DC Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe declines to answer questions while - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

DC Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe declines to answer questions while fleet breaks down

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An ambulance shortage brought on by breakdowns and air conditioner failures has forced D.C. Fire and EMS to temporarily ask for outside help.

Four private ambulances were used to transport patients at Monday night’s Nationals game and a concert at the Verizon Center, and they will be in place at Nationals Park again Tuesday night. There were so many breakdowns over the weekend, fire department mechanics couldn't keep up.

On any given day, D.C. Fire and EMS has 39 ambulances on the street around the clock with four ambulances in reserve. But there were so many breakdowns since last Friday the fire department had to draft mechanics from other agencies in order to get them back in service quickly.

It is a situation Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe did not want to talk about when we caught up with him walking down U Street on Tuesday.

Wagner: "Hey Chief, how are you? Do you have a couple of minutes where I can ask you a couple of questions?”

Ellerbe: “Nope.”

Wagner: “No? Is there a reason why?”

Ellerbe: “I'm on the way to a meeting.”

Wagner: “What meeting?”

Ellerbe: “A meeting with one of our chiefs.”

Wagner: “So you can't tell me what's going on with the private ambulances and some other things that are going on with your department?”

Ellerbe: “I'm just coming back from vacation, so I've been away.”

Wagner: “Okay, what's going on with the private ambulances?”

Ellerbe: “Don't you have an appointment scheduled with the Doctor (David Miramontes, Medical Director for D.C. Fire and EMS)?”

Wagner: “Yes, but why can't I ask you? You’re the fire chief.”

Ellerbe: “The doctor is in charge of medical operations.”

Wagner: “Yeah, but you’re the fire chief. (D.C Councilmember) Tommy Wells says your department is in crisis, chief. You haven't responded to any of our questions about what’s going on with your fire department. What do you say about his report?”

Ellerbe: “I think we had a response prepared for his report.”

Wagner: “Oh really? I haven't heard anything from you about your report.”

Ellerbe: “I don’t think that was discussed with you as we prepared it.”

Wagner: “Can you just stop so we can talk to you for a couple of minutes?”

Ellerbe: “I told you I’m on my way to a meeting with one of our chiefs.”

Wagner: “Okay, but is there a reason why you won't respond to the public about what’s going on with your department?”

Ellerbe: “I hear you talking to me Paul Wagner. I don't hear the public talking. We can discuss it with the public when we have a hearing as we normally do.”

Chief Ellerbe has declined all interview requests since last winter and stopping him on the street is the only way reporters can attempt to get answers.

Instead, the fire department had Medical Director Dr. David Miramontes answer questions about the weekend breakdowns and the need for outside help.

"The plan is to use (the outsourced private ambulances) short term while we get our ambulance fleet in repair,” he said. “Our District partners, our sister agencies are helping us. DC Water, DPW (Department of Public Works), they have really stepped up to the plate. Over the last weekend, their mechanics and shops have been used to help get our ambulances back in order.”

Last April, during a tense exchange with Councilmember Wells, Chief Ellerbe said the city would have enough ambulances to make it through a hot Washington summer.

"It does not sound like you are confident that you have the fleet that you need during a hot summer to transport in a way that is not unhealthy during the hottest parts of our days and that is when the demand is at its greatest,” said Wells to Ellerbe in April. “I don't hear that you are confident that you have the equipment that you need yet.”

Ellerbe responded, “I'm confident in our equipment and I am confident in our personnel.”

Union leaders have been predicting this outcome for months and are not pleased to see it arrive.

"This is just another sad chapter in a Fire and EMS department that is being run into the ground,” said Union President Ed Smith.

The fire department has been saying for months it has purchased as many as 14 new ambulances for summer arrival. But as of Tuesday, they have not yet been delivered.

Breakdowns were not the only problem for the fire department over the weekend. On Saturday night, there was a severe staffing shortage with as many as 15 paramedics and two battalion chief positions left unfilled.

It is an ongoing problem well documented recently in a highly critical report by Councilmember Wells.

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