The readiness of the D.C. fire department’s fleet of reserve pumpers and trucks remains unclear after the chief admitted the numbers given to the City Council were wrong.
An investigation by the firefighters’ union found some apparatus listed as being in reserve had actually been sold by the city.
Late Wednesday night, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe announced the deputy chief in charge of fleet, Wayne Branch, had retired and a replacement had been named.
Chief Ellerbe did not respond to repeated requests for comment Thursday. Instead, a deputy chief addressed reporters’ questions about the current state of the fleet.
An investigation by the firefighters’ union found at least six pumpers and two ladder trucks listed as being in reserve had actually been sold. Some on the list had been out of service for years and still others unaccounted for.
In a press release issued Wednesday night, Chief Ellerbe said the numbers given to the City Council last month were from an "old fleet schedule.”
On Thursday, at the fleet maintenance shop in Southwest D.C., FOX 5 tried to contact Deputy Chief Branch to ask him why the inaccurate numbers were given to the council, but we were told he was not in his office.
Outside, the streets around the shop are filled with broken-down ladder trucks, pumpers and ambulances.
Some of them appear to have been stripped for parts.
One ladder truck on the street is on the list given to the council as being one in reserve and ready to take a front-line spot in any of the city's firehouses.
The deputy chief now in command of the fleet says it will take some time to wrap his arms around the problem.
"What I can tell you is we have a reserve fleet,” said Deputy Chief John Donnelly in an interview Thursday. “We are going to get to the bottom of those numbers right away and we are going to make sure we have enough fire trucks on the road to meet the needs of the community.”
As of Wednesday night, the firefighters’ union said the fire department had no reserve ladder trucks and the one from Shaw was sent to Brightwood -- leaving Shaw uncovered.
“I'm sorry,” said Donnelly. “I just don't have that answer right this second. I'm sure if we needed a ladder truck, we would find a way to get one together and put it in service.”
The numbers given to the council back on February 20 also listed 106 EMS transport units. It is a number the firefighters’ union has not been able to confirm.
Deputy Chief Donnelly says he will spend the next few days completing an audit in hopes of coming up with an accurate number.
"I'm not going to spend a lot of time examining backward of who has done what or who hasn't done what,” said Donnelly. “I'm going to fix it going forward and starting immediately.”
In the last two weeks, ambulances have been unavailable for a stroke victim who was instead transported to a hospital in a pumper and a D.C. police officer seriously injured in a hit-and-run, raising questions about the readiness of the EMS fleet.
FOX 5 also tried to contact the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander for comment on the readiness of the reserve fleet, but he did not return several email messages.
District Fire and EMS Department Has Improved Status of Apparatus Procurements During Past Two Years“Since 2010, we have vastly improved our purchasing efforts with regard to the acquisition of significant Fire and EMS apparatus” says Kenneth B. Ellerbe, Chief of the District’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, when asked about the status of key equipment in the Department’s current fleet.
In 2010, when Mayor Vincent C. Gray selected the Chief to lead the Department, there had been a significant Fire and EMS “apparatus deficit” from the previous Administration that included a need for:
4 Rescue Squads
Since 2011, the department has developed and implemented an aggressive purchase plan that secured for the Department:
2 Rescue Squads
In addition, on order for this fiscal year (2013) are:
Says Chief Ellerbe, “Although we still have an apparatus deficit for a city of our size and population, we have come a long way in upgrading our overall fleet. We will continue to strengthen our equipment inventory to ensure that the residents of the District continue to remain safe.”
District Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe's statement in response to a FOX 5 news story on inaccurate fleet data:
Following recent reports on the District's Fire and Emergency Medical Services reserve fleet status, I instructed the Deputy Chief of our Fleet Maintenance Division to conduct an audit of his submission of fleet readiness to ensure the accuracy of his report.
The result of the Deputy Chief's research revealed that he had, in fact, used an old fleet schedule that had not properly excluded apparatus that had been removed from our inventory. As a result of his oversight, inaccurate information was reported and included apparatus that were no longer in the department's fleet.
As a result of this oversight and inaccurate communication, coupled with an increase in his division's overtime expenditures, the Deputy Chief has informed me of his decision to retire, which I have accepted. He will remain with us long enough to transfer any pertinent historical knowledge. His replacement has already been selected and notified.
I personally called union president Ed Smith about this matter and I want to thank the firefighters' union for bringing this inaccurate information to our attention.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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