PAUL WAGNER, WTTG FOX5
WASHINGTON (MyFoxDC) – Nearly two years after FOX 5 first exposed the depleted size of the D.C. fire department’s fleet of emergency vehicles, new equipment has arrived in the city.
At a news conference Wednesday, the mayor and fire chief showed off six shiny new pumpers with a promise more engines and trucks are on the way.
In a parking lot at RFK Stadium, the D.C. Fire and EMS Department proudly showed off six new pumpers that will be stationed at fire houses around the city. It is a giant step forward for a department that has been running thousands of calls with a depleted fleet of engines and trucks and little to nothing in reserve.
The six new pumpers will soon be going to station houses in Brightwood, Trinidad, Chinatown, Tenleytown, Riverfront and the West End.
All of them are replacing engines that will either be taken out of service or placed in reserve.
“If you go to our One City plan, you will see that we have made a priority of improving the quality of life for all District residents,” said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, “ensuring that every one of our neighborhoods was as safe as it possibly could be, and of course, making sure that we have funding for new equipment is a part of that commitment.”
That may have been the mayor’s priority, but two years ago, in the administration of then-Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, purchasing new trucks, engines and ambulances was not a priority.
In fact, FOX 5, with figures provided by the firefighters’ union, showed some of the fleet the chief claimed to have in reserve had actually been sold, scrapped or left rusting on the street.
“It’s out of control, it’s dysfunctional and we’re not to blame,” said Union President Ed Smith in a March 2013 interview.
And when questioned by the city council, then-Fire Chief Ellerbe had a hard time explaining why the fire department had fallen so far behind in acquiring new apparatus, especially when there was money in the budget.
Now, the new pumpers, which will soon total ten, will be joined by five new ladder trucks the interim fire chief hopes to have in the city by early next year.
In the meantime, the fire department is trying to make costly repairs to the ladders it already owns.
“We have some that we are trying to get a contract with Seagrave (the manufacturer) right now,” said interim Fire Chief Eugene Jones. “It’s over a million dollars so it has to be approved by council. So when that’s done, we will send the trucks to Seagrave so they can be fixed.”
Until then, some neighborhoods in the city have been left uncovered without ladder trucks stationed nearby.
The mayor also announced the city has started to once again hire firefighter/paramedics. It is a process that had been halted under the previous fire chief.
Twenty have been hired so far to fill a badly depleted group of specialists who will be assigned to the engines and ladders.