A newly public report by the Office of the Inspector General shows that Fire Department Chief Ken Ellerbe was potentially alerted to the fact that his department had faulty information about the department’s reserve fleet a day before Ellerbe and his deputies presented that faulty reserve fleet information to a D.C. Council committee.
On Feb. 19, Ellerbe received an initial management alert report from the Office of the Inspector General saying that “many vehicles designated as reserve vehicles were out-of-service and could not be used if needed as frontline replacement vehicles in neighborhood fire stations, or for large-scale emergencies or mass casualty events.” The report when on to detail how a daily report issued by the department on the status of its fleet was listing vehicles as reserves that had been out of service, “some for more than two years.”
A day later, Ellerbe testified before the Council’s public safety committee and made no mention that the information about the reserve fleet he submitted may have been inaccurate.
On March 13, Fox 5’s Paul Wagner reported on allegations made by the fire fighters union that the department was improperly counting fire trucks that had been sold or been out of service for years as part of the department’s reserve fleet. Right after the story aired, Ellerbe put out a statement saying the union was right and thanking it for “bringing this inaccurate information to our attention.”
Ellerbe placed the blame for the department submitting bad information to the Council at the feet of a deputy fire chief whose retirement had been announced a few weeks earlier.
The IG report notes several instances when investigators tested so-called reserve vehicles only to find that many wouldn’t start or had other mechanical issues. In one case, fire department staff couldn’t locate the keys to an ambulance that was listed as a reserve. The IG also noted that one of the ladder trucks that was listed as a reserve had a sign on it saying it had been out of service since 2010; Fox5’s report included a picture of the very same truck.
The IG’s report also paraphrases an unnamed senior fire department official saying the department “has reported to the D.C. Council that trucks were in reserve status when in fact they were decommissioned and could not be deployed immediately.”
A spokesman for Ellerbe has not responded to requests for comment. Ellerbe issued a statement this afternoon thanking the IG for providing “some necessary guidance” but did not address the timing of the report. Ward 6 Councilmartyr Saint Tommy Wells, who heads the Council’s public safety committee, says he plans on asking Ellerbe about the timing of the IG’s report at an upcoming oversight hearing.
“I will give the chief an opportunity to explain. But it certainly does not look good,” Wells says.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery