D.C.'s firefighters are taking a stand against the chief, refusing to comply with another uniform change. It is the fifth in the last year.
It is a change they are all expected to pay for. The union sees it as retaliation while the chief says it is necessary for security.
11 days after FOX 5 first aired footage showing firefighters turning their jackets and sweatshirts inside-out to comply with the latest uniform change - here comes another.
It is a directive from the chief forbidding firefighters from wearing unmarked jackets, saying it is a risk to homeland security. It is an order that left many firefighters dumbfounded and furious.
"I know it looks like a Home Shopping Network display here, but this is what we have gone through,” said Lieutenant Robert Alvarado with Truck 13, showing FOX 5 on a table all of the winter weather gear he has purchased that is now no longer compliant with the uniform policy. “We started out at the end of the year with this t-shirt here and this sweatshirt here and both were an acceptable uniform item. As of January 1st, these items are done, can't wear them. This jacket as well because it has DCFD on the back, and this is a winter jacket purchased with my own money which makes me clearly identifiable as a member of the department. That's no longer good.”
What is infuriating to Lt. Alvarado and others on the department is the fact these changes don't come cheap.
The fire department does not pay for winter outerwear and the only option for firefighters to remain compliant and not be disciplined is to buy additional outerwear with the proper identification or wear their turnout gear around the clock.
"I don't understand how in good conscience this man can put on the chief’s uniform and issue an order that sends his people into inclement weather with no protection. It’s unconscionable and it shows a lack of leadership," said Lt. Alvarado.
The lieutenant is speaking out on his own, risking discipline for what he has to say.
Union President Ed Smith says he is behind the lieutenant along with every other firefighter who has decided to take a stand.
“If they want to make uniform changes, they should purchase all articles, including the cold weather jacket,” said Union President Ed Smith. “Yeah, they're taking a stand on their own, most of them. They don't have to be told, but yeah, we are taking a stand, we want this stuff bought.”
But as you may imagine, Chief Kenneth Ellerbe sees things differently.
"What I did was I took away the ability to wear any personal equipment that doesn't readily identify employees as firefighters,” said Chief Ellerbe. “It seems there's been a movement to wear just plain blue or black jackets, but that creates a problem for other agencies in terms of identifying our members, and it also creates a problem for the public because they don't know who represents the fire department and who doesn't.”
What is doubly upsetting to firefighters is the fact the chief issued outerwear to EMS personnel and the top brass, but has so far refused to buy it for the people who staff the trucks, engines and rescue squads.