Mayor Gray, city leaders react to retirement of Fire Chief Kenne - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Mayor Gray, city leaders react to retirement of Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe

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D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who solidly backed D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe every step of the way, told reporters Thursday the chief had "served the city well despite facing challenges." Other city leaders weren't as kind.

Chief Ellerbe has been on the defensive for the last year and a half as crisis after crisis left many residents wondering about the stability of D.C. Fire and EMS.

Ambulances were breaking down and catching fire, the reserve fleet was spare to non-existent, money hadn't been spent to buy new trucks and engines and patients waited for ambulances that never came.

Still, the mayor continued to back the chief while others started to wonder.

"I have been on the council seven years and I have not heard this amount of anxiety from average citizens of the District of Columbia who want to have confidence when they call 911," said Democratic mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser.

Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, who has oversight of the fire department as chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said it was the Cecil Mills case that convinced him the chief had to go.

"I think that as soon as we started getting a string of information that was inaccurate, incorrect or not fully there, [it] was really where I lost confidence," Wells said Thursday.

Last January, 77-year-old Cecil Mills collapsed from a heart attack across the street from a Northeast D.C. firehouse and none of the five firefighters inside came out to help.

"Right now, it’s about stabilizing the whole department,” said Wells. “We need to stabilize it, be sure that we get management and labor on the same page."

It is a sentiment shared by Independent mayoral candidate David Catania.

"What I hope we can do now with the interim chief is to have an era of stability,” said Catania. “And perhaps with a fresh start even with less than a year to go, perhaps begin building a bridge back between management and labor work force.”

And in the end, the man who hired the chief continued to back him.

We asked Mayor Gray at a seniors picnic in Southeast D.C.: “Why have you stood by (Ellerbe) so steadfastly?”

“Because I think he has made a real contribution to the department,” Gray said. “He is someone I wanted to support because I believe he deserved the support.”

Mayor Gray said he did not force the chief out and it was Ellerbe's decision to step aside.

Gray also said there will not be a search for a new chief. Instead, he said it will be up to the next elected mayor to pick the candidate to run the department for the next four years.

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