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On His Way Out, D.C. Fire Chief Says Department Was 'Resistant To Change'

Outgoing D.C. Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe weathered a number of scandals during his three-year tenure.
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Outgoing D.C. Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe weathered a number of scandals during his three-year tenure.

D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Kenneth Ellerbe will step down next month after serving for three years in the Gray administration.

It wasn’t a smooth tenure for Chief Ellerbe. The firefighters union and the chief clashed often. Members of the D.C. Council called for his resignation. And there were a slew of headline-grabbing scandals for the fire department, most notably the death of Medric Cecil Mills outside a fire station earlier this year.

But Ellerbe says he’s proud of his accomplishments as chief and points to the establishment of the cadet program and State Safety Oversight Office, as well as the overhaul of the aging ambulance fleet. Looking back on his three plus years as chief, Ellerbe says it isn’t easy to modernize the city's fire department.

“It’s a department that is resistant to change, but it’s a department that has to change because the nature of the way we provide service. And the nature of that service demands across the city are going to change," he said in an interview with WAMU 88.5.

Ellerbe has proposed changing the shifts that firefighters and emergency personnel work, moving them from 24-hour to 12-hour shifts. He says the change would offer the department more flexibility in staffing, and reflect the changing nature of the job: Fewer calls are for fires, he argues, and more are for medical care.

The proposals drew opposition from the firefighters union, and members of the Council were critical of his leadership of the department. Both of those were just parts of the job, he told us.

“It’s a political environment. It’s a labor-intensive city. The truth is, if you are going to manage an agency responsible for the safety and care of people in Washington, D.C., then you to look at what is in their best interests," he said.

Assistant Fire Chief Eugene Love will become interim chief when Ellerbe leaves next month.

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