For those who have been a part of or followed fire and EMS in our Nation’s Capital for a long time, the recent news about major fleet problems and delayed EMS response has a familiar ring to it. We lived it for more than decade starting in the late 1980s.
If you watch this series of WUSA-TV news reports focusing on the mid to late 1990s, you should get a feel for DCFD from that era. This is a time when the City was under the direction of the District of Columbia Financial Control Board because of serious money problems. While I can’t recall specific dates on all of these reports (my mind isn’t nearly as sharp as the reporter featured in the video), here’s what I have been able to figure out. I’m sure there are many standing by to correct me if I screw up any of the dates.
It appears the first story, about the problems at the apparatus maintenance shop. is from October 1996 (details on the fatal fire from December 1995 mentioned in the report, can be found here).
I am not sure of the date on story two about the delay to help Gloria Scott on Michigan Avenue, Northeast. Judging by the PIO (Battalion Chief Alvin Carter), I believe it is also the mid 1990s.
Story three is easy. It’s Monday, January 4, 1999. On that day the brand new mayor, Anthony Williams, during his very first weekday on the job, was confronted about an AWOL ambulance crew, reported by Channel 9 the night before.
Story four, about the ambulance with the missing stretcher and no ambulance being available for a patient during a winter storm, happened in the middle of January, 1999.
The fifth story, covering Chief Donald Edwards’ appearance before the Control Board asking for five more ambulances and a firefighter going with a patient to the hospital in a taxi (yes, a taxi) because there were no ambulances available, also appears to be from early 1999.
In story six, likely also from early 1999, the topic is whether EMS should be a separate agency, or third service, and includes the views of the two union heads.
Story seven aired shortly after the May 30, 1999 deaths of Firefighter Anthony Phillips and Firefighter Louis Matthews at a townhouse fire in Northeast Washington. It looks at the sorry state of the department’s fleet of ladder trucks and its possible impact on the deadly fire. Click here to download the internal report about the Cherry Road fire.
Back to EMS for story eight. This one was about an ambulance crew going the wrong way to help a dying woman about 200 yards from the firehouse on U Street, NW. You can read a lot more about this story here.
And I really don’t have a clue when the final story occurred. It’s about an ambulance crew being unable to find an address in Georgetown.
For a rundown on the fire chiefs of that era and the union presidents, read this article by then Washington City Paper Loose Lips Columnist Elissa Silverman. Elissa is now running for a seat on the City Council.
Hope you don’t mind the history lesson. A warning for you. Please be kind about the physical appearance of the reporter as compared to today. I hear he’s a very sensitive guy and, trust me, you don’t want to hurt his feelings.