LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — The man at the head of the embattled D.C. Fire Department will be stepping down after three stormy years as chief.
The retirement of Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, who has served as the leader of the department since January 2011, will become effective July 2. The native Washingtonian said becoming chief was a dream when he first became a firefighter in 1982.
“I’ve checked all the boxes of the things I said I would do when I was hired: cadet program, paramedic training program, fleet improvement and controlling overtime. Mayor [Vincent] Gray and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander have supported me all the way,” Chief Ellerbe said. “Very quietly, we’ve modernized the Department. I have no regrets.”
Criticisms levied by firefighters and paramedics often centered around the training and workforce policies of the 2000-member department. Those complaints were amplified by sharp critiques made residents frustrated by the repeated failures of DCFEMS during Ellerbe’s tenure.
D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells has also called for Ellerbe’s resignation.
Recently, fire officials received a scathing response after a man collapsed and died across the street from a firehouse. The death of 77-year-old Cecil Mills led to a shakeup within the department that included the retirement of the lieutenant in charge of Engine 26 and Truck 15.
Former DCFEMS lieutenant Kellene Davis, who retired after going before the trial board, has expressed condolences to Mills’ family.
The firefighters union has also been critical of the department’s training and staffing practices under Ellerbe.
Ed Smith, president of D.C. Firefighter’s Association Local 36, says this is the end of a chapter marred by controversy that brought the department to its knees.
Smith says he disagrees with the Ellerbe’s statement that the department is better off than when he became chief. He also is hopeful the union will be involved in the process of selecting a full-time replacement for the outgoing chief.
Assistant fire chief Eugene Jones, a native of Washington who graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in 1978, will replace Ellerbe on an interim basis.
Jones served the Prince George’s Fire Department in various capacities for more than 27 years, including 18 months as chief.
He has been the assistant chief of operations at DCFEMS since November 2013.