LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Blame fire chief for ambulance fiasco

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Folks in the nation’s capital don’t have to buy a ticket to the circus, because they are already getting a free show with the D.C. fire department’s exhibition of mismanagement (“President’s D.C. ambulance runs out of gas, with fuel gauge broken,” Page 1, Aug. 13). It points straight to the source of the failures: Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe.

As though the previous blunders and high-profile problems were not sufficient laughingstock, the icing on the cake is the latest fiasco, when the first-due medical responder to the White House had to be taken out of service. It was out of gas and that was likely a result of a broken fuel gauge.

The D.C. fire department is composed of many highly skilled and professional firefighters and medics. These men and women are dedicated to their tasks. However, they are now part of the never-ending circus of managerial dysfunction that has produced ineffective operations. For these committed professionals, this outcome has to be extremely disillusioning and profoundly disheartening. The firefighters and medics need their equipment to be safe and operational at all times. The fleet needs to be ready to respond at any given moment to diverse sectors of the city.

Ed Smith, D.C. Fire Fighters Association president, is absolutely correct when he noted the department has become a “national embarrassment.” It was absolutely a humiliating sight to see the presidential motorcade leave the White House with an ambulance out of commission and remaining behind on the South Lawn. The show’s mockery could not get much worse.

However, the excuses, the blame and the finger-pointing by Chief Ellerbe escalate as he allows the pathetic show to continue. The buck stops with him, and he fails to accept responsibility and to be held accountable. He provides lame explanations and illogical reasoning. And he skates every time.

Unfortunately, medical emergencies are unplanned episodes. Normally, the faith in knowing professional and rapid emergency-response teams will respond in a timely, efficient manner with quality equipment should be a comforting thought — but in the District, this is far from the norm.

The professional firefighters and medics continue to be disgraced by a chief who obviously doesn’t have what it takes to do the job. He has failed miserably and continues to do so. Public outrage and a vociferous outcry should clearly bring home the message that Chief Ellerbe’s time of departure is long overdue.



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