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One of the lone bits of non-Sandy D.C. news today was the Washington Times‘ story about an arbitrator finding that Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe had retaliated against fire union boss Ed Smith.
Retaliating public safety bosses is old hat in D.C., so the chances of this story going anywhere are slim. But it did remind LL of another unresolved fire department-related controversy: Ellerbe’s proposal to shorten the lengths of firefighters shifts to 12 hours from the current 24 hours.
Ellerbe first floated the proposed shift change nearly a year ago as a way to save money and have more alert firefighters. The plan did not go over well with the fire union and several Ellerbe critics in the department, who say the changes would be bad news for firefighters who live far away and that there’s no evidence Ellerbe’s plan would lead to less-sleepy firefighters. About 100 firefighters turned their back on the chief when he gave a “state of the department speech” at the beginning of this year.
So whatever happened? A year on, the proposed shift change show no signs of coming into being, as the union and the department continue to negotiate the idea as part of a new contract. Those talks have been going on for months and are likely to take several more months, says fire department spokesman Lon Walls. He says there’s been “serious” discussions about the proposal with give-and-take on both sides. But when asked whether he thinks the chief’s plan for shorter shifts will become a reality, union boss Smith says, “I don’t know.”
Shorter shifts was one of the recommendations made by a task force convened after the death of former New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum. His brother, Marcus Rosenbaum, says Ellerbe’s plan is no good and called on the union and the fire department to come up with something better together. “Two months; no stalling,” Rosenbaum wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, ten months ago.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery