DC Mayor defends fire chief and department - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

DC Mayor defends fire chief and department

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D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray again defended his embattled fire chief Tuesday telling reporters at an event showing off the city’s new ambulances the department is being "managed well".

In fact the mayor is so confidant with the progress being made he will resubmit his ambulance redeployment plan to the city council. A plan unanimously voted down just a few weeks ago.

Mayor Gray and Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told a gathering of recruits, reporters, city officials and command staff the fire department is no longer at a "tipping point" and has turned a corner in its plan to replace an aging fleet of vehicles and fill positions on a depleted staff of paramedics.

Gray and Ellerbe stood side by side outside a downtown firehouse and listed a number of accomplishments they feel will restore confidence in a fire department that has been badly bruised by a string of embarrassing incidents.

"Fire and EMS will receive 13 new ambulances from Horton Emergency Services by the end of the fiscal year or by September 30th”, said the mayor.

He also added 24 million dollars has been set aside to buy new trucks, engines and ambulances over the next three years.

The two also announced the hiring of nine new paramedics with Chief Ellerbe remarking on the difficulty in finding them.

"Paramedics are in high demand across the country”, said the chief, “and this is a job that requires a specific skill set, it's not easy to come by, in fact the nine hires we have today came through a pool of one hundred and twenty five applicants, so it’s not easy to get through our process, it’s not easy to hire paramedics".

As FOX 5 has reported for months, the department has been unable to keep up with the attrition and a number of ambulances and pumpers are routinely put in service without a required paramedic every single day.

Despite that, the mayor says he wants the council to consider his redeployment plan once again.

As the chief announced improved response times in the city he admitted his plan to train current firefighter/EMT's as paramedics at Prince George's Community College has fallen apart.

"That process did not work out”, said Ellerbe, “they offered us a contract that we could not agree to".

As the news conference came to a close the chief told reporters he was hoping to patch up his relationship with the union.

"They were saying the equipment was old, we are bringing new equipment in, they said we didn't have enough employees, we are hiring new employees, they already have the best equipment that money can buy", Ellerbe said.

Union President Ed Smith, who attended the news conference, had this take on what he heard.

"First I want to say we are glad to see new hires and new units rolling in, it’s long overdue, does it rise to the occasion of news worthy? I don't think so”, said Smith, “and the reason I say that is buying apparatus and hiring people should be part of everyday business".

Tommy Wells, the chairman of the City Council’s Judiciary Committee says he's glad the council finally got the mayors attention after raising crisis level concerns and he's pleased to see a plan of action.

As for the mayor’s plan to resubmit the ambulance redeployment plan Wells says he's hopeful it will not eliminate services during late night and early morning hours.

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