A veteran D.C. firefighter is speaking out about a growing controversy over uniforms, claiming the fire chief has created a hostile work environment.
Firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians have to wear a lot of gear to keep warm on the job. Caps, gloves, sweatshirts and coats. It is equipment that is generally not supplied by the fire department.
Under a new directive from D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, employees will be disciplined if they do not comply by this week.
So when the chief made comments on FOX 5 Tuesday claiming firefighters have been issued the gear by the department, one firefighter decided to speak out.
Lt. Robert Alvarado has spent 11 years responding to emergencies and fires in the District of Columbia. Just last April, he was severely burned with three others while searching a burning house in Northeast. The lieutenant says he loves his job, but he has a problem with the chief.
"All we are asking is to be is dealt with fairly," said Lt. Alvarado. "If you want us to wear a certain item of clothing, issue it to us and we will gladly wear it instead of expecting us to come out of pocket to meet his agenda. We are sworn order takers, but make it fair and give us the tools to do that.”
What has angered many firefighters is a directive to have this new patch on all of their hats, coats, sweatshirts and jackets. It is a cost not being reimbursed by the city.
On Tuesday night on FOX 5 News, Ellerbe had this exchange with anchor Laura Evans.
Evans: "It is expensive though, we have to say, winter wear is expensive to buy, if you are talking about buying a whole new set of uniforms."
Ellerbe: "They don't have to buy a whole new set of uniforms. We supply over $5,000 in outerwear and equipment for our employees. What they are talking about is purchasing sweatshirts and t-shirts that have the “DCFDEMS” on it. They are not talking about the outerwear that we provide.”
"We do get $5,000 worth of gear, but the majority of that is spent on structural firefighting gear that we use to go into burning building,” said Lt. Alvarado. “It’s a complete outright lie that we are issued outerwear. We are not issued outerwear.”
Lt. Alvarado decided to speak out on his own after seeing the chief on FOX 5. He knows he is sticking his neck out and will likely be disciplined for it.
In response to the Alvarado’s comments, Chief Ellerbe issued this statement:
"The outerwear that I was referring to is the running coat that our firefighters are issued. I would think that the reference to the cost would have indicated what coat I was referring to. Not following orders is insubordination; not having the proper uniform, if we don't have it to issue, (it) is not."
If you looked closely at the firefighters and EMS personnel working on a patient outside Truck 13's headquarters on Florida Avenue Wednesday, you would notice they were not wearing outerwear with patches. There was nothing identifying them as being first responders with D.C. Fire and EMS.
Lt. Alvarado also told us some civilian EMS personnel and higher ranking officers were issued new outerwear paid for by the city. And because of that, the lieutenant said he would have a tough time disciplining his men for not complying.
Chief Ellerbe confirmed the lieutenant’s story saying the department had some extra money and decided to make the purchases.