It seems the DC Fire & EMS Department has been in the news almost constantly for the last three weeks and little of it has been good news. It has gotten to the point that today reporter WTTG-TV/ Fox5 reporter Paul Wagner confronted Mayor Vincent Gray about he leadership of Chief Kenneth Ellerbe:
Wagner: Do you still have confidence in Kenneth Ellerbe?
Mayor Gray: Yes.
Wagner: You do?
Mayor Gray: Yes
Mayor Gray: I have confidence in our fire chief, is that your answer?
As for Chief Ellerbe, he has not been making any statements about the latest incident to put the spotlight on the department, the delayed transport for a seriously injured DC police officer. The chief is letting his boss Deputy Mayor Paul Quander talk with the press about this incident. Just two weeks ago Chief Ellerbe was more vocal, putting out three statements within 24 hours that addressed what the chief saw as inaccurate reporting on different stories about the department.
But Chief Ellerbe did talk with DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier about her officer being struck Tuesday night. Lanier, whose late dad was a chief officer with Maryland’s PGFD, talked with reporters today saying, “The last thing I want to think about it, you know is, a police officer who is injured that seriously to have to wait to get transported.”
In addition to the latest stories from Channels 4, 5 and 7 this evening that we’ve posted, here are links to other recent coverage: Why So Many Broken Ambulances, Alan Suderman, Washington City Paper; Debate over D.C. fire staffing renewed after officer’s long wait for ambulance, Peter Hermann, The Washington Post; D.C. Ambulance Unavailable to Respond to Injured D.C. Police Officer, Eric Purcell, DCist.com; D.C. investigating cop’s wait for ambulance, Alan Blinder, Washington Examiner; D.C. officials to investigate why ambulance was unavailable for injured cop, Andrea Noble, The Washington Times.
The investigation into the delayed ambulance response for an injured D.C. police officer is focusing on 10 ambulance units that were out of service at the time of the call. The man in charge of the investigation told News4 he’s trying to find out why the units were unavailable and why they were all out of service so close to the end of their shifts.
The initial calls for a pedestrian down came about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night — just 30 minutes before the shift change.
“I want to make sure that in fact no one took themselves out of service without the proper authorization and especially when it came time to ending their shift early,” Deputy Mayor Paul Quander said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Thirty-nine ambulance units were on duty at the time of the accident, Quander said, and some of the 10 that were out of service had legitimate reasons for not being able to respond to the call.
“One of the things I need to find out from this internal review is what happened to 10 of the units that were not available at that critical time,” Quander said. “Some of them may have been on runs to hospitals. Some of them may have been being cleaned. There are others I need to focus on to see whether or not they took themselves out of service without authorization.”
The officer was eventually transported by a Prince George’s County ambulance with life-threatening injuries. He suffered multiple fractures to his left leg and has had two surgeries so far.
His recovery will be long, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
But it’s what happened after the collision that is now the subject of an ongoing investigation involving D.C. Fire and EMS.
The Sixth District officer, who has now been identified as Sean Hickman, broke his pelvis and one of his legs and was on the ground waiting for help for as long as eight minutes before paramedics on an engine arrived to render first aid.
The officer then waited at least 15 minutes more for an ambulance that had to come from Prince George’s County because there were no ambulances available in the District.
The long wait for an ambulance is now the subject of an investigation by the deputy mayor for public safety who says some of the ambulance crews on duty that night may have left the streets before the end of their shift.
“We had 10 medical units that were not available for service and I need to know why,” said Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander. “Some of them were on runs, some were in for cleanup after you do a run, but I’m also looking to see if some went out of service inappropriately without authorization. They may have left their shift before it was over, but these are some of the things we have to sort out.”
Officer Hickman was riding a scooter when he was hit in the intersection of 46th and A Streets in Southeast D.C.
The long wait for medical help has infuriated the police union, which is now pointing fingers at the fire chief.
“Here in the nation’s capital that we would not have an ambulance available is inexcusable and who’s to blame? The Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe is to blame,” said Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Kristopher Baumann. “This is his department and this is not the first time we have seen mismanagement with story after story of how he has been unable to make this a working department.”
Chief Ellerbe declined a request for an interview and said all questions would be answered by the deputy mayor.
“We had paramedics that arrived within eight minutes, which is well within the standard that we want,” said Deputy Mayor Quander. “What I also said is that the review will take a look at everything to see if we can improve, whether there was any impact to the officer’s care.”
On Thursday afternoon, FOX 5 asked D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray if he is concerned with the current state of emergency medical care in the city.
“With respect to the current situation, I’ve asked Paul Quander to take a look at it and he will have information and anything that will be broader than that, so let’s wait and see what he comes up with,” said Gray.
When asked if he still had confidence in the fire chief, the mayor replied “yes.”
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