There is outrage in the District over an elderly woman’s long wait for an ambulance that never came. Instead, the unconscious 90-year-old was loaded into the cab of an engine Tuesday afternoon and rushed to a nearby hospital.
D.C. Fire and EMS first blamed the wait on a dispatch foul-up before pointing a finger at unidentified Fire and EMS personnel.
At 2:17 p.m., the 911 dispatch center sent Engine 30 and Medic 21 to the 3700 block of D Street in Southeast D.C.
The 90-year-old woman who lives there was feeling faint but was conscious and alert.
According to sources familiar with the call, the paramedic on board stayed with the woman as they waited and waited and waited before a dispatcher asked for an update.
“Paramedic Engine 30, I am still showing you at 3735 D Street, Southeast,” she said.
The officer on the engine replied, “That’s affirmative. We are waiting for the ambulance.”
And that wait went on from 2:17 p.m. until 2:56 p.m. when the officer radioed in to say the patient’s condition had worsened.
“Engine 30 to communications,” he said. “Patient is unconscious at this time. We are loading her into the engine and taking her to the hospital 16.”
“It’s just a serial calamity as far as the fire department goes,” said mayoral candidate David Catania. “Why the fire department under the current fire chief and mayor haven’t been able to prioritize and get the organization in order is beyond me.”
In addition to Catania, Muriel Bowser, also a candidate for mayor, weighed in on the subject as well.
“Well, we have a level of failed leadership in the department, and poor morale has me very concerned about that,” she said. “I’m not as familiar with this issue, but I will find out more about it today.”
A neighbor who lives one floor down from the woman also reacted with anger.
“I think it’s disgraceful,” said Harriet Taylor. “It really is awful. I don’t know why this would happen.”
Sources familiar with the call say Engine 30 raced with lights and siren to the hospital where the woman was admitted.
By our count, in the last year and four months, D.C. Fire and EMS crews have taken patients to hospitals on engines and trucks five times that we know of.
Hospital records show the woman was admitted and was still there Wednesday.
We reached out to the Office of Unified Communications which handles all dispatches, and so far, there has been no response.
What follows are the two statements put out by D.C. Fire and EMS. One on Tuesday night and one at 5 p.m. Wednesday:
“The Department is aware of an incident that occurred today in the 3700 block of D St. SE. Our preliminary investigation indicates that a transport unit dispatched to the scene may have been erroneously rerouted. The error appears to have caused a significant delay which led to a patient being transported to the closest hospital by the first arriving paramedic engine company instead of an ambulance or medic unit.”
“Our review of this incident is ongoing; therefore the Department cannot provide any further comment at this time.”
“An error occurred regarding a FEMS transport unit’s availability to respond to an incident in the 3700 block of D St. SE, leading to a delay in a unit arriving on to the scene. Preliminarily, it appears that FEMS personnel mistakenly indicated that they were available to respond but in fact were not available.”
“Fortunately, an alert OUC dispatcher followed up with the paramedic engine company that was on scene and determined that a transport unit was still needed. A decision was made to immediately transport the patient to closest hospital using a fire truck.”
“It’s important to note that assistance was rendered quickly to the patient by an FEMS paramedic who remained with the patient until care was transferred to the hospital.”
“The cause of the error is still under review; no further comment can be provided at this time.”