaking news in and around Washington.
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