As the chairman of the D.C. Council’s public safety committee, mayoral hopeful Tommy Wells knows better than most about the myriad scandals in the District’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. But unlike colleagues David Grosso and Mary Cheh, though, Wells hadn’t called for fire chief Kenneth Ellerbe‘s resignation up to now.
Following yesterday’s hearing on Medric Mills‘ death, though, Wells is going further than anyone else on the Council, calling for Vince Gray to ask for the resignations of both Ellerbe and Ellerbe’s boss, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander.
In a letter to Gray, Wells said the fire department is victim to “systemic mismanagement,” listing everything from ambulance fires to a shortage of paramedics. Wells said in a press release that he had hoped to find out in yesterday’s hearing what measures Quander and Ellerbe were taking to make sure that the Mills incident wouldn’t be repeated, but instead was “stunned” by what he saw as a lack of action.
“The only additional corrective action was to issue a memorandum reminding firefighters to ‘follow the rules,'” Wells said.
Quander’s office referred questions to mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro, who described Wells’ new resignation call as another political ploy from the candidate.
“We all know what it is,” Ribeiro says. “It’s another shameless and idiotic political stunt on his part.”
Update, 5:05 p.m.: Ribeiro tells LL that Wells is “hypocritical at best” for calling for complaining about Ellerbe’s performance after opposing an ambulance redeployment plan that the chief had backed.
Wells’ statement and letter to Gray after the jump
Today, DC Councilmember Tommy Wells, Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, issued a letter to Mayor Vincent Gray calling for the resignation of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Chief of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. Councilmember Wells released the following statement in regards to the letter:
Yesterday I chaired an oversight hearing to give the Gray administration a chance to explain what happened in the Cecil Mills case—in which five firefighters failed to respond to a personal plea for help at the firehouse door. Specifically, I wanted to hear the Mayor’s plan to fix the situation so it will never happen again. The administration’s response was deficient and disappointing. Our city deserves better.
In fact, there is no plan—or even apparent capacity—to rectify the failings of the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department and restore public confidence in reliable emergency response. Therefore I am calling on Mayor Gray to immediately ask for the resignations of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and the Chief of the DC Fire/EMS Department.
I was stunned to learn that the Mayor’s representatives had no plan to respond to the Mills case beyond disciplining the firefighters who failed to assist Mr. Mills, who suffered a heart attack across the street from their firehouse. The only additional corrective action was to issue a memorandum reminding firefighters to “follow the rules.”
But my response is not based on a single incident. There is systemic mismanagement throughout the department that was evident even before I became chair of the council committee with oversight of public safety one year ago. The department has a consistent record of failure. The shortcomings evident in the most visible and horrifying incidents—in which citizens like Mr. Mills have lost their lives—are just the tip of the iceberg.
From burning ambulances, uncertified fire trucks, and no procurement plan to adequately equip our fire and emergency personnel, to a shortage of paramedics, delayed response to emergencies, and poor training and management, this department has enormous and urgent challenges to overcome. Yet the administration has no coherent plan to improve the department’s performance.
Blaming racial divisions, union membership, or other perceived motivations for the department’s dysfunction must end. It is a disgrace to place responsibility on the rank and file employees who put their lives on the line for DC citizens every day. Whatever the divisions in the department, only strong leadership, sound management, and a new culture of excellence can resolve them.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery