News & Politics

Tommy Wells Calls for Resignations of DC Fire Chief and Deputy Mayor

Wells’s call comes after fire fighters failed to help a man who suffered a heart attack outside a DC fire station. A spokesman for Mayor Gray calls it an “idiotic political stunt.”

Council member Tommy Wells says it's time for DC's fire chief to go. Photograph courtesy Wells’s office.

DC Council member and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells says that after the tragic death of 77-year-old Medric Mills, who suffered a heart attack outside a Northeast DC fire station and died January 25 after no one on duty came to his assistance, it’s time for heads to roll. In a letter to Mayor Vince Gray today, Wells demanded the resignations of Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and Ellerbe’s boss, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander.

Wells, who chairs the Council’s Public Safety and Judiciary Committee, was apparently not satisfied with the answers he got from Ellerbe and Quander at a hearing yesterday on Mills’s death. A report released last week by Quander’s office states that five on-duty fire fighters neglected to respond to Mills, even with his daughter screaming and witnessess pleading for help.

“Specifically, I wanted to hear the Mayor’s plan to fix the situation so it will never happen again,” Wells writes in his letter. “The administration’s response was deficient and disappointing. Our city deserves better.”

Quander was critical of the fire fighters during his testimony yesterday. “There appeared to be apathy and total disregard for human life,” he told Wells. Ellerbe said that the lieutenant who was supervising the station when Mills collapsed has been reassigned from desk duty and is awaiting an internal hearing, but that he added that he is confident in the department’s disciplinary process.

Wells writes that he does not share that confidence, and he is also calling out Ellerbe and Quander for previous mishaps that have given the DC fire department a shoddy reputation.

“The shortcomings evident in the most visible and horrifying incidents—in which citizens like Mr. Mills have lost their lives—are just the tip of the iceberg,” he writes. “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. Yet the administration has no coherent plan to improve the department’s performance.”

Gray’s spokesman Pedro Ribeiro blasted Wells’s resignation demands as political maneuvering.

“It’s another shameful and idiotic political stunt on Council member Wells’s part,” Ribeiro says, noting that Wells blocked a plan to deploy more ambulances during daytime hours than during overnight shifts.  “At best,” says Ribeiro, “he’s a hypocrite.”

But Ribeiro adds that despite the failure by five fire fighters to help a dying man across the street from their station, Gray has no plans to make any changes to upper management. “Those first responders should have done their jobs,” he says. “If the mayor didn’t have faith in [Quander and Ellerbe], they wouldn’t be at work.”

2014 02 25 Letter to Mayor

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.