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Unless you’re a Washington Post print subscriber, you may recall that a couple of weeks ago about 100 firefighters stood up and turned their backs toward Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe in an act of insubordination meant to express their displeasure with how Ellerbe is running the department, including his decision to outlaw the “DCFD” logo.
Someone at the fire department apparently wants no such repeat performance at Mayor Vince Gray‘s State of the District speech scheduled for Tuesday night. LL has been sent pictures of entries in the official logbooks of half a dozen fire houses with notes telling firefighters that they’ll face punishment if they act up at tomorrow’s mayoral shindig. All of the notes were written on Saturday, with most saying they were “by the orders” of Deputy Fire Chief Larry Jackson. Two of the notes say firefighters have to wear the “appropriate uniform” if they attend the speech, which is likely a reference to the now prohibited DCFD-festooned gear.
Ed Smith, president of Washington Local Fire Fighters Association Local 36, has posted a letter on the union’s website, in which he describes a conference call where Jackson allegedly told on-duty battalion fire chiefs to spread the word that any firefighter who “exhibits any form of disrespect or insubordination” at the mayor’s address will face “swift punitive action.” Smith says that upon learning about the conference call he approached Ellerbe for an explanation.
“Through a series of emails, Chief Ellerbe contends the message was taken out of context and poorly conveyed,” Smith writes. Smith says he asked Ellerbe to put out a note clarifying his position, but the chief hasn’t done so.
Ellerbe spokesman Lon Walls says the whole episode is “much ado about nothing.” Walls says that while Ellerbe expects his troops to behave professionally at the mayor’s speech, he did not send out “any kind of directive like that.”
“There’s not been any message,” says Walls.
Well, whatever the message is, we’ll see how effective it is at tomorrow’s speech. Smith, for the record, asked his members who attend the speech to “be respectful and conduct yourself in the highest professional manner as you do every time you assume duty.”