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WASHINGTON (WUSA9/AP) -- After more than 30 years of service and three years as chief, D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe will retire in July, Mayor Gray announced Thursday morning.

In interviews, Ellerbe says he is not being forced out but that it became clear he would not be able to stay in his job through year's end. He will leave the department July 2.

"This was a dream for me when I became a firefighter in 1982. I will be eternally grateful to Mayor Gray for believing in me. He showed tremendous strength and fortitude in allowing me to do this job," Chief Ellerbe said.

The city's firefighters union has called for Ellerbe's ouster for months, along with D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells, who leads the public safety committee.

The fire department has faced criticism for delays in patient care and the death of an elderly man after firefighters ignored calls for help from bystanders.

Chief Ellerbe has headed the 2,000-member department since January 2011.

"I'd like to thank Chief Ellerbe for all his years of service to the people of our city," said Mayor Vincent C. Gray. "His effort and dedication have been commendable, and I wish him well in all his future endeavors."

When Chief Ellerbe leaves, Assistant Chief Eugene Jones will be promoted to Interim Fire Chief.

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