A little after noon today DC Fire & EMS Department Communications Director Lon Walls sent out a notification to the news media of a 2:00 press conference to discuss recent major EMS issues saying, “Kenneth B. Ellerbe, and other public officials will hold a press briefing in front of the Department’s headquarters.” But it turned out that Chief Ellerbe was not among the scheduled speakers. He spoke only when reporters made an issue of the fact that Chief Ellerbe was just standing in the background and hadn’t said anything.
As you will see below, WUSA-TV reporter Kristin Fisher used the word “bizarre” to describe the press conference. Having watched the whole thing live on News Channel 8, I would say Kristin’s description is probably accurate. It wasn’t just Chief Ellerbe’s diminished role at the briefing. There was the “system worked” comment from Dr. David Miramontes, an assistant chief and the department’s medical director that you knew as you heard it would be one of the headlines of the day. And then there was the image of both the chief and the doctor wearing sunglasses in front of the TV cameras. There were so many basic rules of PR/Media Relations 101 violated by today’s event and the entire week that if someone in DC attending EMS Today was paying attention they would have enough material to teach a whole class on just this for next year’s convention.
On the plus side, Deputy Mayor Paul Quander and Deputy Fire Chief Demetrios Vlassopoulos both did a nice and clear job of defending the decision of the crew of Engine 33 to scoop up a stroke victim last night and make a run for the hospital rather than wait for an ambulance that wasn’t going to make it to the scene anytime soon. Quander was also very clear in his promise that “everyone will be held accountable” from the front lines to management in the investigation of why so many ambulances were unavailable Tuesday evening when a police officer was struck on his motorcycle.
In addition to the evening TV news reports I’ve posted, here is some other coverage of the press conference: Fire Department Puts on Its Brave Face, Alan Suderman, Washington City Paper; D.C. to keep 2 ambulances on standby, Kristi King, WTOP Radio; DC officials review if ambulances were inappropriately out of service when officer was hurt, AP, The Washington Post;
It took three days, but the District’s fire chief finally addressed why an injured police officer had to wait almost twenty minutes for an ambulance Tuesday night. That officer is still in the hospital in serious condition after being hit by a car while stopped on his motorcycle.The remarks came during a bizarre press conference Friday afternoon. It was held at the fire departments headquarters, so you would expect the fire chief to do most of the talking. But that wasn’t the case. Chief Kenneth Ellerbe didn’t say a word until the end of the press conference when a WUSA9 reporter asked him to address his department’s response time Tuesday night.“I tell you our department responded as best it could,” said Chief Ellerbe.One of his Assistant Fire Chiefs went so far as to say, “Tuesday, the system worked.”
Edward Smith, the president of city’s firefighters union, disagrees.
“There was a delay of 8 minutes calling for mutual aid from Prince George’s County. Communications should have known right off the bat that there were no units available and that mutual aid was necessary,” said Smith.
To make matters worse, a stroke patient in Southeast had to be rushed to the hospital Thursday night on a fire truck. The closest ambulance was seven miles away.
“The reason an ambulance was selected seven miles away was not because we had numerous units out of service or broken. They were just running a lot of calls yesterday during rush hour because that’s when the demand peaked,” said Gerald Coles, Acting Assistant Fire Chief for Operations for DC Fire and EMS.
In an effort to ease the demand, the fire department announced Friday an EMS Redeployment Plan, which would keep two ambulances on standby at all times.
“The plan was implemented starting yesterday,” said Chief Ellerbe.
The Chief says they’ve been working on the plan for months, and that the timing is just a coincidence. But Smith says this is the first he’s ever heard about it and that the timing is highly questionable.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but two ambulances is not enough,” said Smith.The District’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, Paul Quander, has launched an investigation into Tuesday’s nights lengthy response time.
“If there is responsibility at management, at supervision, or at the lowest level, everyone will be held accountable,” said Quander.Quander says there’s also reason to believe that the person who hit the officer did so deliberately. Three people have already been arrested and charged in the hit and run, but more charges could be coming. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier declined to talk about the case, except to say that her officer has a long recovery ahead.
District officials are defending a decision to transport a 79-year-old stroke victim to the hospital on a fire truck.
The Deputy Mayor for Public Safety says there were so many calls for service Thursday night, there were no ambulances available east of the Anacostia River.
It is a fact that does not sit well with the man’s family.
D.C. fire officials say there were plenty of ambulances to meet demand in the city until about 4:30 p.m. Thursday when 911 was overwhelmed with calls for help.
Every ambulance was in service and assigned when Ida Sheppard called to say her husband was having a stroke. A paramedic was on the scene within three minutes, but the closest ambulance was over seven miles away.
Just after 5 p.m., Sheppard called 911 to say her husband, Morrison, was in distress and needed help right away.
A few minutes later, Engine 33, which happens to be just down the street from where the Sheppards live on Atlantic Street, was in front of the house and a paramedic inside.
“They said he needs to be taken to the hospital right away,” said Ida Sheppard in an interview Friday. “We are going to take him to GW because they have a stroke unit.”
Sheppard says she was fine with that and watched as the firefighters loaded her husband into the engine.
“They had to carry him out in their arms … He couldn’t walk,” she said.
Sheppard praised the care the crew on Engine 33 gave her husband, but she finds it upsetting an ambulance was unavailable.
“I would like the mayor to know there was no ambulance,” said Sheppard. “I planned on calling him … It shouldn’t happen here in Ward 8 where we are paying income taxes and real estate taxes.”
At a Friday afternoon news conference, city officials had nothing but praise for the firefighters on Engine 33.
“We had no units out of service (for) mechanical (reasons) yesterday,” said Deputy Fire Chief Demetrios Vlassopoulos. “No transport units, ambulances or medic units. They were all serving the citizens. They were all meeting the 911 demand. This incident yesterday was a good decision by the firefighter paramedic on the scene.”
At the same news conference, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety says he was still trying to determine why there were no ambulances available earlier this week to assist a D.C. police officer seriously injured in a hit-and-run.
Tommy Wells, the head of the D.C. city council’s Judiciary Committee, says he has told the deputy mayor and the fire chief he wants answers.
“I want to know exactly what is going on,” said Wells. “Do we have a staffing shortage? Do we have a problem with not enough ambulances? So I will give the administration two weeks to do a full search, report, investigation so we can get to the bottom of it.”
Wells says he will then hold an oversight hearing in hopes of getting the issue resolved.
The deputy mayor also said Friday the fire department has put into place a plan that will hold two ambulances in reserve every shift so if one breaks down, the crew will go to the backup.
Ida Sheppard says her husband is in stable condition and resting.
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