District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray is standing behind fire chief Kenneth Ellerbe following a no-confidence vote by the city firefighters' union.
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander said in a statement Monday that he continues to support Ellerbe's efforts to modernize the department. He's calling on firefighters to work with the chief to accomplish that goal.
Monday, Ellerbe received an overwhelming vote of no confidence by D.C. firefighters. The final firefighters union tally was 300 to 37 in favor of a no-confidence vote.
"If this was simply a question of mere incompetence, that would be a start, but this is much more than that – it has become a public safety issue,” says D.C. Fire Fighters Association Local 36 President Ed Smith. ‘Fire Chief Ellerbe now has a two-year record that has resulted in a failed approach to leadership that has needlessly endangered the public.”
Some leaders say that while there have been some bumps in the road during Ellerbe's tenure, they insist, on the whole, his efforts to move the department forward should be applauded, not vilified.
Ellerbe released a statement after the vote saying that he still believes in the department's future.
“Despite the ‘no confidence’ vote tallied by the local firefighters union, I am very optimistic about the department’s future and encouraged by the service we provide to District residents and visitors,” Ellerbe said in a statement Monday. “ I remain deeply committed to resolving the issues before us.”
The firefighters union has clashed with Chief Ellerbe of late over a long list of issues—including ambulance response delays and a recent, scathing report by the inspector general that showed an alarming number of reserve vehicles in poor condition.
Councilman Tommy Wells told ABC7 this latest problem is undermining his confidence in the department's ability to respond to any crisis that requires additional resources.
“We just had a shooting of 13 people. If that had been 13 casualties, 13 folks that were life threatening, I’m not confident that we would have had the ability to respond,” Wells said.
Some fire department veterans are coming forward to talk about their concerns—including Robert Alvarado.
“There's inefficiency and incompetence in every division right now mainly based on his lack of leadership,” said D.C. Firefighter Alvarado.
Members of the Progressive Black Firefighters Organization, who held signs supporting the chief after the vote, say the main reason the union's against Ellerbe is his plan to change scheduling.
Right now, firefighters work 24-hour shifts followed by three days off. Ellerbe wants to change that to four 12-hour shifts followed by four days off.
Firefighters with out jobs or who live far away would suffer under the plan. The union calls it a ruse to layoff firefighters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.