A DC paramedic who publicly criticized staff shortages this week says the fire department has now placed him on administrative leave.
The paramedic, Jon Botwin, wrote a letter to city council last week following the death of a 5-month-old baby girl.
In his email, a copy of which was obtained by Fox 5 News, the nine-year veteran firefighter told councilmembers “our city is in danger” because of what Botwin calls “ridiculous mis-management” of the city’s paramedic corps.
“All I can say right now is I’ve had to report to the fire chief’s office and I’ve been directed that I’m placed on administrative leave,” Botwin told us outside the Reeves Center late Thursday afternoon. “That’s all I can say at this point.”
Botwin says he was supposed to be driving Engine 26, housed on Rhode Island Ave NE until 7am Friday. He was also serving as its lone paramedic.
Botwin’s letter was written after the death of Zariah Bolden. Botwin was the first paramedic to arrive at her North Capitol Street home last Thursday afternoon; 8 minutes after dispatchers got the call.
“To tell you the truth,” says Zariah’s father, Philip Bolden, “I just wanted them to hurry.”
The two closest engine companies that day were not staffed with paramedics.
“It does raise an issue was to whether or not this is some kind of retaliation,” says Fox 5 News reporter Paul Wagner. He’s been reporting on the troubles within DC Fire and EMS for months now.
“This is something that is talked about constantly within the fire department,” Wagner says. “About the fact that there are so few paramedics in the city. And the lack of paramedics has everybody concerned that the EMS care is not up to the high quality that it should be in the city. And that’s the real concern here.”
All Botwin did was wonder aloud whether baby Zariah’s life could have been saved had the city staffed a paramedic closer to her home.
In a statement to Fox 5 News, DC Fire and EMS officials tell us they “have been contacted by the District’s privacy officer who has some very serious concerns about the letter.”
The email goes on to say “the department’s medical director has placed Firefighter Botwin on non-patient contact. He is not on administrative leave.
A paramedic who sent a letter earlier to the DC Council this week complaining that the agency is woefully understaffed has been taken off of street duty, says Ed Smith, the president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 36.
Smith says the medic, Jon Botwin, has been detailed to “day work,” meaning that he’ll be station-bound rather than riding out on emergency calls. A spokesman for the fire department says that Botwin is involved in an internal investigation, though he will not say if the letter plays a part in the inquiry. But Smith smells another conflict bubbling up between the department and its rank-and-file.
“A medic reached out doing a whistleblower act about the stress and burnout level firefighters and medics are facing, so the department pulls him off the street,” Smith tells Washingtonian.
“The thing that gets lost in people’s complaints or criticisms is that we are fully staffed with the number of FTEs that we’re actually allotted from a budget perspective,” says department spokesman Tim Wilson. “By and large, the complaints about staffing is an inaccurate complaint.”
As for the report of Botwin being removed from ambulance duty, though, Wilson declines to comment. “It’s a matter that’s being investigated internally and the department won’t issue a comment,” he says. “It may have to do with the letter.”
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