DC hearing shows different views on how to handle peak EMS demand & medic shortage. Chief Ellerbe has second thoughts after communications director blocks press.

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Teachable Moment of the Day: As anyone who has seen my presentations knows, I urge leaders who make controversial decisions they believe in to stand before the cameras and answer the tough questions. Running from it undermines your credibility and your decision. The sight of DC Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe making a run for the elevator after yesterday’s hearing on EMS staffing, along with his communications director giving the appearance of physically blocking the reporters and videographers, didn’t look very good.

It never looks good running from the press. Chief Ellerbe must have throught the same because he quickly changed his mind, moved Lon Walls out of the way and got off the elevator to answer the questions (check the videos above and below). It’s best to really think this strategy through ahead of time and make the right decision initially, instead of providing reporters with better video than a boring hearing. In fact, a better use of your communications director is to use their brain to anticipate and plan for these situations rather than their brawn as media blockers. Now for the news.

Paul Wagner, WTTG-TV/Fox 5:

The chairman of the D.C. City Council’s Judiciary Committee says he has “grave concerns” over the staffing of the D.C. Fire Department. And Friday questioned its ability to provide quality emergency medical care in the city.

Tommy Wells made those statements during a hearing in which the fire chief testified about his plan to redeploy ambulances during peak hours of the day.

D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe today told the city council he has “more often than not” a surplus of ambulances in the middle of the night and he wants to move them to what’s being called a power shift where they will be available to respond to a high number of calls.

But the Firefighters Union is against the plan and the chief admitted it requires a change in shifts.

Ellerbe does not have the authority to redeploy his EMS resources without the approval of the D.C. city Council.

So Friday, he tried to convince the head of the judiciary committee it could be done and needs to be done.

The unions generally agree, because of a changing city and an increased population, there is a need for additional ambulances during peak times of the day but not at the cost of leaving the middle of the night uncovered.

Under the chief’s plan no advanced life support units would work from 1 am to 7 am and the firefighter paramedics would have to move to 12 hour shifts. A move that’s very unpopular.

The chief admitted he has far exceeded his overtime budget and told the council in order to have enough paramedics to handle a shift change the union would have to agree to the plan.

Thursday night we reported the fire department has lost 53 paramedics since the chief took office and none have been replaced.

One other note, we have asked repeatedly over the last several months for a sit down interview with Chief Ellerbe. He has declined every time. So Friday was our only chance to ask him questions in public.

But instead of stopping for reporters’ questions the chief headed right for the elevator.

His handlers tried to bar us from getting in the elevator but after repeatedly asking to speak with the chief

He did come out of the elevator to take some questions. It was an acrimonious encounter to say the least.

When asked if the reason he was not hiring paramedics is that he is hoping the three shifts finally goes through Ellerbe answered, “Well, we are hopeful the three shifts goes through and hope it goes through by the end of the summer…see what happens.”

The union says paramedics are being forced to work overtime nearly every day because the department does not have the staffing.

Hatzel Vela, WJLA-TV/ABC7:

D.C.’s firefighters union and Chief Kenneth Ellerbe are at odds over a  scheduling shift for ambulance crews in the District.

Ed Smith, president of the D.C. Firefighters Assoc. Local 36,  says the changes could jeopardize lives.

Ellerbe’s plan would shift the number of paramedics. Fewer would work over  night. More would work during the day.

Smith admits there is a peak time in demand during the day, but he doesn’t  think the solution is to take away from the night shift.

“It’s gambling on people’s lives,” Smith says. “You’re going to take 14 units  off the streets from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. It’s a bad, bad idea.”

If approved, the proposal would affect advance life support paramedics.

Smith called the plan antiquated, saying some of the most violent medical  emergencies happen overnight.

“When you take 14 units off the street, out of that 39, you’re decreasing our  transport capabilities, the ability to take somebody to the hospital by 36  percent.”

He says the solution is not redeployment of staff but rather to hire more  staff, something Smith says is not happening.

“It’s tearing the department apart and the citizens and visitors are  suffering,” Smith says.

Initially, it seemed Ellerbe didn’t want to answer questions from reporters.  Then he changed his mind and addressed concerns from the union.

“We understand their concerns and we’re going to do everything we can to  accommodate them, the best way we can,” Ellerbe says.

Ellerbe was questioned over the vacancies and lack of hiring in his  department that some argue has created more tension with an already frayed  union. But he says the department will start hiring.

“A lot of our attention has been turned into the District to help reduce the  unemployment numbers here in Washington, D.C.,” Ellerbe says. “If we don’t have  qualified paramedics here in the city, then we’ll go outside the city.”

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