District leaders and residents continue to mourn the death of former D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services [EMS] Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe.
Ellerbe, 61, was found dead in his home in Southeast on Sunday, Feb. 27. No cause of death has been announced.
D.C. Fire and EMS Chief John A. Donnelly, Sr. said Ellerbe’s death stunned and saddened him.
“It is so tragic,” Donnelly told the Informer. “He was a Washingtonian. He grew up in Washington, attended school in Washington, joined the fire department and was a leader in the fire department. He stayed in the city after he retired. This is devastating.”
Ellerbe served 31 years in the Fire and Emergency Medical Services, including three as the chief. He led the city’s fire department from 2011 to 2014 under D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray. Before that, he had a stint as the fire chief in Sarasota, Fla., from August 2009 to December 2010.
Ellerbe graduated from Calvin Coolidge High School in the District in 1978 and then went on to earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public administration from the University of the District of Columbia.
Current Ward 7 D.C. Councilmember Gray, spoke soberly about Ellerbe’s demise.
“This past weekend, former D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe passed away,” Gray said in a statement.
“My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and former colleagues. Chief Ellerbe served our city and led FEMS through a period of fundamental change that improved emergency response and created a safer District of Columbia for every resident. It was my honor to appoint [him] to lead FEMS and a great pleasure to work with him. Ken retired to Ward 7, where he was a pillar of our community. We will all miss Ken and will honor his memory with our gratitude for his service,” Gray said.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, on Twitter, praised Ellerbe for his dedication to the District.
“Today we send our prayers and love to the family and friends of former D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe,” Bowser tweeted Sunday. “Chief Ellerbe was a native Washingtonian and a graduate of Coolidge and UDC who believed in young D.C. residents and who served our city for three decades.”
D.C. Councilmember Robert White (D-At Large), a candidate for mayor in the June 21 Democratic Party primary, also expressed his thoughts on Twitter.
“I’m deeply saddened to learn of the death of former fire chief Ellerbe,” White said. “I had the privilege of getting to know him over the past several years. I send my deepest condolences to the Ellerbe family.”
Lon Walls, a longtime public relations entrepreneur in the city and a close friend of Ellerbe’s, expressed sadness over his death.
“On Sunday morning, February 27, I lost one of my best friends in life – an Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity brother and Bando martial arts colleague and student – former D.C. Fire & EMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe,” Walls said on Facebook. “I have no words to describe my feelings of loss and sadness. In all he did, he truly tried to ‘represent.’ RIP my brother and fellow warrior. You will be truly missed.”
Donnelly said the fire department’s cadet program will serve as Ellerbe’s lasting legacy.
“This is the program for young people who wish to become firefighters and work for the department,” the chief said. “He was always advancing youth in the city and made it a point to mentor young people.”
Donnelly said he has communicated with the Ellerbe family and there will be a ceremony honoring him with full honors from the fire department.
At press time, no date had been set for his funeral.