Former DC Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe dies at 61

Former D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe, who served with the department for over three decades, died in his D.C. home on Sunday morning, according to Fire and EMS Chief John A. Donnelly Sr.

Ellerbe was the department’s chief for 3 1/2 years before retiring in 2014.

He died at 61, according to D.C. Fire and EMS. His death does not appear to be suspicious.

“Our thoughts and prayers remain with his family,” Donnelly said.

A D.C. native, Ellerbe joined graduated from Coolidge High School and the University of D.C., where he earned two degrees — a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Public Administration from the University of District of Columbia.

He joined D.C. Fire in 1982 and served as interim fire chief for a few months in 2000 while Anthony Williams was mayor. He left the District in 2009 to work as fire chief of Florida’s Sarasota Fire Department. He then returned to D.C. as chief.

Ellerbe’s time as chief was a tumultuous one fraught with complaints over delays in patient care and problems with ambulances and fleet maintenance. He was often at odds with the department’s labor union.

Near the time of his retirement, he said response times had improved and that the department had bought new ambulances and hired paramedics, something it hadn’t done in 10 years, but he also said that there were efforts to impede efforts to modernize the department.

While chief, Ellerbe led a cadet program, which he called his proudest achievement when he announced his retirement. The program prepares recent D.C. high school graduates to become firefighters.

Ellerbe, who called his role as fire chief a “lifelong dream,” stepped down in June 2014 amid calls for his resignation.

Jessica Kronzer

Jessica Kronzer graduated from James Madison University in May 2021 after studying media and politics. She enjoys covering politics, advocacy and compelling human-interest stories.

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