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DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Elllerbe got a couple of minutes to state his case in a live interview last night at the top of the 11:00 PM newscast on WUSA-TV. Chief Ellerbe wants to go to a peak scheduling plan for the department’s paramedics beefing up the number of paramedics working during the hours when the statistics show they are most needed. The most controversial aspect of the idea is the removal of all paramedic ambulances, or medic units, between 1:00 AM and 7:00 AM when Ellerbe says demand for those services goes down to about half the number of calls during the rest of the day.
Such peak loading has been attempted in the past in the Nation’s Capital. It can become controversial when a chief has to explain why a paramedic ambulance was sitting in quarters unstaffed at a time when a child around the corner goes into cardiac arrest. Chief Ellerbe points out that he doesn’t expect the wait time for receiving ALS care to increase during those hours because paramedics will still be responding aboard paramedic engine companies and there will be 21 to 25 basic life support ambulances available for transport overnight. In addition, there will be paramedic supervisors working during the off peak hours.
Chief Ellerbe was asked last night, and in a story a week earlier on WTTG-TV, about allegations of a paramedic shortage and the departure of overworked medics. The chief claims the rate of departure is lower the last two years than the previous two and that there is not really a paramedic shortage as claimed by the firefighters’ union.
But the question I have yet to hear anyone ask is the first that comes to my mind in these stories. When a fire call strips an area of paramedic engine companies and there is an immediate need for ALS around the corner how is easy is it going to be to defend the plan when the closest paramedics are aboard engines on the other side of the city?
My experience is that whatever the merits of this plan are or aren’t will take a back seat to the public and council members acceptance of it after the first news story about someone dying. In the past they have had trouble dealing with the concept that their neighborhood paramedic ambulance only comes to get you if you have your heart attack at 2:00 PM but isn’t staffed if it occurs at 2:00 AM.
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