DCFD chief "disappointed" by firefighter arrests - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

DCFD chief "disappointed" by firefighter arrests

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D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe
WASHINGTON - D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe said Friday he was "disappointed" with the unusual number of firefighters arrested in recent weeks.  Since October, nine firefighters have been arrested on a variety of charges.

At a ceremony reopening a renovated fire house, the chief also spoke out for the first time on the use of firefighters as crime fighters.  

Engine 28 in the Cleveland Park section of northwest D.C. is a historic firehouse that has been under renovation for several years.  On Friday, it was back open, and Mayor Vincent Gray came to see it for himself. But after the ribbon cutting, Gray had no patience for controversial subjects.

When FOX 5's Paul Wagner spoke to the mayor, he refused to answer questions that were not about the event.  Wagner was able to ask Chief Ellerbe about the department's policy when a firefighter is arrested.

"It's being handled by the internal affairs division," Ellerbe said.  "We have a standard set policy and regardless of what the charges are, we follow that policy."

When asked about the rash of recent firefighter arrests, Ellerbe said he was disappointed.

"Anytime we have a firefighter who is arrested for off-duty conduct it is disappointing," said Ellerbe.  "We take them through a process and we have to see how that turns out, and I want to make note that even though they have been arrested, that doesn't mean they have been convicted."

The nine firefighters have been arrested on charges ranging from DUI to simple assault, drugs, driving an ambulance on a suspended license, and possession of a handgun with an obliterated serial number.

The city has been using firefighters as crimefighters in the Trinidad section of the city.  It's called "soft posting," and it has become controversial. On Friday, FOX 5 spoke to Chief Ellerbe on the record about this crime initiative for the first time, and he defended it.

"I don't think that the firefighters are crime fighters," Ellerbe said.  "They may be observers and what you may have forgotten to mention is this is not the first time this soft posting has occurred.  It is something that we did during the summer for our safe cities initiative."

Just before Christmas, the deputy mayor for public safety told the firefighters manning Engine 10 and Truck 13 to leave the firehouse from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and sit on the street at specific intersections.

The city looks at it as a crime deterrent.  The fire and police unions think its dangerous.

Ellerbe said they are not asking the firefighters to be police officers.  Instead, they are "just to observe the activity and be vigilant and in addition to that, they have the opportunity to respond from wherever they are."

Councilmembers Tommy Wells and Mary Chen have come out against the plan, which firefighters have been told to carry out until further notice.

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