The Yiddish dictionary just found it’s new poster child for the word “chutzpah.” The classic definition of “chutzpah” has long been the story of the young man who murders his parents and then throws himself at the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan. As of yesterday (Friday), the best way to describe “chutzpah” may be to tell the story of the fire chief who consistently refused to maintain or replace his department’s emergency vehicles. Then, when tragedy strikes, because of a desperate ambulance shortage, the chief comes out of retirement to tell everyone, “I told you so.”
Yes, once again, there’s a tragic situation involving EMS in the Nation’s Capital. There were no ambulances available on Thursday when the call came in for an infant in serious distress at a Southeast Washington address. According to news coverage, a paramedic engine company arrived within four minutes of being dispatched. But DC officials already admit that, once again, it took too long (more than two minutes) for the Office of Unified Communications (OUC or 911 center) to dispatch the call.
Because the only ambulance that dispatchers found to eventually run the call was too far away, the crew from Engine 30 began transporting the child to Children’s National Medical Center in the pumper. The child was pronounced dead at the hospital. You can learn more about this incident here, here, here, and here. The videos on this page also focus on the case.
Before I get to the ambulance shortage and the former chief, it’s important to acknowledge this incident highlights a number of problems that continue to face EMS in the District of Columbia. As regular readers know, OUC has been on my radar for years, but has only recently received the attention it deserves. But the administration of Mayor Muriel Bowser has not gone far enough. They must finally get some real experts in to outline the systemic problems that keep the 911 center from dispatching priority calls promptly. The Mayor then needs to share that information publicly, along with a real plan to finally fix OUC. Somehow Mayor Bowser and company seem to keep missing this important step when talking about 911.
Let’s also not forget that 911 abuse is a significant element in all of this. This issue is well covered in the stories about the latest incident.
Then there is Mayor Bowser’s plan to keep 49 ambulances on the street during peak hours. That effort has been thwarted by a fleet of vehicles that, for years, has been insufficiently maintained and upgraded. Which now finally brings me back to our Yiddish lesson.
Yesterday, former DC Fire and EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe (or someone who has used his name, picture and company name since February) took to Twitter to address the ambulance shortage that is making news because of the latest incident:
I only became aware of this tweet because one of Chief Ellerbe’s anonymous disciples. @truthteller_007, who I’ve tangled with previously, tweeted me the following message:
I responded to both Chief Ellerbe and Mr. TruthTeller with my view of their tweets:
Chief Ellerbe quickly made it clear to TruthTeller he didn’t want to debate me on this topic:
Kenneth Ellerbe is apparently trying to rewrite history one Tweet at a time. But the actual record shows something very different about the fleet of ambulances when Ellerbe was in charge. You can find the truth about all of this by just looking up Chief Ellerbe in the STATter911.com archives. But here’s a partial summary of why the fleet is so bad today:
- Ellerbe completely ignored a transition report by former Chief Dennis Rubin that said immediate attention was needed on improving the maintenance shop and purchasing new apparatus.
- Ellerbe’s priority after taking office was to have the shop focus on changing the department seal on the entire fleet. This included ambulances and fire trucks that were ringing the maintenance shop in Southwest, broken down.
- Ellerbe provided false information to the City Council that understated how bad the situation was with the fleet.
- Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander attempted to blame problems with ambulances catching fire on sabotage by firefighters even though their own investigators reported the units caught fire due to shoddy maintenance.
In short, Kenneth Ellerbe started addressing the real problems with EMS and the fleet only when the outcry from the union, the public and the news media finally became so great it couldn’t be ignored. And when Ellerbe finally came up with his big plan to fix EMS, it was rejected by the City Council. Ellerbe’s plan was to increase the number of ambulances and medics during peak hours by robbing resources from the overnight hours.
In addition to all of this, Kenneth Ellerbe failed to hire paramedics until he was forced to do so and he attempted to reduce the number of firefighters at a time that DC was rapidly gaining population.
Whether we should call Ellerbe’s tweets “chutzpah” or just plain bullshit, the reality is his failures as chief ensured that any efforts to finally fix EMS in DC would be set back a number of years. From Ellerbe’s current view that probably isn’t a bad thing. With more tragic incidents likely to come, it allows the former chief to keep tweeting “I told you so.”
(Note to Kenneth Ellerbe: If you would like to respond to any of what I’ve written about you, here or elsewhere, I will be glad to publish it at STATter911, unedited and without comment from me.)