DC shirt saga does about-face

$70K worth of shirts sit boxed partly over a flap about which logo is embroidered on them

By Andrea Noble
The Washington Times

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new uniform policy for the D.C. fire department would have allowed the agency to make use of nearly $70,000 worth of polo-style shirts that have gone unused since they were ordered in October 2010, officials said.

Except that less than 30 minutes after the order was issued Thursday, the department rescinded it, saying it was distributed prematurely.

Controversy flared up in March over the 1,750 National Fire Protection Association-compliant polo shirts when it came to light during a D.C. Council committee hearing that the shirts have sat boxed in a warehouse both because polo-style shirts are not part of employees' uniforms and because they were adorned with an emblem the department no longer uses.

At the time, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told the Committee on the Judiciary that the District's inspector general had inquired about the shirts and other equipment the department was not using because of the old emblem. Chief Ellerbe noted that he would look into ways the department could utilize the shirts.

The shirts, which are 100 percent cotton, are designed not to melt to the body and contribute to burn injuries. They cost $39 apiece.

News that employees would be able to don the polo shirts spread quickly, but perhaps prematurely given the order's reversal.

"We're happy to see the issue finally resolved," D.C. Firefighters Association President Edward Smith said Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Smith, who said he heard the uniform order might need to be altered to clarify that employees would not be allowed to purchase their own polo shirts, had not heard of the order being rescinded. To his understanding, the NFPA-compliant shirts had been modified with a new patch and would be "a one-time issuance."

Denise Tolliver, spokeswoman for D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee that has oversight of the fire department, confirmed Thursday that Mr. Mendelson's office was told the uniform order came in response to the unused shirts.

A special order obtained by The Washington Times does not make specific mention to the polo shirts the department already owns; rather, it outlines requirements for the shirt to fit department policy.

Battalion Chief Brian Lee, a department spokesman, said a revised order would be "reissued shortly." He would not say what might differ between the first order and the revised order.

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