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UPDATED – More apparatus & staffing issues in DC: Audit confirms major fleet problems. Council member’s visit to 911 center confirms ambo shortage. Mayor & chief say it’s out of context.

DC Breaking Local News Weather Sports FOX 5 WTTG

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Andrew Mollenbeck, WTOP Radio:

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.

Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/Fox 5:

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.

WJLA-TV/ABC7:

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.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Pipeman27

    If its such a concern to you Mr Wells, do something about it. Until you do, stop wasting our time with empty words. The citizens of DC, and the hard working men and women of DCFD deserve much better than the crap running this department. This is the nations capital, hire someone who can handle it.

    • DCClownShow

      Wells will only care when his name appears on the lawsuit that is filed by some poor family who just happened to lose a loved one and no ambulance is available. You have been warned of this purposeful and wanton neglect of the department and have thus REFUSED to take any action, therefor you are potentially liable as well.

      When Well’s only defense is that “I asked for an increase in monthly reports from the chief” some judge will find that to be not enough when your JOB is to ensure the safety and well being of anyone in the direct path of this man-made crapstorm called Ellerbe’s FEMS.

  • FLFF

    Wow! Hard hitting journalism on the part of ABC7.

  • putthetapin

    “…a little frustrating.” That’s quite an understatement.

    Maybe if Mr. Mendelson had been paying attention to something other than overtime, he could have seen through the lies.
    The mayor, his deputy, and his fire chief have not lived up to their oath of office. The citizens of our nations capitol have been cheated. They are nor receiving the protection they have paid for.
    The petty tyrant is working his own agenda. A blind person can see that. Maintaining the highest level of protection to the customers does not seem to be on that list.
    This won’t look good on a resume.
    Hopefully, he can be stopped before all the wheels fall off.

  • 1dctaxpayer

    Well at least we all have nice uniforms, and the shop is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week. What they do at the shop is anyones guess! cause it aint fixen apparatus.O and now we can wear beards in 100degree weather, I would rather wear a tee shirt, but that would make sense. stay strong its almost over D.C.F.D.

  • fmch

    Well, LRB will claim this is due to racism and, he will still be the chief. Hang in there brothers, LRB will be gone sooner or later.

  • ukfbbuff

    Looks like Ellerbe has been found out that “Phantom” Fire and EMS equipment can’t really be counted and utilized.

    Maybe the City Council will get their “mud” together and send Ellerbe his much needed “Pink Slip”.

  • Anonymous

    It’s too late if they brought apparatus today, it would still take at least 2 years to get here. All of the medics are leaving, another 15 or so leaving in a few weeks. They have more than enough money to provide the department with everything it’s needs to operate efficiently, but we get treated like we’re in Detroit. People are dying everyday due to the lack of mismanagement of Ellerbee, and nobody cares! However when the wheel stops on somebody important, then it will be a problem, and they will try to blame the men. It’s only a matter of time before the horse shoe falls out. I blame the Mayor, the deputy Mayor, the chief, and the council! The chief has been caught in lie after lie, and they do nothing about it. Ethics pledge ha! Yeah ok!

  • mark

    I realize this is wasted monitor ink, but wouldn’t it behoove the commission to determine why their chief can’t count, or if he can count (should be a simple test) why he lied to them.

    That right there should be enough to get rid of this jackwagon. I know, it’s gov’t, so nothing will happen.

  • the ear

    How long before this poor excuse for a chief is told to leave. This clown with his online degree continues to destroy a first class fire department. He couldn’t manage a one man pay toilet.
    Vinnie you better clean house quickly.

  • Barney Miller

    Mr. Wells,

    I was impressed that you went to OUC to ‘monitor’ the situation.

    PLEASE NOTE* This was a rainy Monday morning, ten days after the 1st of the month. This was a day that was light comparatively. Your astonishment will be ten fold in the entire first week of July and again Thursday August 1st at 4pm or all day Friday August 2. Prepare to hear “no transport available”

    If he followed the “guide” for hiring and apparatus replacement the prior Fire Chief had implemented and left behind, we would be set right now, not having any of these issues. Instead he scrapped every inch of the progress before him possibly because he believed he was far smarter than anyone.

    Currently there are 16 ladder companies in the city and 18 total trucks in the fleet. Two ladder trucks are broken (15,3)what will we do if another one, two or three breaks down?

    Typically assistants, deputies and battalions do near thirty years of service before retiring. Why do you have so many vacancies in these areas? Good managers embrace the knowledge and depth of their subordinates. Good subordinates tolerate bad managers for so long before they can not take any more.

    Sir, you have a head of steam right now, to stop the mismanagement and the disregard for the strength of an institution that has always loved and given back to the city, because WE ARE THE CITY. The men and women of the DCFD will always do their best FOR ANYONE WHO CALLS US. Please give us the best you can.

  • HOOKMAN

    Sadly, the DC Council cannot remove the incompetent and inept individual. What they can do is hold countless Public Safety hearings where the end result is to continue to give the same incompetent and inept person more chances to get it right..There’s not too many jobs I can think of, where an individual is afforded continous opportunities to figure their job out and at the same time, are given praise by the boss man for doing an outstanding job…so as long as Uncle Vinny is at the helm, boy wonder and his sack coat will be here and continue to destroy this great department…stay classy boy wonder…oh and the same for your pet midget…

  • Anonymous

    It would seem Ellerbee is still up to his old incompertence. Lying cover up and excuses, that are not believed. Then there is Quander he seems to have ignored the reality of Public Safety. For someone in a Deputy Mayor Position to oversee and guarantee the best level of Public Safety Emergency Response is always in place. Quander is a miserable excuse for any management Level Job. He doesnot know the difference between a Medic Unit or a Milk Truck. Ellerbee where are Your PRIORITIES? Paramedics resigning, unstaffed EMS vehicles.
    Ellerbee, you to know everything that hasnot happened, or isnot happening is on your watch. One of these days Ellerbee you are going to be in such a postion that there is no way out
    Your only proper oprion will be RESIGN. How can you look yourself in the Mirror and even think yoiu are a Fire Chief?
    Your continued avoiding the Primary Issues at hand, that need to be a PRIORITY will come back to face you. Your words and excuses willnot work anymore. “WHAT GOES AROUNS COMES AROUND”

    • HotTinRoof

      I think they all know they will be out of a job soon- Quander, who should have never been here in the first place, the “PIO” whatever he does… and Ellerbe. Amazing how he came and ruined the department and then will go somewhere else and be afforded a job, not because he is qualified, but because of what he is and all of his college- however his expertise is lying to the public and buttering up to the mayor. Shouldn’t be long before he is gone. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass chief Ellerbe, you total failure.

  • DC Fire Capt

    LRB has proven his inability to lead this great organization and Vinnie turns his head the other was time after time. LRB is too scared that a lower ranked officer will show him up, but that officer could make him shine if he was to see the big picture.
    This should be enough proof that the DCFD does not have the resources to handle an attack from a terrorist or MCI. Ed Smith stated a long while back that it would take about 1 year to have new apparatus delivered.
    I wish that Mr Wells had the kahunas to hold LRB accountable. However, he is merely a politician and will only do what is best for him.
    History will continue to repeat itself because the leaders refuse to learn from it……

  • Anonymous

    And again he’s lying. How many times do you here no units available? 21 PECs ? Where? With what medics? They’re all basic eng co’s now. How long will they continue to let him mismanage the dept, lie to the council, and place not only the citizens who live, work, and visit here, but the public servants of this city. Police and fire. What if God forbid that had been the MPD officer who was being transported in M-19 when it broke down? Ellerbee is a danger, it’s just a matter of time before the wrong person dies, and he can no longer lie about it,or sweep it under the rug. I also hear there’s a recording floating around of a certain individuals racist remarks at a certain firehouse very recently. Can’t wait until that shoe drops, and that person has to answer for his remarks.

  • Paul Etter

    LOL it is kinda pathetic article since we always hear the dispatchers tell the engine company “standby for the ambulance one when be sent when it comes available” This is heard every day!!!! 3 ambulances in service? big deal, IT IS NOT UNCOMMON FOR THERE TO BE ZERO AMBULANCES AVAILABLE!!! Please get rid of this fire chief!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Seven paramedic engines out of service as I’m reading this.

    And how exactly does an unstaffed reserve ambulance respond?

  • Anonymous

    What’s really sad is that this has been happening for the past 30 years.

  • Anonymous

    So the fire chief of a city dept sees not one unit being available at 10:30 in the morning as a non issue? And where are the bodies coming from to staff these so called reserve units he speaks of? The #s are so short in the street that people are being forced to work 36 hours because there’s no one to relieve them on the regular peices of in service equipment .why do they let him continue to run the dept into the ground?

  • Anonymous

    It’s been said before…the Mayor is the only one who can remove him from office. That’s not going to happen because they’ve been lifelong friends.

    Ellerbone is going to keep on pushing his 3-3-3 shift as a way to cure the manning issue. You will see no positive changes from this administration because it isn’t possible from an educated moron.