WASHINGTON — Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe ordered a sweeping, temporary change to the agency’s sick time policy.
In an official memo obtained by NBC Washington, Chief Ellerbe suspended the use of unannounced sick time through June 2 for any firefighter who isn’t first checked at the fire department’s in-house clinic.
Chief Ellerbe’s memo was issued amid concerns about widespread usage of sick time by firefighters during holiday weekends, a city official told reporters.
“The department occasionally finds it necessary to temporarily suspend its Minor Illness Program in order to minimize the use of unscheduled leave around the holidays,” Ellerbe said in a statement to reporters. “When our members are granted leave to spend time with families during the holidays, it’s important to maintain sufficient staffing to keep units in service and respond to all emergency calls.”
Ed Smith, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 36, said the union filed a formal grievance against the new sick time policy. Smith said the changes should only be enacted after official bargaining sessions between the city and union, according to the report. Smith told reporters that any shortfall of staffers during holiday weekends is the result of overall agency personnel shortages, not sick calls.
Under the changes, firefighters have to report to the emergency room for a health screening in order to qualify for a sick day during overnights and weekends when the city fire clinic is closed, according to the report.
Smith told reporters that the requirement is burdensome to firefighters and the hospitals.
“It’s no secret here in town that the ERs are crowded, especially on weekends,” Smith said. “Now you’ll have firefighters contributing to that overcrowding.”