More than a hundred D.C. Firefighters turned their backs on Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe Tuesday in an effort to send an unmistakable message. The Chief had just finished a "State of the Department" speech when the firefighters stood up and walked out the door. The Chief is attempting to install a very unpopular new schedule that has done little more than infuriate the rank and file.
Chief Ellerbe had just finished the first ever State Of The Department speech and had opened the floor to questions when one firefighter in the room shouted out a command.
"D.C.F.D., attention! About face. D.C.F.D. dismissed!!!
And with that the 100 or so firefighters in the room walked out.
As the Chief looked on, some who remained in the room shook their heads in disagreement.
But the message was clearly sent and Chief Ellerbe said he wasn't surprised.
"No I can't afford to get upset overstuff like that,” said Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. “We have a department to run and a department to manage, no it doesn't upset me, I almost want to say it was expected."
Chief Ellerbe continues to defend his plan to eliminate a very popular schedule he says will save the city tens of millions of dollars. It’s a schedule that has firefighters working 24 hours straight, followed by three days off.
Many firefighters say the plan will only disrupt their lives, force some to quit and will not deliver the results the Chief is claiming.
Lt. Robert Alvarado, who calls himself a de facto spokesman for hundreds of unhappy firefighters, says a shift change is uncalled for.
"If you look at any study and there have been several reports that have come out recently,” said Lieutenant Robert Alvarado, “Philadelphia has just done a study that is recommending changing their shift from this ten, 14 or 12 hour shifts to a 24 hour shift because it is more efficient."
Lt. Alvarado has been very outspoken in recent weeks against the Chief's policy's and is facing discipline for doing so. But he's backed by the union.
“The morale of the fire department as we see it at this day and time is probably one of the lowest it’s been in history," said Dabney Hudson with Firefighters Local 36.
Second Vice President Dabney Hudson says the proposed shift change is driving it.
"It’s multifaceted, it directly impacts everybody’s lives, its definitely going to impact the members who are no longer going to have a job, we believe it’s a threat to public safety," said Hudson.
Chief Ellerbe says he will attempt to install the change in collective bargaining with the union.
In recent weeks the Chief has said in the “Second half of a 24 hour shift mistakes can happen” and he wants to go to 12 hour shifts. He's told the Mayor and Council the department could save 36 million dollars annually under his plan.
But some firefighters view the Chief's plan as a de facto residency requirement since the current schedule allows members to live as far away as New Jersey and North Carolina.
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