D.C. Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe defends department in face of criticism

ARLINGTON, Va. (WJLA) - A day after enduring heavy criticism in front of the D.C. Council, D.C. Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe defended his department Thursday, saying that the city is taking significant steps toward rehabilitating its fleet and ensuring that all of its members are properly trained.

In an appearance on NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt, Chief Ellerbe said that his department and the District are making great strides toward modernizing its fleet of fire trucks and ambulances and are investing millions into that effort.

Ellerbe admitted that the city is playing catchup by "15 to 20" years in terms of modernizing its fire and emergency equipment and lauded both his staff and Mayor Vincent Gray for investing in the cause.

"The city has rebounded tremendously in terms of resources," Ellerbe said. "We have the resources to put in place to play catchup. A lot of cities aren't in the position that we're in."

During his testimony to D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells on Wednesday, Ellerbe was hammered for only having 3 of the city's 26 ladder trucks certified; on Thursday, Ellerbe said that number is now at 5.

Significant investment - upwards of $10,000 per truck - is necessary to have each ladder truck certified, which is something Ellerbe said takes time.

"We have to send (each) unit, look for repairs and have another professional group assess it," Ellerbe said. "The reason we hired an outside contractor to look at the fleet was to give us professional advice. They gave us a road map to improve our fleet."

That audit indicated that the city's emergency vehicle fleet is in poor condition and was dealing with chronic long-term management, maintenance and replacement issues.

Ellerbe said Thursday that over the next half-decade, the city will have at its disposal an entirely different, modern fleet.

"We're always concerned about the department and our citizens," he said. "I know that this is not unique to Washington. It's a process we have to go through."

The chief also responded to criticism over his testimony that he didn't know where 12 of the city's 13 new ambulances were at that given moment, saying that he would have been lying under oath to the council if he had answered.

"I can call communications and find out where all of our apparatus is right now, but as a chief, I'm not going to track units all day long," Ellerbe said. "We have people for that."

Ellerbe noted every unit in the city has GPS technology inside and that he has a monitor in his office that displays the location of each emergency vehicle.