A new report by the D.C. inspector general is painting a dim picture of the readiness of the D.C. fire department and questions whether it can answer the call in a mass casualty incident.
The report found major deficiencies in the reserve fleet of trucks, pumpers and transports, and describes a dysfunctional operation.
This report, which was given to Chief Kenneth Ellerbe on February 19, the day before he appeared in front the D.C. City Council, says the department had not come close to meeting its own emergency plans and many of the vehicles designated as reserves were listed as out of service.
The report slams the condition of the fleet and questions the quality of the repairs it receives.
The investigation into the fleet and its maintenance began in January of last year when an inspector took a look inside a warehouse on Gallatin Street in Northwest D.C.
Inside, according to the report, were supposed to be ten reserve engines, eight reserve ladder trucks and two reserve rescue squads.
Instead, the report says the investigator found two engines that would not start, a ladder truck that would not start, and one being worked on in the driveway.
As for the rescue squads -- there were three – but one that wouldn't start.
The report also says the department’s emergency plan calls for 12 battalion reserve engines. But over the course of the seven-month investigation, the most ever listed was five.
The ambulances were another matter. Of the 31 listed in reserve, at times there were none, at other times there were just two, and the most the investigator found were 14.
On Thursday when FOX 5 asked the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety about the ladder trucks in reserve and the readiness of the fleet, this is what he had to say.
"I received a report recently that we have a reserve fleet,” said Paul Quander. “And I don't mind going out with you. And if we need to count one by one, we count one by one. I think that’s the best way to put this matter to issue. If it’s there, it’s there. If it’s not, it’s not. Let’s go and see. Let’s go and count.”
It's unclear if Quander had seen this report at the time of our interview. The inspector general says it was emailed on March 21.
The report goes on to say, "The limited documentation available and the overwhelming sentiment expressed to the OIG team by employees at all levels indicate that such deficiencies are real and negatively impact the day to day availability of both frontline vehicles at many fire stations and the vehicles in reserve status designated to replace them.”
"There is no planning,” said Union President Ed Smith. “It’s all fly by the seat of your pants and the citizens are suffering and my members are put at risk every day when they get out there on the rigs.”
A week ago Wednesday, FOX 5 first reported the union’s claim the reserve numbers given to the D.C. City Council in February were false and that apparatus claimed as in the reserve fleet had actually been sold or placed out of service.
Later that night, Chief Ellerbe issued a press release thanking the union for bringing the issue to light.
"It is poor management at the top and it alludes to that in this report,” said Smith.
One of the more eye opening facts in the report points out that Truck 3, the tower truck that would be first due to the White House, was repaired 138 times from January of 2009 to May of 2012. It is a number the inspector general decided to highlight.
Chief Ellerbe answered the report with a press release saying the department was already moving ahead with the recommendations of the inspector general and would report back in 60 days.
District Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe responds to report released by DC Office of the Inspector General:
I fully support the recommendations provided within the Management Alert Report issued by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on Thursday, March 21, 2013.
The report detailed several recommendations which included:
1. Perform an evaluation of the operations for the Apparatus Division and report follow-up actions within 90 days.
2. Investigate allegations of intentional damage inflicted on FEMS vehicles.
3. Review and update policies on the use and replacement of reserve vehicles.
We have already begun moving forward on the recommendations and as a show of our commitment, the department will provide the OIG an update on our activities regarding vehicle repairs, vehicle availability and data on repair activities within 60 days as opposed to the 90 days originally suggested.
The department also has ordered several vehicles that will include new ladder trucks, pumpers and ambulances to support our emergency response needs. In addition to purchasing new vehicles, we have reassigned Deputy Fire Chief John Donnelley to undertake a complete review of the Apparatus Division. Chief Donnelley has also been tasked with developing a vehicle replacement plan that will incorporate the recommendations of this report.
I want to thank OIG for their attention to detail while gathering this critical information and their thorough analysis which provided some necessary guidance for moving the department's reserve fleet toward effectively handling all emergency response needs.