- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The D.C. Council member with oversight of the fire department on Tuesday called for the resignations of the fire chief and the deputy mayor for public safety and justice, saying the administration has failed to present a plan to address chronic troubles with emergency response.

Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat and candidate for mayor, said in a letter to Mayor Vincent C. Gray that the administration’s responses during a Monday oversight hearing on the department’s failures were “deficient and disappointing.”

“From burning ambulances, uncertified fire trucks, and no procurement plan to adequately equip our fire and emergency personnel, to a shortage of paramedics, delayed response to emergencies, and poor training and management, this department has enormous and urgent challenges to overcome,” he wrote. “Yet the administration has no coherent plan to improve the department’s performance.”

Mr. Wells asked for the resignations of Deputy Mayor Paul A. Quander Jr. and Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe. Both men answered questions about the agency’s plans at Monday’s oversight hearing, which was convened after the death of 77-year-old Medric Cecil Mills. Mr. Mills was refused aid by firefighters in January after he collapsed across the street from Engine 26 in Northeast.

During the hearing, Mr. Quander said five firefighters’ lack of response was “an absolute failure to do what was appropriate.”

The deputy mayor mentioned tactics the fire department could pursue to stem further issues by enhancing quality control over employees. He suggested that lieutenants and captains no longer be represented by the same union. And he called for increasing background checks on employees in order to identify troubled employees. He said neither of those issues contributed directly to the failures at Engine 26.

Mr. Wells also said the troubles with the beleaguered fire department extend far beyond the Mills case.

“Blaming racial divisions, union membership, or other perceived motivations for the department’s dysfunction must end,” he said in his letter. “It is a disgrace to place responsibility on the rank and file employees who put their lives on the line for D.C. citizens every day. Whatever the divisions in the department, only strong leadership, sound management, and a new culture of excellence can resolve them.”

Mr. Quander’s spokesman, Keith St. Clair, said his office would not be “reacting” to Mr. Wells’ request.

A spokesman for Mr. Gray called Mr. Wells’ letter a “shameless political stunt.”

Mr. Gray and Mr. Wells are among a crowded field seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor in an April 1 primary election.

“You don’t get to say it’s their fault when you block what other people are doing,” spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said, specifically referencing Mr. Wells’ opposition last year to Chief Ellerbe’s plan to redeploy city ambulances.

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