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There are two stories on problems in the DC Fire & EMS Department that will probably lead you to ask “Really?”. The first one, in the video above from WJLA-TV/ABC 7 and printed below is about Medic 1. Medic 1 was on one of its regular assignments protecting the President of the United States and ran out of fuel while part of the official motorcade.
The second story from Peter Hermann at The Washington Post was about a paramedic shortage over the weekend which forced nine of 14 ALS units to be downgraded to BLS and five Paramedic Engine Companies to operate without medics. The PIO for the department blames too many people calling in sick and IAFF Local 36 points to the department’s failure to hire medics. But, to me, the real news in the story is this statement from the department’s spokesman:
“Trying to fill holes unexpectedly is never something you plan for,” said Timothy Wilson, spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.
I know I haven’t been involved in providing fire or EMS services for a very long time, but I thought that’s exactly what you are supposed to plan for when dealing with the safety of the public. Maybe if this is now the guiding principal for the department’s operations we shouldn’t be surprised that Medic 1’s fuel tank was empty.
As President Obama travels to and from the White House in his motorcade, the number one concern is keeping him safe. A critical constant is a DC Fire and EMS ambulance, typically Medic 1, that trails behind in the event of a medical emergency.
But on August 8, as the President and First Lady were leaving the White House to celebrate Mr. Obama’s 52nd birthday at the restaurant Rasika in West End, Medic 1 ran out of gas.
Fire officials confirm that the vehicle was towed away and is now being repaired off-site. Fire officials say that as per policy, the crew should have but did not fill up the tank that day. Sources say the bigger issue is that the vehicle’s fuel gauge had been broken for months and not been repaired.
For months, D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells has been critical of the fire department for not quickly addressing a fleet in despair. He says all District residents, including those in the White House, deserve better:
“This is just an example that highlights the fact that we are not where we need to be.”
According to the official Press Pool report, the motorcade left the White House around 6:40 p.m. A fire department spokesperson says another ambulance, Medic 7, was dispatched and arrived at the White House at approximately 6:59 p.m. – nearly 20 minutes later.
But by then, the motorcade was long gone as the restaurant is only a couple of miles away.
What we also know according to a video is that when the motorcade left Rasika, Medic 7 was parked off to the left. Multiple sources familiar with protocol say since Medic 7 was not in the motorcade, it likely had not gone through a security sweep and therefore could not have been used by the president anyway if something had happened.
There are plenty of D.C. residents who can’t believe that something as simple as not fueling up could potentially jeopardize the First Family’s safety.
The sources said the operator of Medic 1 indicated that the fuel gauge was broken and the driver was uncertain how much gas was in the vehicle. They also said the operator previously documented the problem.
Mr. (Spokesman Timothy) Wilson said an internal investigation is underway to determine whether the vehicle was properly fueled.
“To my knowledge, prior to this incident there was no report of any problem with the fuel gauge,” he said. “If there was, no operator prior to this had reported that.”
D.C. Firefighters Association President Ed Smith confirmed the report and said it was also his understanding that the ambulance operator blamed a faulty fuel gauge. He said the incident, coming on the heels of a series of high-profile problems with the city’s ambulances, are making the department a “national embarrassment.”