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Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s new pick to lead the D.C. Fire and EMS Department introduced himself today as a consensus-builder who can overhaul the department’s troubled EMS service while making peace with labor. In other words, exactly what former fire chief Kenneth Ellerbe didn’t do.
Gregory Dean, Seattle’s former fire chief, didn’t come out and say his predecessor’s name. But his promises to improve ambulance response time and his portrayal of himself as a chatterbox who loves working with his employees came off like a trademark Bowser “fresh start” response to Ellerbe, whose boss, Paul Quander, all but accused firefighters of sabotaging their own ambulances.
Even Dean’s positive words about the department acknowledged that he’s taking over an agency in crisis.
“I need to say very clearly that this is a great department with great people,” Dean said.
Dean won’t offer an opinion yet on the embarrassments and tragedies from recent DCFEMS history: the death of Medric Mills after he collapsed outside a fire station, labor feuds, ambulances that were late when they weren’t catching on fire. Even the Chinatown fire house location for his press conference recalled a DCFEMS kefuffle, since the station’s crew responded to the fatal L’Enfant Metro station smoke incident.
Dean was tight-lipped about what reforms he plans to implement. Bowser praised Dean’s use in Seattle of ambulance metrics that measured both response times and whether the patient actually survived.
“For the first six months, I’m going to be learning why we do things, how we do things,” Dean said.
Dean will take over the department on May 1. That means that, for a rare moment in DCFEMS history, labor relations with the department’s chief are good. In a statement, firefighter’s union president Ed Smith congratulated Dean, while calling for better equipment and training for firefighters.
Smith also thanked interim chief Eugene Jones for stabilizing the department in Ellerbe’s wake. That wasn’t enough to win the department’s top job for Jones, who had publicly hoped to keep his post in the Bowser administration. Now that he’s lost out in the job search, Jones will be “moving on,” according to Bowser.
Update, 4:30 p.m.: Dean will make $197,500 a year, according to Bowser spokesman Michael Czin. That’s a more than $10,000 increase over Ellerbe’s salary when he left the District government last year, $187,302. Czin says the increase reflects Dean’s record and experience running Seattle’s fire department.
Photo by Will Sommer