“8 minutes isn’t a short amount of time when we’re talking about an emergency – especially a life threatening one.”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Eric P.

“Dear Popville,

This evening (Sunday, July 12th) I heard an ambulance coming down the 1400 block of Quincy Street NW (where Lyman’s Tavern is now located). This was surprising considering it is a quasi-dead end that turns into an alley way behind some co-ops and between Rock Creek Park. The ambulance passed the point of no return and went into the alley, which is a clear difference from the street as its cement and poorly maintained (as if the streets aren’t as well). The ambulance got all the way to the end where there is a sharp left turn that would bring you out to Spring Road NW and it stopped. The driver threw it into reverse and what ensued was 8 minutes of the ambulance backing down the alley – all the way back to Quincy street, then backing down Quincy because cars are on both sides until it came to the alley right behind Lyman’s, turned around, turned its light and siren back on and kept on its merry way to the emergency call.

The entire time I kept thinking, surely they radioed back to central control to let them know they were delayed and another ambulance should be dispatched. However, once I heard the sirens being turned back on and heard them turn onto 14th Street and then onto Spring Road I was flabbergasted that whomever was waiting for the emergency services just had their wait time extended due to incompetence.

While I personally have no idea what navigation system DC Fire and EMS use to get them to their location, the driver should have realized that once they saw the alley it was a stupid idea to continue all the way to the end – alleys never leave much room for regular sized vehicles much less an ambulance. Additionally, if they were a ambulance stationed at the Columbia Heights station (which I cannot say if they were or not) they should be somewhat familiar with the area and know that this street turns into an alley.

I’m just amazed that this occurred and that another ambulance was not dispatched to assist the person(s) waiting. 8 minutes isn’t a short amount of time when we’re talking about an emergency – especially a life threatening one. Shame on the EMS personnel in this ambulance for A. not having realized where they were going and B. not having radioed in that they would not be able to answer this call due to a delay. Although, I cannot say if they radioed back – in which case if they had, shame on central dispatch for not having another ambulance attend to the emergency.

I’m all shamed out. Just wanted to share this experience…”

19 Comment

  • Personally, I’m not about to shame any first responder until I know EXACTLY what happened.

    • Exactly. It is SO easy for anyone to stand in judgment without knowing the full facts. You never know, they could have been on a call and needed to go down the alley for whatever reason, this call got cancelled, and then they were called on something else. It may seem far fetched, but it’s entirely possible.

    • +1. We have no clue what actually happened. Perhaps they did exactly what OP suggested (calling for another unit), and were immediately dispatched on a completely different call. Nothing but love for DC Fire and EMS unless proven otherwise.

      • Agree. This is kind of a ridiculous account of what did or didn’t happen. I see ambulances navigate through insane traffic on a regular basis. I’m always amazed and thankful for their driving skills. There are so many different things that could have been going on with this ambulance driver.

    • Emmaleigh504

      + a billion. There are so many things the lay person does not know about EMS responses.

    • it’s funny how people actually acknowledge they don’t know all the facts and will withhold judgment. But put a post up here from a cyclist who was wronged by a vehicle driver, and no one tempers their rage because they only have half the story.

  • Wow, this assumes so many facts not in evidence.

  • Eight minutes of dicking around is a long time, regardless of any other assumptions the poster makes. If this one ambulance continued to be assigned to a particular call that entire time, it’s time wasted and pretty horrifying.

  • So..

    You don’t know what the dispatch was for
    You don’t know what priority the call was
    You don’t know where the ambulance was going to
    You don’t know if another vehicle was blocking the alley after the turn
    You don’t know if the ambulance could fit down there
    You don’t know what station they were responding from
    You don’t know what the conversation with dispatch was
    You don’t know if another ambulance was called
    You don’t know if this was rerouted to another call

  • As a former EMT I second the comments above — we just don’t have enough information to know what that series of events meant. I understand and appreciate the concern about getting to the scene in a timely fashion, but urban environments can be unpredictable.

  • Well I have a decent shaming story, for those in the pitchfork rage mood. A friend of mine was driving down whitehurst in the evening when she noticed a clearly intoxicated man staggering down the middle of the road. Cars were swerving and almost hitting him. She called 911 and was placed on hold for over 2 minutes, which seems excessive if you’re in an actual emergency.

    • Somewhat related: a couple weeks ago on one of those super hot days I called 911 about what I assumed to be severely intoxicated man that was passed out on the sidewalk. While I was not put on hold the person that answered the call was incomprehensible. It wasn’t because he had an accent or English wasn’t his first language…but that he was the absolute worst mumbler I have ever heard. Every single thing he said from the beginning of the call to the end I needed him to repeat several times. If your job is the 911 call center you should be able to be understood in an emergency.

      • There are so many passed-out men in my neighborhood’s tree boxes and alleys that I don’t really blame 911 for not racing to get someone to their side. They simply don’t have the resources to wake up every moron who drank his whole paycheck in a single night. Though of course it’s awful for the people (like that journalist 10 years ago) who aren’t piss-drunk and actually do require immediate medical attention.

  • I thought you were going to be pissed that they had their sirens on in your alley for 8 minutes. Since that didn’t happen, I don’t know what you’re complaining about. it annoys me that so many people will assume someone else is incompetent instead of assuming that that themselves are ignorant of material facts.

  • For what it’s worth, friend of mine works Fire/EMS in a major MD county. He’s not local to the area and said many county ambulances don’t have navigation systems so he or his partner have to depend on a smart phone GPS for navigation. Perhaps, Google or Apple Maps provided bad turn-by-turn in this case. I’ve certainly had it happen before in DC.

  • Firecub1

    As a person that works as a paramedic for DC FEMS, the city is always changing and roads are constantly being shut down. As we don’t always get a daily report about construction and a lot of us live outside of the district we know as much as you do. Plus our map books would have to be rewritten every day to accommodate to said changes. Also most of the calls for 911 are not always life threatening emergencies.

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