Angry D.C. firefighters expected to be at Gray's State of the District address

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is set to deliver his yearly State of the District address--but he may have some unhappy guests at the speech.

As city staffers prepared for the mayor's State of the District address, questions lingered if D.C. firefighters would walk out on Gray as they did with Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe last month. In a tweet, Fire Dept. spokesman Lon Walls called it racism and disrespect.

Many are expected to show up for Gray's address.

On Tuesday, neither Ellerbe nor union president Ed Smith would comment on the tweet, but Smith said Fire Dept. brass have warned that any walkouts tonight will be punished.

"We've received numerous reports there have been various journal messages given in firehouses across the city," Smith said.

At issue is Ellerbe's proposal to shift D.C. firefighters from working one 24-hour day followed by three days off--as they have done for decades--to 12 hours on, 12 hours off.

"It's an EMS department with a few fires," said Kenny Lyons, D.C. ambulance union president.

Lyons said the vast majority of calls nowadays are ambulance calls and firefighters are running the vast majority of the ambulances and that a 24-hour shift endangers patient care.

"What's best for patient care should reign supreme here, not what's best for individuals or groups of individuals," Lyons said.

But the change to 12 hour shifts would force many firefighters to lose other jobs thy have or quit the department.

Emotions are high, but their union leader wants only professionalism Tuesday night.

Gray's address will take place Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in northwest Washington.