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Uniform seal change causes flap in DC

Union claims the decision was made without its consideration and will cost members out-of-pocket expenses

By Tom Howell Jr.
The Washington Times

WASHINGTON — The District’s new fire chief has ordered members to use a patch with a pre-2007 department seal on their uniforms, reversing the phase-in of a Maltese eagle logo ordered under the city’s former fire chief.

Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe picked the older patch as the sole symbol of the department in a general order issued last week. The patch, which features symbols for the fire service and emergency medical services, was in use before Chief Dennis L. Rubin’s phase-in of the Maltese patch and is still on the order books for the department, D.C. fire spokesman Pete Piringer said.

The new seal features the words “District of Columbia Fire and EMS,” while the old patch simply said, “District of Columbia Fire Department.”

But the D.C. firefighters union said the decision was made without its consideration and will cost members out-of-pocket expenses to change the patch on their uniforms and buy new T-shirts or jackets.

“It’s caused some heartburn for my members,” said Edward C. Smith, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association, noting that tailoring costs to switch the patches average about $5 and T-shirts with the logo are about $20 apiece.

For the department, Mr. Piringer said, costs are typically incurred by switching logos but argued the “half-and-half” nature of the Maltese phase-in means the District could end up saving money by staying with Chief Ellerbe’s preferred logo.

Mr. Smith said he could not provide exact percentages of who has the official patch and who has the Maltese logo.

While the logo with “FEMS” lettering in lieu of “DCFD” is a sore point among some members, Mr. Smith said, he doesn’t care about the acronym as much as the clothing. He prefers uniforms approved by the National Fire Protection Association.

“I’m advocating for the safety of our members,” he said.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary on Tuesday unanimously advanced Chief Ellerbe’s nomination to the full council.

Chief Ellerbe, a longtime member of the department, served as fire chief in Sarasota County, Fla., for about a year before his selection for chief by Mayor Vincent C. Gray.

He left the District under an unusual personnel exchange agreement by which he would have collected about $500,000 in pension funds to which he was not entitled.

He resigned from the District after The Washington Times reported on the arrangement.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the department’s operational and morale issues seem to have improved under Chief Ellerbe.

In a separate hearing before Mr. Mendelson on Tuesday, Chief Ellerbe noted that the department is “trying to reduce the facets that create turmoil as much as possible.”

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