Today brings still more laugh-or-you’ll-cry news about the District’s Fire and EMS Department. While the Metropolitan Police Department investigates why two ambulances caught fire last Wednesday (internal reports blame shoddy maintenance), the fire department has started its own investigation into whether Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe took a firefighter’s cell phone without his permission.

The dispute started at the site of one of the ambulance fires, after the fire union’s Twitter account sent out a picture of the burning vehicle. When Ellerbe arrived on the scene, he asked to see firefighters’ phones to see if they had taken the ambulance picture that the union used.

That’s where the accounts diverge. In the union’s version of the story, first reported by Washingtonian, Ellerbe snatched a phone from one firefighter. “It sounded like it could have been confrontational,” union president Ed Smith tells LL.

But according to Keith St. Clair, a spokesman for Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander, Ellerbe had received permission from the firefighter to look at his phone.

“He wanted to know who was giving it to the union,” St. Clair says. At Ellerbe’s request, the department’s internal affairs division is conducting an investigation into the alleged phone grab, according to St. Clair. A spokesman for the fire department declined to comment.

Washingtonian‘s story also hints at “rumors” that the unnamed firefighter will file assault charges against Ellerbe, but as of this morning, Ellerbe hasn’t been charged in D.C. Superior Court.

“If this person felt that they were assaulted, then they would have filed a complaint,” St. Clair says. “Look at what the labor-management relationship is right now.”

Photo courtesy IAFF36