D.C. Fire Chief defends dept. after death near Engine 26

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe defended his department on Wednesday after the Mills family asked for help and voiced their frustration after the death of 77-year-old Cecil Mills across from Engine 26.

Ellerbe has been somewhat incognito since the investigation began more than week ago, saying he didn’t want to speak publicly until the initial phase of the investigation was over. But he finally addressed the situation by saying that it was not something that represents the fire department.

"This incident is one that I consider to be regretful," he said. "It's one that we won't run away from...and we will hold people accountable for it."

He called the incident an "anomaly," and continued: “This one instance shouldn't brand our department, it shouldn’t stain the entire membership of this department. We have a lot of good people in this department, I don’t want them to feel bad about coming to work."

Ellerbe said that he personally knew Mr. Mills from being fellow Shriners in the Shriners organization, where Mills held a high position. This was reportedly another reason that he was reluctant to discuss the incident publicly so soon:

"Mr. Mills was a member of a fraternal organization I belong to," said Ellerbe. "He was the leader of that organization and someone I would see frequently...He and I would talk about his daughter going to dance at the Kennedy Center."

Ellerbe says he has already expressed his condolences to the Mills family, and ensures that he will try his best to see the investigation through:

"This is a disciplinary matter quite possibly, and I don't want anyone to say I had any undue influence over the process -- particularly if I'm taking action at the end of it."

The Mills family will be holding a news conference Thursday at the site where the incident took place, and it will be led by attorneys of the Cochran Group, suggesting that the city may be facing a significant lawsuit.