- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Comments made by a senior fire department spokesman on his personal social media accounts that characterized protests against the D.C. fire chief as racist disappeared shortly after the spokesman confirmed he was the author.

Posts by D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services spokesman Lon Walls on Twitter and Facebook were taken down Monday night after Mr. Walls spoke to The Washington Times about the nature of the comments.

Mr. Walls, who said Monday that the posts reflected his personal opinions, did not return messages left Tuesday inquiring why the messages were removed.

The comments were posted after more than 100 firefighters walked out on a Jan. 24 address by Chief Kenneth Ellerbe at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

“Just witnessed a blatant display of racism and disrespect shown to an African American leader,” Mr. Walls wrote on Twitter.

Firefighters who participated in the walkout said they were protesting leadership issues and numerous departmental changes made by Chief Ellerbe. Perhaps most notably, the changes have included a plan to switch from the 24-hour shifts firefighters have worked for more than two decades to 12-hour shifts and revisions in uniform policy. Chief Ellerbe has said he expects the shift change to reduce the number of firefighters in the District by about 26 percent.

Reached by phone Tuesday and asked whether he shared his spokesman’s view that the walkout was racist in nature, Chief Ellerbe said he could not talk because he was heading into a meeting. He said he would be available later but did not respond to subsequent calls.

A spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray also did not respond to messages left Tuesday asking how the mayor regarded the protests and Mr. Walls‘ comments.

Firefighters were a visible presence at Mr. Gray’s State of the District address Tuesday night. While dozens sat together in the balcony of the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, they made no overt political statements during the event.

Firefighters and fire officials sparred in days leading up to the address over whether Chief Ellerbe issued orders in an attempt to stave off any protests by firefighters at the mayor’s speech.

Mr. Walls said Monday the chief never issued any directive to firefighters in reference to the address. But firefighters circulated photographs of what they said were orders handwritten into fire-station logbooks that outlined to varying degrees whether firefighters could attend the mayoral address, how they could behave and what they would be expected to wear.

Edward Smith, president of the D.C. firefighters union, said he was told by Chief Ellerbe the initial order was misconstrued but that the chief declined to issue a written clarification of the order.