D.C. fire chief calls media burns ‘sensationalist’

WASHINGTON – D.C.’s fire chief continues to parry criticism against him, citing what he says are inaccuracies in recent media reports that the city failed to vet harassment claims against him and that protective gear sitting in storage could have saved firefighters from injury.

In an interview with WTOP Monday morning, Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, who was tapped for the position by Mayor Vincent Gray in December 2010, claims scathing reports by Washington Times against him are “unfair,” “not accurate” and “sensationalist.”

The Times recently reported Ellerbe was not properly vetted before taking the job as chief of D.C. Fire & EMS, and that the city overlooked sexual harassment claims at his former position in Sarasota, Fla. where he also served as fire chief.

“Those articles coming out of (The Times) have been fraught with unproven allegations and inaccuracies,” he says. “I think they have not been fair and accurate in their reporting, but sensationalism sells stories.”

Ellerbe says he does not recall “undressing someone with his eyes,” per the Times report that he “leered at female employees and intimidated other employees,” adding he wouldn’t know how to undress someone using only his eyes.

He also denounced ever referring to himself as a “vindictive ‘expletive deleted.'”

“I would never refer to myself that way,” he says, “nor would I call anyone else that.”

The chief has also caught flak from an Examiner.com report that he kept $70,000 worth of fire-resistant shirts in storage because they did not align with the firefighters’ uniform. These could have been used to protect firefighters, the report claims.

Ellerbe said Monday these specific shirts don’t have any protective qualities, and are solely designed not to melt onto the firefighter’s skin if the protective outer jacket and pants fail.

He confirmed the shirts, which do not conform to the uniform, are sitting in the warehouse for the department while it looks for a way to repurpose or sell them.

“This is the deal when we take these leadership positions: We have to understand there’s going to be some resistance sometimes, especially if change is involved,” he says. “If you can’t take the heat, these aren’t the positions for you.”

WTOP’s Paul D. Shinkman and Mark Segraves contributed to this report.

Follow Paul, Mark and WTOP on Twitter.

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