D.C. Fire Chief controversy: Ellerbe defends decision not to issue protective shirts

D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe on Monday defended his decision to refuse distribution of protective shirts with an out-of-date logo on them to firefighters.

Ellerbe has recently come under fire in recent news reports for controversies facing his administration,{ }including one from last week about firefighters who endured severe burns.

One of the questions raised in last week's report was whether the firefighters' injuries would have been less severe if the men had been issued protective shirts, which were sitting in storage.

Nearly 2,000 shirts that meet fire industry standards for protective gear have been kept in boxes on the shelves of a D.C. warehouse for more than a year.

The Washington Examiner first reported last week on the shirts and the fire chief's refusal to allow their distribution because they displayed an old D.C. Fire Department logo on them.

The shirts cost D.C. taxpayers nearly $70,000.

Chuck Ryan, a firefighter with D.C. Fire and EMS, was burned on over 40 percent of his body after a two-alarm fire last April.

"I would have had a better chance for the injuries and the pain and suffering that we're going through if we would have had the better station wear," Ryan said.

Chief Ellerbe said that even if Ryan and the other firefighters had been wearing the protective shirts, their injures would still be severe.

"If the outer shell fails, then it's highly unlikely the shirt they were wearing underneath is going to protect them further," he said.

Ellerbe said firefighters have a long-sleeved version of the shirts, so there was no reason for any of them to be outfitted inadequately.

"If they're worried about being protected, they should wear their long-sleeve shirts 365 days a year," Ellerbe said.

Ellerbe remains steadfast in his defense of not permitting firefighters to wear the shirts with the old logo, but he does acknowledge they can help minimize injuries.

"It probably would have provided a modicum of protection, but not as much as the outerwear," he said.

The shirts aren't the only controversies facing Chief Ellerbe. He is also under fire for a recent reveal that he faced an accusation of sexual harassment in his last position in Sarasota, Fla.

"I don't know how to undress a person with my eyes," Ellerbe said. "I think you need to use your hands to do that, first of all. I'm not the type who undresses anybody."

Ellerbe said that much of the criticism he faces comes from the union and firefighters who are resisting the scheduling changes he has implemented.

Ryan and the other injured firefighters will be in a D.C. courtroom Tuesday when the arsonist who set the fire in which they were injured will be sentenced.