WASHINGTON (WJLA) - The District of Columbia's Fire Department recently came into possession of 13 new ambulances to supplement the city's aging fleet, but there's one problem: D.C. Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe apparently doesn't know where they're located.
The chief was grilled during an appearance before the D.C. Council on Wednesday, during which Councilman Tommy Wells questioned whether or not the maligned department had a handle on its systemic problems plaguing the agency and compromising public safety.
"I don't see that you are making change yet," said Wells.
Some of the issues at hand include: ambulances with broken fuel gauges and no air conditioning, engines catching fire, brakes working improperly, and not enough ambulances to respond to critical calls.
"Certainly, updating a system that's been in disrepair for 15 to 20 years cannot be accomplished overnight, but at least we have identified a starting point and a path forward," defended Chief Ellerbe, who also touted that response times are down, more paramedics have been hired, and 13 new ambulancecs are currently in use.
But when asked where these ambulances were, he replied that one was being repaired while the other is at the White House. He could not say where the others were stationed.
He also admitted that the only tower truck in the fleet has been out of service since April and should be scrapped.
ABC7 also found that Chief Ellerbe did not know how many of the department’s pumper trucks had passed a safety certification test – and also was unaware that only three out of 23 ladder trucks had passed such a test.
"It doesn't mean that the ladder trucks don't operate. It doesn't mean that they don't operate well. It just means we haven't had somebody go in and test those ladders," he said.
But Ellerbe could not assure firefighters that they are working on safe vehicles. Union officials, who have repeatedly aired these concerns as well as many others, remain frustrated.
"It's going to take a large infusion of money and significant hiring to fix the problems," said Dabney Hudson with the D.C. Firefighters Association Local 36. "I didn't hear that that was going to happen, but we are hopeful that it does."