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D.C. By The Numbers: For State Of Fire Fleet, Look No Further Than Overtime Pay

The state of the D.C. fire department's fleet has become a contentious issue for Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe.
The state of the D.C. fire department's fleet has become a contentious issue for Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe.

D.C. By The Numbers is a month-long series that will use numbers to highlight and explore exactly how D.C. does — and doesn't — work. Have a number to share? Get in touch.

Today, D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe will appear before the D.C. Council for an oversight hearing on the department's performance during the 2013 fiscal year.

There's little doubt that Ellerbe will have a lot of questions to answer: The city's fire and emergency medical services department has been rocked by accusations of mismanagement and low morale, capped off by a recent incident in which a D.C. man died across the street from a fire station even as passers-by asked firefighters on duty for help.

One area that has attracted significant attention is the state of the department's fleet of 369 fire trucks and ambulances, which a late-November city audit found to be in "overall poor condition." The audit said that the fleet was "aging, showing signs of excessive wear-and-tear, and in overall poor condition that is reflective of years of hard, urban emergency driving compounded by unstructured and deferred preventative maintenance and repairs."

That brings us to our number: 48,916.

Dollars, that is. According to the fire department, that's the amount of overtime pay made by one foreman at the department's repair shop in 2013, on top of his base salary of $73,236.80. He was the top overtime earner for the department last year, but he wasn't alone: Four mechanics in the same shop round out the department's top five overtime earners, and eight more make it on the list of the top 50.

That's actually an improvement from the year prior, when mechanics made up 18 of the department's top 25 overtime earners, and three made more in overtime than they did in salary. The top overtime earner took in $97,852 in overtime pay, while making $57,740 in base salary.

Still, the reality that the fire department's mechanics are still raking in overtime pay hints that something is amiss in the repair shop. Last November's audit noted that the department faces an "extraordinary backlog of repairs and maintenance," and that the shop is mismanaged and lacks accountability.

But more than work mechanics harder, the audit said that even more overtime won't solve the problem: "The real solution is to work smarter, not longer, hours," it says.

To start addressing the problems — which predate Ellerbe — D.C. fire officials have purchased new ambulances and fire trucks, and say in an oversight document that they are launching preventative maintenance programs to try and head off problems before they emerge.

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