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Watch this video: DC Fire & EMS with delayed ambulances & major fleet problems. But check the date.

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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.



Comments - Add Yours

  • Anonymous

    Dave, this town needs you to come out of retirement.

  • Anonymous

    No this town needs to be take over and scrubbed clean. It has failed and continues to fail. Seems like the same things are happening 20 years later.

  • mark

    Good grief, I’m not even sure what to say.

    From incompetence at the city level to federal level, you’d think we could do so much better for leading our cities and country. Absolutely amazing our cities have been so poorly run for so long.

    This sounds so much like Detroit, it’s scary.

  • Hawkeye Pierce

    After DECADES of the same problems reoccurring, at what point does someone actually do something about the DCFD? Or DCFEMS? Or whatever they want to call it…

  • 19262007

    Nice stroll down memory, I mean, nightmare lane. Dave, I can name every single person in this entire montage, I’ve worked with most of ‘em. I am an olden f%#@. You know the adage “Everything changes”? Not in DC. Here we not only screw things up with no money, we can screw it up with boatloads of money too. mayor vinnie, deputy p, and mr.e, you guys keep going after the non-resident “problem”, sounds like the right path for DC, an elimination of 1/4 of the FD is the correct solution to an increasing population and call load. You guys are doing a BANG-UP job! Keep up the lying, that will help your cause!

  • DC Truck

    I always knew that if LRB became fire chief he would set us back twenty years – now we have proof!

    • Anonymous

      no truer words are spoken!

  • Anonymous

    Until DCFD truly embraces EMS, nothing will change.

    • Glad I live in VA

      BS. DC FEMS is filled with single role personnel who “embrace EMS”, and as a group, they have worse absenteeism, slower responses, and poorer public-facing attitudes than the firefighter(EMT)s who view it as a necessary, if often undesirable, portion of their job. I’ve never seen a DC firefighter give anything but top-notch care when faced with a medical emergency.

      Firefighters being ready to spring into action to save a life is part of their ethos. EMS fits into that.

      Prehospital Medicine does not. 90% of DC’s medical calls are prehospital medicine, not emergency medicine.

      The DCFD needs a ambulances and Johnny and Roy squads staffed with firefighter to staff EMS. (Not running 45,000 lb fire truck down the road for every stomach ache). They also need to tell roughly 80% of the patients they assess that the LifeStar/AMR/Rural-Metro ambulance will be here in about 20 minutes.

  • 19262007

    Until DCFD embraces competence at the senior management level nothing will change. Good job guys!

  • Rob in Alabama

    Find some stories about how they get it right across the river in Arlington,Alexandra and Fairfax Counties.

  • Anonymous

    What does “embracing EMS” have to do with the “embarassing events” that have come to the surface lately?

  • tony

    those were the good days…..oboy

  • 19262007

    You know what? I’m giving DCFD senior management entirely too much credit. Until DC embraces competent management, nothing will change. Good job mr. mayor and city council!

  • 19262007

    @Rob in Alabama,
    The demographics are completely different. The areas you mention, collectively known as NOVA, are some of the wealthiest areas in the country. Not defending DC, just stating facts.

    • Glad I live in VA

      DC is one of the wealthiest areas in the country, too. Both areas have a large percentage of highly educated and well-paid people. Both are overwhelmingly Democratic. Both have a very diverse ethnic population. Both have significant populations below the poverty line, but the difference between DC & NOVA is that, relatively speaking, DC’s population in poverty is twice that of the NOVA jurisdictions, and any politician in DC has to cater, at least a little bit, to the “give us jobs” vote.

      The NOVA jurisdictions manage their departments for performance, with lip service to hiring locals. DC manages it’s departments to hire locals, with lip service to performance.

  • LRBHater

    It’s no wonder why DCFEMS(DCFD) is considered the “Armpit of the Fire Service!” I’m proud to say that I am a Firefighter/EMT, but embarassed to admit I work for this department.

    • Doing it.

      Quit, we won’t miss you.

      • Glad I live in VA

        That’s a very constructive reply.

        One of the things disengaged employees do is “quit and stay”. It’s management’s responsibility to engage employees.

      • Its only fair

        I second that motion (doin it) he (LRBHATER)shud quit and rite away.Honest u wont B missed.

    • Anonymous

      We are still the best at what we do. I will always be glad to say I work for the DCFD. These idiots will eventually be gone.

  • Pingback: Kenneth Ellerbe: I know my job is on the line()

  • E Whitaker

    I remember when the EMS was all civilians. The EMS care and EMS training was the worse. The EMS provided today by the Firefighters is by far the best it has ever been. The problem is LRB and his shining stars destroying the great system and tearing down the members of DCFD piece by piece. LieRB lied again today about his relationship with the Mayor (his Godfather and grew up together, neighbors). DCFD needs smart vetted leadership. Its time that we the citizens of DC and not just Ward 7 and Ward 8 stand up and ask our council members to do whats right and break up this family affair!

    • Its only fair

      AWWH!!! Whutz da matter E.Whitaker,are you one of members who got transferred to the 5th or a “undesirable battalion or house?.Don’t get mad because some members were given a chance to be assigned to a running house…were as they wouldn’t have had a chance back in the day.

      Thats the problem with some of you….you think you should enjoy the advantage of being assigned where you want….”F” the rest huh?.

      Moving of personnel has probably been as close to balanced than it’s ever been.I’ve seen officers who have never been assigned to the 5th….and wudn’t have under the last regime.

      I call that fair…any and everyone shud be fair game to be transferred NO ONE EXEMPT!.You could be funny and call them Shinning Stars….but it’s a good thing they have a chance to move around in a different assignment.

      You think the job won’t get done?…..everyone is interchangeable and just because you THINK YOUR SO GREAT….guess what?…when u transfer or retire the job wont skip a beat.

      That tradition u speak of that some are trying to tear down…yes some traditions need to be eliminated and never come back.The mayor can pick whom eva he wants as firechief….someone please let me know where it is written that the mayor has to conduct a national search.

      Some of you want to rite your own rules to fit u….but u are here to adjust to the job…not the other way around.How do you the relationship of the chief and the mayor?. Did u grow up here in DC…pardon me if u did (highly doubt it) but your going off firehouse sleuths aren’t ya.

      Yes I believe the care by FF’s in the field is very good….but why do we continue to have all the problems in the EMS portion of the job.We haven’t had any issues on boxes and locals….why is that?.Attitudes towards running boxes and locals is high….ems calls don’t get the blood boiling because it is subservient to boxes.

      If the chief didn’t institute a 2min chute time for all calls…u wud be taken ur sweet time getting out the house.How can we get out in 15-20 secs on a box and take 3-4mins on medicals.No sense of urgency for a medical huh?.The residents see u for what u are….and Grey will win another election just wait and see.U don’t think? I bet u didn’t LRB would be back.And for ur beloved TW he won’t win a city wide election wishful thinking.

      • Its only fair

        One more thing if Tippet had been chosen to be the firechief none of you would have had sh@t to say about it.So cudo’s to mayor Vincent for picking who he though was the best for the department and the city.

        • D.C.F.D. Still Alive

          You need to cut back on your medical Marijuana!! or pass some out to the rest of us so we can see things like you. Because if lrb stays more citizens are at risk!!! A doctor can help a patient if his equipment is not up to par! So I guess your apparatus is a front line unit? I bet it hasn’t been to the shop in the last 12 months either?
          lrb didn’t institute the 2 min chute time or the 8 min response time, he only reissued an old order. So don’t think he thought of it. As far as moving officers to the 5th, he is sending Officers there to give the Citizens over there a good feeling and bring unity to members. The 5th battalion runs more serious calls. A medical is actually a MEDICAL! A fire is actually a FIRE! and not a pile of trash, or Food on the stove!

          • welcome to our world

            It doesn’t matter who thought of a rule or policy in the past. To reinstitute it in a time of need shows good leadership. The chief isn’t putting the citizens at risk…you are when you call out just to make a statement. Who do you think has more creditability with the citizenry you? or the chief.
            No one knows you here but your buddies on the backstep. You got to get out to know your public outside of meeting them under less than desirable circumstances. “He’s sending officers there to give the citizens over there a good feeling and bring unity to members”. That makes no fu@king sense what you said…wow what a moran

  • ExCaHwyCopLT

    Gee. Out west the system of private ambulance companies (for the most part) with Firefighter Paramedics as first responders seems to work quite well. It certainly eliminates any animosity between paramedics and firefighters since they are truly brothers.

    Oh wait. We’re talking about DC. Neither the politicians or the union bosses will ever let that happen. I wonder if that crew from Ambulance 18 was ever terminated? I’ll bet the union went to bat for them, it dragged on for months and months with them on paid administrative leave, and they were finally given a slap on the wrist.

    • Doing it.

      What are you talking about with A-18?

    • play4keeps

      I laugh when I hear a guy from Cali rip on a union when some law enforcement and FDs walk away with 9()% at 25 years and work on some of the most beautiful facilities and equipement and half the call volume.

      I know its a privledge to work in the LAFD, PD, CHP, or anywhere else in a State that is about to fall into the sea, but really pal, you have no idea what you are dealing with on the East and that the performance of labor is not the cause of any of our problems here.

    • Glad I live in VA

      I think that the LACo model would work for DC: Fire department handles ALS and first response, almost completely with 2 paramedic lightweight squads (not fire trucks) and private ambulances handle transports.

      2 Paramedics assessing a patient make fewer errors than 1 Paramedic acting alone.

      Roughly 10% of the engine companies are Paramedic (2 paramedics) or Paramedic Assessment (1 paramedic).

  • Pipeman27

    LRb is ugly

  • LRBHater

    @ Doing it. Not sure about you Hoss, but i’m no quitter and i’m also not a whiner! I said I LOVE my job,and I meant it! I’ve only 10 years on with DC, but 12 years volunteering before I got hired here,which makes 22 years! So why would I quit doing something that i’m so passionate about that I did for 12 years for free?It’s just a shame that this dept.,that represents the Nations Capital is being run into the ground by “Piss Poor Management!” It’s embarrasing!

    • Doing it.

      Don’t go on the internet and bad mouth your department then. Yes LRB is a fucking clown, but we are not the armpit of the fire service.

  • JustSayin’

    You must be soooo proud of your Grandson.!!!

    He is quite a TV reporter…

  • Anonymous

    Doingit, obviously you didn’t watch the video. A18 got lost for 20 min going to a call.

  • UseToBeDC

    DCFD doesn’t need to follow a West coast model

    The northeast has plenty of models that work.

    FDNY sends a fire engine only on true emergencies.

    And then put them in service when the ambulance arrives on scene(except for CPR)

    If the ambulance is called for a less serious issue the caller has to wait.

    In fact sometimes the engine is put in service because further interrogation of the caller reveals the emergency to be less severe and the call is therefore “downgraded”.

    Simple, put the medics on ambulances and put more ambulances in service. Let the fire trucks stay available for the numerous fires that occur in DC.

    In DC there is also an issue of abuse of the 911 system and access to healthcare. These can be addressed with public education and clinics/urgent cares. Both possible with the current budget surplus in DC.

  • Its only fair

    Thank you Dave,your video is quite refreshing because it proves that our problems have been going on for along time.Unlike the sabotagers here who want the city to belive it just started 2yrs ago.Although we have a long history of problems….it doesn’t mean we have to stay dysfunctional.

    • D.C.F.D. Still Alive

      I totally agree with you, lrb should leave so we can start repairing this department!!!

  • Wayne

    Keep up the good work Dave

  • Doin it more

    As someone stated before they want Ellerbe to fix the problems of the department. Others want him to leave whether he can accomplish fixing the problems or not.

    With that being said apparently you do not have the departments best interest at hand. You’re being selfish worrying about me,me,me. I know you don’t want a shift change and that is really what this is all about 70%

    The other 30% consist of not being able to wear dcfd and transfers. The city being at risk is a smoke screen for you wanting to retain your work schedule.

    Now I realize some of us have part time jobs,and we don’t want the dcfems department to interfere with that. But sometimes life changes and whether we are ready for it or not it happens.

    I happen to believe that the current schedule is good and conducive for the majority. All of this going back and forth between the union and leadership isn’t going anywhere.

    The union is not exercising wise and sound tactical strategies dealing with the chief. Under this union we won’t get anything because the union press doesn’t know how to play the game.

    Instead of fighting everything,learn how to compromise be humble and strike like a cobra when warranted. But this union wants to challenge every little petty thing just because.

    I heard Montgomery county fire department just got a 20% raise over 2yrs.You think they got that by being in the news with frivolous stories. Until we get a real leader at the top of the union were not going to get nothing.

    A real steward of a union knows how to compromise with a department head…not antagonize him/her. Mr. pres. you could learn a thing or two from the elder former president. Proving that you can insult someone isn’t going to get us what we want and need.

    I recommend the entire echelon of the union be recalled and put someone up there who can work with the chief. The current leadership isn’t working or maybe they don’t know how.

    • Anonymous

      Smoke screen huh. No EMS transport units available to take people to the hospital, no reserves units available for everyday use, let alone if another 911 hits and we have to call the other shifts back. Ellerbee lying about this fact under oath. Ladder trucks that haven’t been ladder tested that we a sure climbing everyday. Oh yeah this is one hell of a smoke screen to just try to keep the schedule the same. Tell the stroke victim who was taken to the hospital in a firetruck, the son of the man who died waiting on a unit and the cop who laid on the ground waiting on a unit to let the citizens know they are all safe!

      • Doin it more

        @ Anonymous, honestly did you see long await times a few years back?… How was the fleet?….did every ladder get tested and on time if at all?.

        Let me ask you this?. When was the last time we sent officers to get fire officer certified?…2yrs?..4yrs?…6yrs
        ago?. Are we getting training down at the TA? (i.e.back to basic,flashover,save our own)

        Nothing is without fault and neither is all nearly lost. Come up with some original stuff because you keep bringing up
        problems that have been here for twenty plus years.
        No chief before him could fix it….so what does that make them?. Some couldn’t even handle a budget….think about it

        • Anonymous

          The difference between then and now is today we have a surplus of $$ in the budget . Back then the city was broke which was why the control broad was brought in.under rubin we had apparatus we had training. All of this was started under the rubin administration. Ellerbee has done nothing but change the patches that’s it that’s all. Ellerbee started off telling the lie that the previous administration left the dept like this, that was until the transition document from rubin to Ellerbee surfaced. He always wants to blame everyone else. I guess the investigators staged a sick out also, and that’s te reason why we didn’t have investigators to investigate fires I. The city the other day also. Or was in because Ellerbee sent most of them back to the companies? Ha be original.

    • UseToBeDC

      Hopefully you’re not an actual member of the Union because you just did every member a huge disservice with the above post.

      First off the “Shift change” you reference is actually a reduction of 1/4 of the Fire Department.(Going from 4 platoons to 3)
      Nobody in their right mind would endorse such a draconian and unconscionable cut.

      The primary purpose of the Union, and therefore the leadership, is the safety of it’s members. Not having enough working equipment is a HUGE safety issue not only for the members but also for the citizens of DC.

      Ellerbe is an incompetent, vindictive and tyrannical leader who is putting everyone in DC at risk. He needs to go before a true emergency produces a tragic outcome.

  • Doin it more

    I can respect your opinion (usetobedc and Anonymous) but everything you stated was happening before chief Ellerbe’s tenure.I don’t want to here about no fu@king cop laying on the ground when people here have suffered that fate day in day out for years.

    Your just seizing the opportunity because it’s added negative publicity. So (usetobedc) we are suppose to blindly follow the union on any issue? are you serious? let’s not go there. The union is fair game if they are not upto speed.

    Continue to put your spin on things. Let me tell you a story about a cop that was killed on Georgia ave by engine 22 years ago. He to was transported by firetruck with a bullet to his head….because there was issues with the ambulance than.

    Did the FOP prez go ape sh@t like he was on Prozac? No! he did not.When you don’t receive cooperation from the rank and file…it’s very difficult to accomplish anything.

    Yeah I’m a member of local36 and I have no faith in the leadership that’s in charge right now. What! we are all suppose to stick together?….hell yeah we will when the union start acting civil.

    DID you say Shultz was vindictive?….bullied as well as intimidate members the same way your saying this chief is doin…yet I never heard people label him that way.

    Sorry I’m not buying your side of the story….been around long enough to know the history of how DCFD operates. Tell that to the young guys who don’t know any better

  • Is that you John Wayne?

    What I like,

    2.some training jackets (finally)
    4.moving members around regardless of who they are

    What I don’t like,
    1.infighting lost of some unity
    2.possible schedule change
    3.not enough back up apparatus
    4.shortage of medics contract/raises
    6.leave restrictions

    What doesn’t matter,
    1.not being able to wear dcfd
    2.whinning and complaining a@@e@@

  • old A-04 member

    That’s not true, the cop that was shot had been transported by Amb-04 .I did the transport.Get your facts in order.Med-31 was place on the call first, while we was sitting at quarters{Engine 14)Amb-04 jump on the run.

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