It's a new day at D.C. Fire and EMS as a new fire chief steps in, replacing an embattled Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe.
WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- It's a new day at D.C. Fire and EMS as a new fire chief steps in.
Eugene Jones has taken over for the embattled Kenneth Ellerbe, whose last day was Wednesday.
Jones fills in as the interim fire chief. It will be up to the District's new mayor, who will be elected this fall, whether to keep Jones on a permanent basis or to hire someone else.
Jones spent the last seven months as assistant fire chief of operations in D.C.
Before that, he was with the Prince George's County Fire Department for more than 25 years, a career that saw a stint as that department's fire chief.
Jones is confident in the department he's inheriting.
"I feel pretty comfortable about the day-to-day operations and where the department is going," he said.
The stats, Jones said, back it up.
"We respond well. All the statistics show that we get there in the time that we plan on getting there. National standards, we're in the 90th percentile of getting to the scene on time," explained Jones.
He insisted that he will not initially make dramatic changes, only to add to the department's special operations capabilities - HAZMAT and executive protection services, add more fire engines and provide increased attention to employee needs.
The relationship between those employees and now-retired Chief Ellerbe was often strained.
After announcing his retirement last month, Ellerbe told WUSA9, "There's nothing wrong with the department in terms of how we provide service. There are some attitudes that need to be adjusted and some processes that need to be ironed out completely but we've started in that direction."
But D.C. Firefight Union Representative Ed Smith has long opposed Ellerbe, labling him as an ineffective and inadequate leader.
"It's a little sense of relief. I'm glad that chapter is behind us and we're ready to fix this department and bring it back to where it needs to be," Smith told WUSA9 after learning of Ellerbe's retirement plans.
Jones sees his predecessor as someone he can learn from, especially from a strategy and experience standpoint.
"Working for Chief Ellerbe, for me, was a dream come true because Chief Ellerbe is a very successful fire chief of two departments," said Jones.
Ellerbe was the chief of the Sarasota, FL Fire Department before heading up D.C.'s fire department.
In three years under Ellerbe, D.C. Fire and EMS also faced public scrutiny, most notibly when a fire house refused to respond to District resident Cecil Mills, 77, as he suffered a heart attack right outside the station.
Mills died. Ellerbe took heat.
But Jones said the poor image is mostly a matter of perception, not poor service.
"Within the world of the fire service, and I believe there is a fire service world, the District of Columbia Fire Department is one of the top fire services in the country," he explained. "We know everyday, when the citizens come in contact with the men and women of the department, they like the service that we provide. So, that type of thing doesnt exist in my world."
But in the political world and the race for D.C. Mayor, Ellerbe was toxic. Most candidates vowed to fire the former chief, before he stepped down on his own accord while insisting he was not forced out.
Now, Jones hopes the new mayor, whoever it is, hires him.
"I would love to do that. But, you know, I'll just wait to hear. In our organization we follow direction," said Jones.