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TV station reports 5 to 6 paramedic ambulances in DC each day lack medics. Staffing shortage subject of hearing today.

DC Breaking Local News Weather Sports FOX 5 WTTG

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Watch DC City Council hearing live (scheduled for 11:30 AM today)

Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/Fox 5:

The District of Columbia is losing paramedics at an alarming rate and they are not being replaced.

53 have resigned or retired since Kenneth Ellerbe became fire chief in 2011.

It is an exodus that has led to a critical staffing shortage with advanced life support units going unfilled every day.

The firefighters’ union has been sounding the alarm for months, telling D.C. councilmembers and anyone who will listen, the net loss of paramedics has created a “crisis” situation with first responders forced to work 36-hour shifts and advanced life support units left off the streets every single day.

Normal protocol has 14 medic units staffed during every shift. It is a number designed to make sure advanced life support is available within minutes of a 911 call in every ward in the city.

But as paramedics leave without being replaced, those 14 medic units have dwindled.

According to the firefighters union in 2011, two to three Advanced Life Support units were downgraded to Basic Life Support every day.

In 2012, the numbers went from four to five, and so far this year, it is averaging five to six downgrades every day.

“Pretty simply, the basic difference between a paramedic and an EMT is that the paramedic brings the ER to you in the first 20 minutes, so everything the ER can do in those first critical minutes, a paramedic can do for you in the field,” said Paramedic Joe Papariello in an interview Thursday.

Emergency medical technicians cannot administer drugs. It is a vital function in some trauma cases.

“There are a lot of drugs that we can give,” said Papariello, the Union’s EMS official. “Over 30 in our protocols … if you are having a heart attack or you have a broken bone, we can deliver those.”

But as paramedics leave, those services have diminished.

Take for example the month of April. According to the union in April 2011, more than 23 percent of the scheduled Advanced Life Support units were taken off the streets.

In April of last year, it was more than 34 percent, and so far this year, it has risen to more than 42 percent.

“And when we don’t have enough units on the street, units have to respond out of their areas that they are supposed to protect, and it puts a stress on the system and on the individual, and that’s why a lot of our medics are leaving,” said Papariello.

The staffing shortage has also lead to forced overtime. In 2012, according to the union, 185 times paramedics were held over for a 36-hour shift. So far this year, it’s happened 136 times.

Just this month on May 9, the fire department announced in a special order three more firefighter/paramedics had decided to resign.

“We are in a crisis mode,” said Union President Ed Smith. “I mean, in the 90’s when they were closing firehouses, you had firehouse roulette. You didn’t know where the wheel was going to stop. Right now today, we have medic unit roulette and I hope it doesn’t stop on the wrong person.”

On Friday morning, Chief Ellerbe will go before the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee where he is expected to testify about his ambulance deployment plan.

He declined our request for an on-camera interview.

In recent testimony, the chief told the council he plans to train current EMTs to become paramedics. But as the union points out, that could take up to two years.

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Comments - Add Yours


    I seem to remember hearing in several classes and reading in several books that “Leadership addresses and solves problems” as opposed to creating and enlarging them.

  • see?

    as long as the Chief is a Political position there will be politics not leadership-

  • it must be christmas

    The situation is simple…..raise the starting salary for medics so that it is competitive to surrounding jurisdictions.
    For what they do and are responsible for…it should garner them at least 60k.

    If I was a medic and my salary was 48k and I run 12-20 calls per shift….versus lets say a 60k salary in the county were u might run half the calls…..its a no brainer.

    Now by no means do I support the defunct leadership of local 36….I am pro-union when we have a competent leader and board.This guy makes more excuses for FF’s like I have never seen. If they (membership)are wrong say they made a mistake and lets move on.

    When this union changes heads….maybe just maybe we might just get what we want. As long as the union head doesn’t know how to deal with the political leadership of DC….IT’S GAME OVER.

    • uptown saturday nite

      I agree (it must be christmas)this union is embarrassing,it cannot and will not compromise. We are not going to get what we want and deserve… because the leadership of the local is rouge….and has pissed off the leadership of this city.

      How is it other jurisdictions are getting raises and staying off of cable tv…while we are squandering for scraps!. Ray Sneed come back brotha…rescue us out of this abyss.

      • Doing it.

        Ray stay away, the members love Ed Smith, this sounds like some bullshit being spouted by members of Ellerbe’s clique.

  • stuart

    Dave, do you know what happened at the meeting? any news or information from the hearing?

  • it must be christmas

    I agree with you Gary Sharp….this union over inflates everything….the citizens safety isn’t being jeopardize….local 36 is using terror tactics as usual. RECALL LOCAL36 LEADERSHIP FROM THE BOTTOM UP. IM PRO-UNION BUT I DONOT SUPPORT THE LEADERSHIPAT THIS TIME.


      It must be Christmas… don’t support Local 36 because you don’t personally like Ed Smith….your tone indicates that and its very sad…Local 36 has done an excellent job for the members against this administration and has backed every member affected by this inept and incompetent person who calls himself a leader…….are you saying that after two years as FEMS Administrator its ok to continue to testify how you’re still trying to figure it out…

      1. you can’t accomplish anything amongst management and the membership when 99.9% of the membership dislikes you and they dislike you for good reason.

      2. you can’t work together with someone who’s been found guilty of retaliation

      3. you can’t work together with someone who treats people in his protected circle one way and the majority like dogs**t

      4. you can’t work together with someone on a contract or anything else when his underlying goal is to rid the outsiders by hiding behind his redeployment plan and shift change proposal…

      you can continue to back this dirtbag all you want, but you’re the less than 1% who do….if the current leader is doing such a great job…please list all of his accomplishments minus his historical change in uniform appearance and the ever so popular change of the shop being open 24 hours a day now because Im all friggen ears to hear you elaborate…

      Mr Bethea…with all due respect and I mean all do respect…..your comments are sickening and just short of being racist… dare you accuse members of this department of intentionally doing anything….i thought you showed your true colors the last time you testified, but today you clearly showed what scum of the earth soumds and looks like….next time try practicing reading your script so you don’t sound like someone wrote it for you even though someone did…and if anyone thinks your credentials made anyones eyes open up…well…they didn’t….taking a class so you can hand ouy muffins and apple juice after a blood drive at the local Red Cross does not make you qualified in anyway to comment about EMS & first responders…

      Andrew Beaton….yeah yeah yeah…graphs don’t lie….the only graph anyones interested in is how many smoke breaks you take per day in front of Grimke and how many pies you’ve consumed in oneday..thats it…

    • Anonymous

      If the union is using scare tactics whys the chief infront of the councile again answer me that you seem to be defending a failing system with no leadership at all

  • Just sick

    The Dcfd union president is a joke. He has no idea what it is to lead a union. Isn’t he a life long member of some volunteer department? That’s a conflict of interest. He has done nothing for his paying members and won’t even listen to concerns from union members. His answer is call your house shop steward if you have questions. Is there any way to file a lawsuit against him for failure to represent? He’s a squad captain that makes a combined income of over 150k. What The the f$&@ does he know about the guys out there getting stomped on every day? I’ll tell you what… Nothing. I bet he supports 3-3-3 behind closed doors because he has a few more years left and wants the money. He isn’t looking out for the brothers and sisters that still have a long career in this job. I mean we haven’t even heard what his plan is on negotiations. We all have a hand in this and pay good money and deserve to know what’s going on. I’m sure he keeps tight lipped because he’s selling us down a river. To you union president, you are a joke of massive proportions. Some how you won a popularity contest because you are supposedly a good firemen… I doubt it.

    • Joke City

      @ just sick says

      Since you are such a know it all please put your name in the hat for next union president and let us all know who you are. As to question his job ability as a good fireman or leader, you just stand outside and have a cold pop while your union leader goes down the hallway and gets the job done. Keep on following the train wreck and go see the wizard for some courage.

  • another medic thinking about leaving

    Today, while the hearing was taking place, 64% (9/14) of the ALS transport units were downgraded to BLS units due to lack of staffing. Coincidence? No…business as usual.

    I do find it amazing, however, when everyone makes a big deal about New Years Eve when the department failed to prepare for people (dual and single role) calling out sick at the same rate as in all previous years, saying that Firefighters organized a sick out, yet no one bats at eye when single role providers fail to show up for work on a regular basis, forcing an average of 3 downgraded ALS units for the last 3 years, a number now up to an average of 5-6 ( about 30-45%) per day during 2013, causing significant shortages of ALS transport units. But I guess that does not fit into the “greedy firefighters that do not live in the city and don’t care about the citizens attempting to undermine everything Ellerbe does” narrative the administration is pushing.

  • no brainer

    Montgomery County is coming out of a budget shortfall, yet has managed to continue to maintain its fleet, is currently hiring firefighter/emt’s and firefighter/medics, and is about to get a 20% raise.

    PG County is also coming out of a budget shortfall, has also continued to maintain its fleet, has maintained its staffing levels, and is also considering merit based raises of up to 20%.

    DC has had a significant budget surplus for the past few years, has a fleet in deplorable condition, is losing medics at an alarming rate, has hired only 1 recruit class and 2 (DC resident only) cadet classes, is now experiencing a staffing crisis and medic shortage, has not had a raise in 7 years, and works under a very hostile administration.

    If I were a firefighter looking for a job, especially a firefighter medic, given the above facts and the fact that DC units are FAR busier than PG or MoCo, the choice would be clear. Stay in the counties! After all, where do you think all DC’s medics are going?

    • Ron Stuart

      There was a time when DC led the way. Counties would look at us for how to “do it”. Now we need to look at them for EMS guidance. No one in COG is going to 12 hour shifts or reducing EMS, or third service or civilians- even if they have a budget shortfall. Ellerbe is doing EMS changes for ONE REASON: revenge on the folks he hates. It is not about money or safety or EMS service, it is about how he can seek his deep resentful revenge on those that did him wrong in the past, and he will destory everything to get his agenda done. He is a dangerous lunatic.

  • Anonymous

    Wow so the medics leaving is the unions fault? I thought it was the working conditions brought about by management? Or the work schedule? Or being treated like red headed step children by FFs? Or LRB can’t give a straight answer? Or just cause there are greener pastures else where.

  • A DCFD Officer

    To add to this spiraling decline in Medics, Montgomery County Fire has announced that they will hire as a lateral transfer, Firefighter Medics from DCFD that have under 5 years on the job. But wait……They will bring their current salary, step, as well as annual & sick leave. Going from a 25 year retirement to a 20 year retirement. Who wouldn’t do that?! There is about to be a mass exodus. I personally know a DCFD FF Medic that had a BFC from Montgomery County come knocking on their door asking them to apply. Wow…..they are wanted and cared for in Montgomery?! Definitely different than in DC, where they are crapped on 24/7. In addition, all EMT-I’s must become Paramedics in DC or they will be dropped down to EMT-B’s. This is voluntary though. How many do you think are going to do it? The answer is NONE. There isn’t a Medic on the job in DC now that is happy. To wrap this up……things are terrible in DCFD right now. Anybody that has been around the system for 20-35 years will tell you this is the worst it’s ever been. Because of one person, Ellerbe. He is the most vindictive, evil person to have ever held that rank. You will never be able to Google his name and find one positive article about him. So……if you think the department is in turmoil now and about to implode, buckle up, it’s about to be one hell of a ride. The number of Medics that have already left because of Ellerbe is nothing compared to the way it will be a year from now. As a current officer in DC, I just sit back and listen to the band play on deck (Ellerbe) while the Titanic (DCFD) quickly sinks. Stay safe brothers and keep your head above water. Terrible storms are on the horizon.

  • ThatGuy

    The Chief in DC is simply a homegrown terrorist….

  • Anonymous

    Well 1st I have no dog in this fight but if u are going to put up stats please have the facts the city of Boston at peak times has 19 basic units and 5 ALS so there for that’s more than DC with from what I see is only 14 total Boston has a total of 24 ambos on the street DC doesn’t have enough reserve ambos to cover 1 if it breaks down so let’s see DC depends on medic eng co Boston has them but they are a suplament not a nessicity so please look up facts before u post I’m not trying to start a war but when u talk like that in no way are u pro union just a other example of union busting and no u don’t have to agree with the union 100% but you keep your mouth shut in the public about the union weather u are a part of that local or not

    • uptown saturday nite

      U have lost ur f@@king mind my friend….the union is fair game just like the chief. U can be pro-union and not like the leadership…or the direction that it is going in.

      So get the f’k out of here with that….I certainly do not like the approach that the union is taking….and so do alot of people. That’s one of the reasons why some didn’t show up for the no confidence vote.

      Oh and btw i’m a democrat….remember republicans are into union busting…..I just disagree with who is leading it…but I’m for unions all the way when they are led right.

  • it must be christmas

    I never said I disliked Ed Smith, outside of union activities I really don’t know him. But I dislike his relentless defending of knuckle heads who dont fly right.

    When was the last time we sent officers down the training school for fire officers class?….how about none the previous admins.

    How about everyone is getting a fair share of overtime now since a deputy aide and telestaff officer were dethroned.

    What about a multitude of captains are given the opportunity to SHINE! now….where as they wudn’t had the opportunity in the past to act.

    We have winter coats…well some of us….and thats more than we can say a few years back.

    What about transfers no one has a monopoly on where they get assign to anymore. Oh and my favorite is discipline….everyone who have been discipline during this admin deserved it….there where no stacking the deck.

    And why do u keep saying Ed Smith was retaliated against…cuz a panel said so….did they understand that members are subject to transfers anytime. Or did they know that transfers are a tradition for punishment within dcfd. The arbitration cud have went the other way and u wud’ve said it was still retaliation.

    As I said before mayor V. is backing his man becuz he’s been around this city for along time….a finally someone has their eyes open. He knows the internal workings of this department how lopsided it has been for years.

    You ask about some of the things the cheif has done I pointed out several that are morale boosters. Yeah we could use some apparatus just like we needed it for the past 20yrs or so.

    Nothing is perfect by no ones assessment…..but I like how he’s cleaning up the rougish behavior. Lets be real about it if the chief just let u do what u want…the union wudn’t have nothing to say.

    I like his discipline approach….if I mess up I expect to be punished just like anyone else.But I don’t go around doing dumb sh@t. I survived the last regime…never had to type for anything….and I will survive this one as well.

    So keep on riding the unions jock….cuz I don’t have no faith in him. Btw I think the union pres. for the EMS workers wud make a better representative than what we got. He’s compelling and very articulate. I see it’s catching on…more and more guys are sharing their disappointment and disagree with some of u here.

    They are tired of your sh@t…u know it…they are growing and will continue to spawn.

    • Pipeman27

      You’re an idiot, shut your mouth, cuz

  • Lichmi Ashe

    Hey Anonymous, Perhaps learning proper grammar, punctuation, spelling and sentence structure would be a good start for you. If you are in the fire service, how do you survive, better still, how did you even get on the job? Are you functionally illiterate?

  • 1dctaxpayer

    Thank god it must be christmas says, never had to type a special report. I will leave it it that.

    • mac

      He’s probably had to type several.

  • watchdogdc

    Lets take a look at some information from todays council hearing. Chief Ellerbe made the statement that he is going to continue to hire Paramedics which is a lie he cant continue to do something he has failed to do in the first place there has been no effort on the part Chief Ellerbe to replace any of the Paramedics that have left the agency. The other thing that Chief Ellerbe admitted to was not filling current vacancies because of his proposed plans to adjust the staffing model which is a collective bargaining issue so that may not happen. So in reality Chief Ellerbe has taken it upon himself to play roulette with the lives of the people he is sworn to serve. He has placed the agency in a dire staffing crisis base on his plan to move to a three platoon system which again may or may not happen. In the event this does not happen he has put the agency and the citizens in a crisis position that will take years to correct. I don’t believe this type of management technique is taught in any credible management course. The other thing that was interesting was the statement made by Mr. Wells related to the fully funded budget of the Fire and EMS Department which currently is funding the four platoon rotating schedule that is in place and at no time has the council made moves to reduce that budget the only thing the council has harped on was reducing overtime cost which can be done by filling the existing 180 to 200 vacant position the Fire Chief Refuses to fill in an effort to push his own agenda. The statement about the number of down graded Advanced Life Support Units may also be a little conservative just yesterday while the Chief was testifying in front of the council there were 8 downgraded ALS Units and 2 down graded paramedic engine companies which is more the daily norm than not and these numbers will continue to rise as more medics leave the system. With the budget being fully funded to support the current system in place the Chief Should be mandated to fill vacancies immediately regardless of what his plans are for the future. Remember his plan for an overall shift change may not happen and if it doesn’t the citizens are in for a poorly equipped poorly staffed Fire Department to serve them all due to total mis management by Chief Kenneth Ellerbe with the support of Deputy Mayor Quander and Mayor Vincent Gray who are all part of his ill minded schemes. I do agree 100% with the statement made by Mr. Paparillo during the hearing that for positive change to take place in the agency and immediate change at the to is needed now.

  • JustTheFacts436

    Ventricular fibrillation has to be shocked within 2 minutes to get a 40% survival rate. Beyond 2 minutes, save rates drop to 20% and lower. 911 is a total joke. Is there any FD anywhere that can get out the station doors in under 2 minutes?

  • uptown saturday nite

    @ just the facts,

    Your question regarding can a FD get out the door in under 2mins. The answer is simple….we get out the door in about 10-15 secs. on a box….so theres your answer

    @ justthefacts436

    The mayor is backing the deputy mayor….the deputy mayor is backing the fire chief. I think the problem is you all….you think you have a knack for running this department. I have more of a stake in this department being ran efficiently besides getting a raise.

    I want the city to prosper first and foremost, than the fire department. Because i’m not given lip service as some on here and those testifying. Change is coming and we need to be ready to embrace it. Mr. Smith and Chief Ellerbe find a common ground so that we can move forward to improve the department plz.


      we need to embrace jack squat you moron….the change you speak of is not for the good of the department….if you believe so, elaborate more or just STFU…..if you’re going to advocate for something, at least explain why

      • uptown saturday nite


        you are in no place to talk or call anyone anything…you can barely keep your job. The only reason the peanut gallery doesn’t attack you is becuz your speaking their language.

        You don’t have a stake here or anywhere…becuz your not in a position to run nothing. The change of schedule may not be conducive for many, but if its for the good of the city than so be it.

        You along with your cohurts have single handed mess things up for everybody. You think all this BS that you all are putting out is working. Its already started to backfire and you don’t even realize it you dumb f@$ks.

        As for those of you who are afraid to back your chief,let me say this. When he is gone…which won’t be soon….if your scared of being transferred or put on day work….if that’s all they got..than you have nothing to worry about.

        Only they fear being transferred or put on day work cuz they travel 1,000 miles to work. That’s not our problem you chose to work far away from your home. You think this job and city owe you everything…wrong again this job doesn’t owe you anything regarding your travel.

        Pre-maddonas is what you are, selfish and unappreciative. I don’t want anyone to lose there job except you hook…your gonna talk yourself right out a job. Your poison,a disease,like the bubonic plague. Its just a matter of time…you can’t seem to peer through the smoke and recognize whats on the other side.

  • WheresMyBaseball?

    Uptown — if you think that any human is going to jump and run to the firetrucks / ambulances in 15 seconds 15 times a day without having a heart-attack, you’re living in a dream world.

    And if you think that kind of engaged employee behavior is going to come under Ellerbe’s autocratic, divisive, nit-picking, retaliatory, opaque leadership, you’re way off base. Hiring only minority city residents (aka cadets) isn’t going to solve it either. They’re no better (or worse) than the regular hires, even though they “have more of a stake”. I”ve seen plenty of city residents “with a stake” who were absolutely unprofessional in the discharge of their duties, and generally incompetent at all aspects of their jobs. I’ve seen plenty of Pennsylvanians who were competent, professional, caring, respectful, and even fast at getting out for medical calls.

    Discrimination based on residence is just as wrong as race-based discrimination, and just as detrimental to a workforce.

    The fact that Kenneth Ellerbe has witheld hiring additional ALS, in anticipation of his shift change, has killed DC residents.

    • uptown saturday nite

      @ baseball bat,

      heres the problem…if we ran 15 boxes no one wud have anything to say. Why? because that’s what you really get satisfaction out of. Most of the boxes that we run are just as much bs as the medicals.

      How come no one complain of the bs boxes we run?. I never heard a ff talk about the countless boxes that turn out to be nothing. In actuality that’s worst, because you just got all ampt up for nothing. So yes we will continue to get on the piece in 60 secs. which is plenty of time….you can thank your fellow brothers for bringing that change.

      I’m not with you guys who turned your back on our chief….you should’ve handled it differently. I like going against the current….I can stand on my own convictions…don’t need the gallery to feel empowered.

  • sharkmedic DE

    I applied to DCFD twice over the last 2 years. I am a NREMT-Paramedic and have over 10 years in high call volume systems. I currently work on an ALS QRV chase unit in DE.

    I meet/exceed all posted minimums and have yet to even get a preliminary phone call. I know I am not a dirt bag and I know how to run a call……what gives? Other paramedics I know have applied also….no phone call either

    I really don’t believe that the DCFD upper admin wants to hire paramedics a lot of smoke and mirrors

    • anonymous

      unless you commute from DC to your job in DE you have your answer

    • Ron Stuart

      Please call our union hall and see if you can use this info as testimony at next council hearing. 2026358500 Talk to Sgt Paparillo.

  • 19262007

    They don’t want ANYONE to commute in. In all my time on the job I have NEVER had anyone ask me where I lived when we arrived on the emergency, they were just happy we showed up to help. In fact, when I was required to live in town I NEVER had anyone ask where I lived either. If you show up to help, people don’t give half a $hit where you live or what color you are. Too bad DC politicians and their hand puppet appointees don’t see it that way.

  • uptown saturday nite

    @ baseball bat,

    If you keep yourself in shape…which a lot of members don’t…than running to the piece 20 times wudn’t be nothing.
    I do agree with you on discriminating towards people who don’t live here is wrong. One thing for sure is…I bet a bunch of city folk cudn’t go up to pennsyltucky n large numbers and get jobs from the locals…i’m just saying

  • 19262007

    Nearly 200 vacancies in the department. The chief and mayor want to hire city residents, THEN FREAKEN DO IT ALREADY. Nah, we got a better scheme to just get rid of the vacancies as well as a $hit ton of money in the bank to do it, that’s real Rhodes Scholarship management right there. WTF


    They hate Ellerbe. Most of the firefighters who go against him really do not care about the DC residents. White or Black. They hate running medical calls. The only reason they are fighting the shift change is because they find it a inconvenience for them to have to travel to work 6 days in row from other states such as pennsylvania, New Jersey, Southern Maryland and deep into Virginia. I hear them complain all the time about how that would be a pain in a ass. Most people only work here for the 24/72 schedule and the history of fires this city has. now its more of a EMS department and they are pissed. I feel the shift change will work for the city and the residents. It will also weed out the employees who dont do this job from there heart.

  • 19262007

    Please explain how 3-3-3 will work for the residents. 24-72 works too, either way the citizens are served 24-7. I’ll be the first to admit our current shift is the best thing around, but if the city wants to change shifts, I don’t care, 3-3-3, 12 hour shifts, 8 hour shifts, 4.5 hour shifts, whatever. What I do care about is that the administration wants to increase our hours and not compensate us for it, and if that appears to make me not care about the city, so be it, but I think nearly 30 years of faithful, loyal service says otherwise.