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More coverage: Andrea Noble, The Washington Times; Mark Segraves & Mila Mimica, WRC-TV/NBC4; Jay Korff, WJLA-TV/ABC 7.
The D.C. Fire Department’s plan to put more ambulances on the street during peak demand times has been dealt a major setback.
Tommy Wells, the chairman of the D.C. City Council’s Judiciary Committee, says in a written report he has “no confidence” the department can make it work with its current staffing and fleet.
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In the 29 page report prepared for the full Judiciary Committee, Tommy Wells uses strong language in defending his position. Saying the approval of the fire chief’s plan “could have serious consequences for public safety.”
Just after Kenneth Ellerbe took office as D.C.’s new fire chief, he and the mayor’s office came up with a plan to add ambulances during peak demand times in the afternoon and early evening.
The proposed legislation, if approved, would shift resources and take 14 medic units out of service after midnight.
But in the report to the committee, Wells says the department “failed to produce evidence or documentation supporting the number of ambulances it says are needed during peak demand times”.
“We don’t believe that the department has the ability to cover all the needs already and so we can’t support decreasing ambulance services in the district at this time”, Tommy Wells said in an interview Thursday.
In the report Wells writes, “Over the past two years, the Department has failed to adequately hire, recruit, internally train, or retain paramedics, resulting in shortages that are putting the system in crisis”.
“Unfortunately we have been sounding the alarm for two plus years now and finally getting the just recognition that it in this report”, said Firefighters Union President Ed Smith.
To bolster his position, Wells also points out the trouble the department has had in filling its scheduled shifts, writing, “Since October 1, 2012, the Department has had exactly 424 shifts. FEMS was only able to deploy all 14 scheduled (Advanced Life Support) transports in only 16 of those shifts (or) 3.7%”.
Tommy Wells says he’s troubled by the departments hiring practices and the way it’s gone about procuring new equipment.
“There is no reason to not have enough paramedics and enough staff for emergency medical services because they are fully funded for these services, already their overtime is skyrocketing and that has everything to do with not hiring enough staff”, he said.
In recent months the fire department has had to deal with embarrassing incidents in which ambulances haven’t been available for critically ill patients, including a police officer hit by a car and a man in cardiac arrest New Year’s Eve.
Outside the Wilson Building Thursday afternoon, City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson as well as judiciary committee member Jack Evans both said they agreed with Tommy Wells recommendation not to support the ambulance redeployment plan.
Mary Cheh, also a member of the judiciary committee, made it known Thursday evening she would not support the plan which means the legislation now likely dies in committee sometime Friday.