Friday, November 2, 2012

D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe obviously has a lot to learn about leadership (“D.C. arbitrator: Fire chief guilty of retaliation,” Page 1, Wednesday). Being in charge means more than just holding a title. The most important aspect of leadership, and one from which all else evolves, is how the leader treats those who work for the organization.

Effective leaders understand and embrace the fact that people are the most important assets to any organization. If the people are not treated fairly, objectively and with respect, the organization is doomed to failure. The reverberating effects of ineffective leadership are low morale, diminished interest and crushed enthusiasm. Such is the case in the D.C. Fire Department.

Chief Ellerbe acted against the president of the city’s firefighter’s union, Capt. Edward Smith, reassigning him from Rescue Squad 1 to Engine 7. Those actions were petty and retaliatory, a result of Capt. Smith’s speaking out about key issues affecting department personnel. In his role as union president, Capt. Smith had every right to do just that. However, his forthrightness ran against the grain. Chief Ellerbe would have preferred him to remain silent and march to the tune of the chief’s drum.

When the chief was confronted over his actions, his response was reminiscent of a parent instilling in a young child the strongly persuasive suggestion not to misbehave. Capt. Smith, who wisely had the guts to take his case to arbitration, came out the winner in a ruling that found Chief Ellerbe at fault and noted that his actions were, in fact, retaliatory. Other firefighter personnel also have been victims of the chief’s bullying.

Chief Ellerbe has failed to exemplify the qualities and standards vital to leading an organization as notable as the D.C. Fire Department. His disgraceful motives and actions should be cause for Mayor Vincent C. Grey to give him a pink slip and send him on his way. The individuals who dedicate their lives to public safety in the fire and emergency medical service deserve far better — and so does the nation’s capital.



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