“I learned that there were only 3 medical transport units available to respond to an emergency for the entire city”

Photo by PoPville flickr user ep_jhu

From Council Member Tommy Wells’ office:

This morning, Councilmember Tommy Wells, Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety took a tour and on-site review of the Office of Unified Communications.

“Earlier today, I visited the District’s 911 call center. During my visit, I learned that there were only 3 medical transport units available to respond to an emergency for the entire city – and all 3 were located in the northwest portion of the city. As I have stated previously, recent failures of Fire and EMS to provide transport quickly point to gaps in accountability, fleet management, and staffing.”

At Council hearings this year, the Fire and Emergency Medical Services (FEMS) leadership has repeatedly stated that a fleet of 39 ambulances are needed to cover the city. However, at today’s visit to the Office of Unified Communications by Councilmember Wells at 10:30 am — a non-peak time as defined by FEMS — 31 of those vehicles were on a response call or at a hospital, with 5 of the remaining 8 ambulances unavailable for various reasons and only 3 available to respond.

Adding to concerns about the city’s emergency preparedness and ability to respond to crisis, the FEMS Inventory Report, submitted to the Council on April 29th, showed that more than 40 percent of the city’s ambulances are inactive.

“This is exactly why we must take a long, hard look at the proposed ambulance redeployment plan. The prevailing issues with our Fire and EMS fleet readiness are of grave concern to me, the Council, and the public. My committee is looking into these issues in conjunction with a full report on the “Fire and Emergency Medical Services Ambulance Redeployment Act of 2013”.”

6 Comment

  • So 31 were answering calls and 3 WERE available for additional call. Seems reasonable to me…

  • So why were 5 of 8 in “unavailable” status?

    And what is the expected turn around for the 31 ambulances on a call (i.e., how long on average are they supposed to be out of service)?

    I have a suspicion that the problem here is not enough ambulances, the problem is lackadaisical EMS crews who pick up a call then spend the rest of their shift cooling their heels in an ER waiting room somewhere.

    • It’s usually in the drop-off bay at the hospitals. They just hang in there until someone from the hospital staff tells them to get out on the road and clear out the ambulance bay.

    • Could have been that the 5 unavailables needed a minor repair, or were being cleaned out/sanitized or something.

    • Wow. talk about major assumptions made by POP commenters… for those 31 units on calls, 8 units unavailable, and 3 units ready for a 911 call at any moment. I think of this as a normal day, where at any moment, there could be 20- 911 calls in the span of an hour, or none over the period of 4 hours.

      As a former EMS worker, EMTs took pride in rushing to the hospital and getting the ambulance back in service as quickly as possible to respond to the next call. Sometimes it could take some time to refill equipment used on the last job, cleaning backboards, and making sure that the ambulance is equipped to save lives on the next call. I can’t speak for the attitude of DC Fire workers, but I know that we all also have to eat and use the bathroom as well, in addition to keeping the ambulance fueled up (takes 30 minutes or longer to fill up the entire tank of an ambulance).

      Surely you would be upset if we had 60 ambulances on the road, and only half of them used at any given time, the rest napping in the back. Talk about a waste of taxpayer dollars in that scenario. Unfortunately, an agency has to strike a balance between budget and city needs. I don’t really see a serious issue. If that tour lasted 15 minutes longer, I’d like to know how many ambulances went back in service. I bet there were many….

      • Were you formerly an EMS worker in the District? I applaud your crew’s dedication, but have seen a lot of loafing on the part of the DC employees. And in recent years there are have been several egregious cases of poor response/inappropriate treatment. Not necessarily a full on pattern of incompetence, but definitely a suspicious track record. I hope that CM Wells’ presser is political grandstanding rather than a sign of problems, but I’m not willing to bet on that.

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