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The District of Columbia. Population: 630,000. Available ambulances: three.
D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells, D-Ward 6, raised new concerns about the city’s emergency response capabilities after visiting the District’s 911 call center.
But D.C. Fire and EMS and the mayor’s office say his claim is out of context.
One source described it as borderline fear mongering and using skewed numbers to benefit his mayoral aspirations.
During his visit to the call center on Monday, Wells learned just three medical transport units were available at that particular moment. All of those were in Northwest.
“The prevailing issues with our fire and emergency medical services fleet readiness are of grave concern to me, the council and the public,” he said in a subsequent statement.
But the the fire department insists the claim about available ambulances overlooks its reserves and exaggerates the alarm.
At the time Wells toured the call center, 36 ambulances were either transporting patients or in the process of returning to service, according to the fire department.
“What (Wells) saw were three units that were not in the business of transporting or treating patients at that time,” says Kenneth Ellerbe, the fire chief.
But in addition to those units, numerous others can respond in the event of an emergency, he says.
Among them: six EMS supervisors, 21 paramedic engine companies and four ambulances at a reserve site.
“If the call comes out, we will be responding to calls for emergency service,” says Ellerbe.
Still, what Wells saw would trigger an alert.
When between five and 10 ambulance units are available for immediate response, an all call goes out to EMS supervisors, battalion chiefs and the fire chief himself.
Wells viewed his troubling visit in the context of other problems plaguing the department.
“Recent failures… to provide transport quickly points to gaps in accountability, fleet management and staffing,” he says.
A new audit of the D.C Fire Department’s fleet of vehicles shows a critical lack of reserve pumper and ladder trucks with just over half of the ambulances owned by the city available for service.
The audit was ordered by D.C. City Councilman Tommy Wells after FOX 5 revealed the fleet numbers given to the city council last February were false.
After taking weeks to count all of the vehicles in its fleet and determining their readiness the D.C. Fire Department now admits it doesn’t have nearly the ambulances and pumper trucks it claimed to have last February.
City Councilman Tommy Wells says there is money in the budget to purchase new vehicles but he is now more concerned with staffing.
Just before he appeared before the D.C. City Council’s Judiciary Committee last February, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and his staff told the council it had 398 vehicles in its fleet including 29 ladder trucks, 106 ambulances and 64 pumpers.
Numbers we now know were false.
In a new report obtained by FOX 5 the fire department now admits it has far fewer vehicles with many of them out of service.
In fact an audit now shows the department has available for service:
- 56 out of 96 ambulances
- 37 out of 53 pumpers
- And 18 out of 26 ladder trucks.
Those numbers concern Tommy Wells.
“I am putting a whole lot of scrutiny on the maintenance and availability of these vehicles, that’s why we got the audit report and i am going to require another audit report as they acquire and fix vehicles and I will stay on this like a laser beam, they must be accountable to the public for the vehicles they have and the vehicles they have been budgeted for”, said wells.
As chairman of the City Council’s Judiciary Committee, Wells points out the fire department has been given 18 million dollars for new equipment but has been slow to spend it.
“This is why I am putting the focus on the fire department right now we need to be assured that we have the vehicles ready and available that we need to keep the city safe”, he said.
An opinion shared by the firefighters union.
“It calls into question our ability to answer calls on a daily basis”, said union Second Vice President Dabney Hudson, “we are coming up on summertime, summers here, we had our first little heat wave the other day, it’s our busy time of the year and we run significantly more calls in the next four to five months”.
Even more concerning for Wells is the fire chief’s re-deployment plan which would put more ambulances on the street during peak afternoon and evening hours.
“They are way behind in hiring paramedics, way behind in hiring the staffing they need and that’s why I am very, very skeptical about the new staffing proposal they have”, said wells.
According to the fire department’s numbers there are currently 17 ambulances in reserve.
A number the union says should be doubled.
On Monday Morning Tommy Wells says he went to the Office of Unified Communications to listen to 911 calls and see the staffing levels for himself.
Wells says, as of 10:30 he was astounded to see only three out of 39 ambulances were available for service and all of them were in northwest.
Ongoing issues with D.C.’s emergency medical staff came to the forefront Monday after a D.C. councilman toured a district 911 call center and discovered that there were only three medical transport units available for the entire city.
Councilman Tommy Wells said in a statement Monday that the three emergency transport units were also located in NW.
This is not to say that there were no other emergency response vehicles working. During Wells’ visit to the call center at the non-peak time 10:30 a.m., 31 units were on a response call or at a hospital while five of the remaining eight ambulances weren’t available for unnamed reasons.
“This is exactly why we must take a long, hard look at the proposed ambulance redeployment plan. The prevailing issues with our Fire and EMS fleet readiness are of grave concern to me, the Council, and the public,” Wells said in a statement.
Earlier this year, D.C. Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe said nearly half of the city’s ambulances are out of service.
The city’s emergency department has been in the spotlight after an MPD officer waited for more than 20 minutes after he was injured in SE D.C.