21 days after the D.C. Council was told the depth of the fire department’s fleet of reserve engines and trucks, the firefighters’ union says much of the information is false. In fact, the union says some of the trucks and engines claimed by the chief to be in reserve no longer exist.
The firefighters’ union produced documents and pictures Wednesday showing at least six engines and two ladder trucks the chief claimed were in reserve and ready for use have actually been sold by the city. Another ladder truck claimed to be in reserve has been out of service since 2010.
As of Wednesday night, the union says the city has no reserve ladder trucks and the department is playing a "shell game."
Shortly after D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe testified under oath in front of the city council’s judiciary committee last month, the firefighters’ union began digging into the numbers he provided Councilmember Tommy Wells.
A couple of numbers stood out, including the one claiming the city had 29 ladder trucks owned by the city and in use.
In fact, union officials say two of the trucks claimed by the fire department to be part of a reserve fleet have been sold by the city.
Two others are out of service, including one that has a sign saying it was last in use in 2010.
The union also has documents showing at least six pumpers, claimed by the department to be part of a reserve fleet, have also been sold.
The union says it matched vehicle identification numbers with fire department records to show its claims are true.
"And while we've discovered some disturbing information about the apparatus, there is probably a deeper bottom to it," said Local 36 President Ed Smith in an interview Wednesday.
In fact, Smith says there are no ladder trucks in reserve, and when Ladder 11 broke down this week, the fire department simply replaced it in the Brightwood neighborhood with Ladder 4 from Shaw -- leaving Shaw uncovered.
"I like how the mayor and everybody like to throw around accountability. Well, let’s see where the accountability is on this one,” said Smith.
In addition to the pumpers and trucks the union says it can prove has been sold or out of service, there is apparatus unaccounted for.
"The men and women of this union,” Smith added, “on this department risk their lives and do the best they can with what they have to use every day, day in and day out, and they’re treated as second-class citizens. It wasn't that long ago we were heroes.”
Just last week at a news conference, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety said two ambulances would be held in reserve in case a medic or transport broke down.
On Wednesday, Ambulance 4 broke down on North Capitol Street, and when the crew was directed to the backup, what they found was an empty rig. No gurney, no supplies, nothing to treat a patient with.
"It's out of control,” said Smith. “It's dysfunctional and we are not to blame.”
Councilmember Wells had no initial comment, telling a reporter he would address the issue at a special hearing now scheduled for March 28.
Following recent reports on the District's Fire and Emergency Medical Services reserve fleet status, I instructed the Deputy Chief of our Fleet Maintenance Division to conduct an audit of his submission of fleet readiness to ensure the accuracy of his report.
The result of the Deputy Chief's research revealed that he had, in fact, used an old fleet schedule that had not properly excluded apparatus that had been removed from our inventory. As a result of his oversight, inaccurate information was reported and included apparatus that were no longer in the department's fleet.
As a result of this oversight and inaccurate communication, coupled with an increase in his division's overtime expenditures, the Deputy Chief has informed me of his decision to retire, which I have accepted. He will remain with us long enough to transfer any pertinent historical knowledge. His replacement has already been selected and notified.
I personally called union president Ed Smith about this matter and I want to thank the firefighters' union for bringing this inaccurate information to our attention.