Read more DC Fire & EMS Department stories that reporters got wrong: here, here & here.
It was three-years-ago this month that I took a buy-out and ended my career as a TV reporter in Washington, DC. Looking at a series of stories this year, including the one above, I am starting to believe that local news coverage went into the dumper after I left. Apparently there isn’t a reporter who can get the story right on my old beat covering the DC Fire & EMS Department. I say this because every time I look around the chief or a spokesman for the department is telling a reporter their story is wrong. It’s a very clear pattern.
When Korff got word from the National Park Service (NPS) that the DC Fire & EMS Department had told NPS it did not have the EMS staff or apparatus to deal with the large crowds at the annual July 4th festivities on The Mall, Korff actually believed them (those reporters sure are gullible). And then Korff started getting all reporter like and had the nerve to ask questions about his “scoop” (he was probably foaming at the mouth at the time).
According to Korff’s self-serving report, those questions he asked brought a very sudden change of heart from the DC Fire & EMS Department with Chief Ellerbe getting personally involved in the situation. But before you start believing that, I should remind you again this information comes from a reporter who Chief Ellerbe told us got it wrong back in February. And guess what? Chief Ellerbe’s spokesman Timothy Wilson says Korff got it wrong again. Wilson’s statement reads, “Any allegation that the Department will not be able to fulfill its commitment and compromise public safety are speculative and without merit.”
See the pattern folks? It’s pretty damn clear.
Truth be told this pattern of poor reporting on the DC Fire & EMS Department goes back before the current administration. In former Chief Dennis Rubin’s book “D.C. Fire”, The Rube has a number of mentions of a local TV reporter who consistently got it wrong. Rubin describes the reporter as having a “reputation for being difficult for years” and that “he had been a volunteer firefighter for a few years, and then he worked as a fire dispatcher for one of the nearby Maryland suburbs”.
The good news is that former firefighter/dispatcher/reporter with this bad reputation is apparently no longer in the news business. I am sure if he was, Chief Ellerbe and his PIOs would be working overtime sending out even more corrections.
A new audit of the D.C Fire Department’s fleet of vehicles shows a critical lack of reserve pumper and ladder trucks with just over half of the ambulances owned by the city available for service.
The audit was ordered by D.C. City Councilman Tommy Wells after FOX 5 revealed the fleet numbers given to the city council last February were false.
After taking weeks to count all of the vehicles in its fleet and determining their readiness the D.C. Fire Department now admits it doesn’t have nearly the ambulances and pumper trucks it claimed to have last February.
City Councilman Tommy Wells says there is money in the budget to purchase new vehicles but he is now more concerned with staffing.
Just before he appeared before the D.C. City Council’s Judiciary Committee last February, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and his staff told the council it had 398 vehicles in its fleet including 29 ladder trucks, 106 ambulances and 64 pumpers.
Numbers we now know were false.
In a new report obtained by FOX 5 the fire department now admits it has far fewer vehicles with many of them out of service.
In fact an audit now shows the department has available for service:
56 out of 96 ambulances
37 out of 53 pumpers
And 18 out of 26 ladder trucks.
Those numbers concern Tommy Wells.
“I am putting a whole lot of scrutiny on the maintenance and availability of these vehicles, that’s why we got the audit report and i am going to require another audit report as they acquire and fix vehicles and I will stay on this like a laser beam, they must be accountable to the public for the vehicles they have and the vehicles they have been budgeted for”, said wells.
As chairman of the City Council’s Judiciary Committee, Wells points out the fire department has been given 18 million dollars for new equipment but has been slow to spend it.
“This is why I am putting the focus on the fire department right now we need to be assured that we have the vehicles ready and available that we need to keep the city safe”, he said.
An opinion shared by the firefighters union.
“It calls into question our ability to answer calls on a daily basis”, said union Second Vice President Dabney Hudson, “we are coming up on summertime, summers here, we had our first little heat wave the other day, it’s our busy time of the year and we run significantly more calls in the next four to five months”.
Even more concerning for Wells is the fire chief’s re-deployment plan which would put more ambulances on the street during peak afternoon and evening hours.
“They are way behind in hiring paramedics, way behind in hiring the staffing they need and that’s why I am very, very skeptical about the new staffing proposal they have”, said wells.
According to the fire department’s numbers there are currently 17 ambulances in reserve.
A number the union says should be doubled.
On Monday Morning Tommy Wells says he went to the Office of Unified Communications to listen to 911 calls and see the staffing levels for himself.
Wells says, as of 10:30 he was astounded to see only three out of 39 ambulances were available for service and all of them were in northwest.
Ongoing issues with D.C.’s emergency medical staff came to the forefront Monday after a D.C. councilman toured a district 911 call center and discovered that there were only three medical transport units available for the entire city.
Councilman Tommy Wells said in a statement Monday that the three emergency transport units were also located in NW.
This is not to say that there were no other emergency response vehicles working. During Wells’ visit to the call center at the non-peak time 10:30 a.m., 31 units were on a response call or at a hospital while five of the remaining eight ambulances weren’t available for unnamed reasons.
“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,” Wells said in a statement.
Raw video above from WTTG-TV/FOX 5 of yesterday evening’s four-alarm fire at Frager’s Hardware at 1115 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE in Washington, DC. Details and news coverage of the fire in this landmark building on Capitol Hill are below, but here’s the story that won’t be on the news. The washed-up newsman who runs this blog was in Southwest Washington, dressed in his tuxedo, driving to the annual Radio & TV Congressional Correspondents’ Dinner with his wife when they saw a lot of smoke in the distance before the alarm was dispatched. Despite knowing there was a hell of a building fire about 25 blocks away, he continued on to the original destination in the name of marital harmony. One person your blogmaster knew would be ditching the party in a heartbeat is a veteran of a well known cable news network who is among the world’s most famous fire buffs. Wrong. Totally out of character, he too passed up a four-alarm fire just around the corner. What is the world coming to?
Thankfully the only newsman left is my old friend Mitchell Miller of WTOP Radio. Mitchell, also dressed in his tuxedo, saw the smoke while exiting Metro. Did he go straight to the party? No. He rented a bike off the street and pedaled his way there, shooting the video below. At least there’s one real newsman left in your Nation’s Capital.
The fire broke out at Frager’s Hardware on Pennsylvania Avenue SE in Capitol Hill Wednesday evening. The store, which was established in 1920, is a popular spot for presidents and is often an area to stage political events.
John Weintraub, one of the owners of Frager’s, says the fire started in a lumber area on the 11th Street side of the store.
Thick smoke could be seen from Arlington National Cemetery, Nationals Park, Logan Circle, and even Tenleytown.
The D.C. government is recommending that residents of Capitol Hill, Lincoln Park, Hill East, and Near Southeast neighborhoods who are near the fire stay inside their homes. They say to turn on the air conditioning on, and keep windows closed to reduce the danger from prolonged exposure to the smoke.
A fire broke out at the historic Frager’s Hardware store in Capitol Hill Wednesday evening.
More than 200 firefighters and 50 fire trucks were dispatched to the scene of the four-alarm fire in the 1100 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. The fire broke out at around 6 p.m.
Fire officials say two D.C. firefighters were transported to the hospital after sustaining minor injuries battling the blaze. There are no report of any civilian injuries.
Picture from Alertpage.
The main building was evacuated. Firefighters say other buildings were in danger of catching fire.
The smoke from the fire was so large that it could be seen for miles in the District.
For residents who live nearby, D.C. Fire and EMS Deputy Fire Chief John Donnelly says, “The advice we’re giving people is to go back into their house, keep the windows shut, turn your air conditioning on. That’s the best protection you can take from the smoke.”
Frager’s Hardware was opened in 1920 and is located 11 blocks away from the U.S. Capitol.
“Frager’s has been an institution,” said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. “I don’t think there’s anybody who has been in this city for more than a year who doesn’t know about Frager’s Hardware. If you wanted a particular hardware item, you would go to Frager’s and get it because you know you could find it. I’ve been there many times myself.”
D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells says Frager’s Hardware is “part of the heartbeat of this whole neighborhood” and the fire is “an absolute tragedy for the community.”
Four firefighters are being investigated for an alleged sexual assault of a female firefighter at a DC firehouse, officials say.
The firehouse where the alleged incident occurred at Engine #1 which is located on the 2200 block of M Street, N.W. Two firefighters and two supervisors have been placed on administrative duties. The female firefighter is from the same unit as the four that are being investigated, officials say.
D.C. Police say that a report for a misdemeanor sex abuse at 2200 M Street NW was filed on May 31. The incident occurred around midnight.
The police report shows that the accuser reported that “she was asleep at the Firehouse when she felt someone touched her inner thigh.”
In a statement from the President of the DC Fire Fighters Association, Edward C. Smith said, “We are watching this situation closely and are concerned anytime there are such allegations. Local 36 represents all of the firefighters and urges the department to conduct a thorough investigation in a timely manner that is fair to all.”
D.C. police are conducting a sexual assault investigation which allegedly took place inside a firehouse.
The alleged victim is a female firefighter who says she was inappropriately touched while she slept early Friday morning at the 2225 M Street firehouse in Northwest D.C.
A police report reveals the victim says she felt an unknown suspect touching her inner thigh which woke her up.
The D.C. fire department is also conducting its own internal investigation to find out if the female firefighter’s report of the alleged incident to her immediate supervisors was then passed on to police and administrators within the fire department in a timely manner.
Four firefighters have been placed on administrative duties pending the result of the investigation.
The alleged victim remains on the job.
Local 36, which represent the firefighters involved, issued this statement:
“We are watching this situation closely and are concerned anytime there are such allegations. Local 36 represents all of the firefighters and urges the department to conduct a thorough investigation in a timely manner that is fair to all.”
Three-years-ago Boca Raton (FL) Fire Chief Tom Wood contacted me about what was, at that point, a little discussed but potentially major issue facing fire and EMS across the country. Admittedly, my eyes glazed over a bit as Chief Wood explained the ins and outs of the new EPA mandated diesel emission standards. But my news instincts kicked in when the chief told me about his ambulances shutting down on major highways and limping back to quarters. That’s what brought about the guest column in April of 2010 titled The Regeneration Gap: A fire chief wrestles with front-line apparatus time-outs due to EPA diesel emission regulations.
The issue has not gone away, even though EPA made some modifications to the regulations that, on the surface, were supposed to help fire and EMS deal with the problem (though most say it really didn’t). Wednesday’s shut down of a DC Fire & EMS Department ambulance on I-295 while transporting a trauma code shooting victim to the hospital has the mainstream media’s attention on regeneration, for the moment. The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis linked to Chief Wood’s 2010 column online and reporter Peter Hermann interviewed him for an article in today’s paper.
In the DC case, the early word from union president Ed Smith, and shop head, Deputy Chief John Donnelly, is that the normal warnings didn’t happen with Ambulance 19. Here’s what Peter Hermann wrote:
A warning light is supposed to flash and give the driver enough time to complete an emergency run before taking a scheduled break. Donnelly said that didn’t happen Wednesday; instead, a more severe indicator came on warning of imminent failure.
“That is not supposed to happen,” the deputy chief said, noting that he was awaiting results of a diagnostic test to determine whether the breakdown was the result of a clogged filter or some other problem.
Chief Wood doesn’t know the details of the DC incident but he has made it his business to come up with solutions for his department, including doing forced regeneration on a schedule rather than being at the mercy of the rig. Here’s what he wrote in our comments section yesterday:
The article highlights an incident in Bracketville, Texas from February 15, 2012 in which the passenger of a truck fire died. “Diesel motor de-rating” slowed the fire apparatus response to the scene.
Regeneration can be performed on demand or “forced regeneration” by a qualified mechanic and the correct software. Our fleet has three different motor manufacturers and our shop has the software to “force regeneration” on our schedule, instead of at random. We schedule our fleet through the shop once a month for “forced regeneration”, one unit at a time. This also assures a complete 100% cleaning of the Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF). Under the random / ordinary method, many of our apparatus were regenerating every 4 days, obviously not completing the process. I recommend the “forced regeneration” as a best practice.
“I know they’re trying to reduce pollution emissions, but I don’t know if they contemplated all the dangers,” said Thomas R. Wood, the chief of fire rescue services in Boca Raton, Fla. “Fire doesn’t take a timeout to let firefighters regroup and regenerate.”
Last year, the EPA, facing criticism from fire chiefs and trade groups, allowed for exceptions so that emergency vehicles “would no longer face power disruptions.”
But Harold Boer, head of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturing Association, said the waiver does not fully exempt emergency vehicles and instead allows them to be retrofitted so there is more time between regeneration stops. Boer, who is also president of the fire truck builder Rosenbauer, said few cities request the work because it does not eliminate the problem. He said a request to the EPA for a blanket exemption for all emergency vehicles has been denied.
D.C. fire department officials are still probing the glitch, but they said the issue seems to be specific to a sequence of warning lights that ultimately notify the ambulance crew the engine will shut off imminently. And while it’s the first time city officials said a department ambulance has failed while in transport as a result of the emissions system, widespread problems have been reported nationally.
“What I want to do is see what the computer says about this problem, and then we can re-evaluate if we need to do anything,” Deputy Chief John Donnelly said, assessing the extent of the issue. “We’re going to look at the series of warning lights and the indicators. They should lead us back to the problem.”
When the D.C. fire department began buying these diesel engine ambulances a few years ago, officials knew they would have to manage them with a new emission control system that would automatically shut the engine down if it wasn’t allowed to what’s called “regenerate.”
It was a mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency.
And until recently, the fire department said it had been able to handle the requirements without any significant incidents.
One of those incidents involved the same ambulance that broke down Wednesday.
“On May 22nd or 23rd, it was here in the shop,” said Deputy Chief John Donnelly of D.C. Fire and EMS. “It had a problem with the regeneration system. That problem was a lot different. The end result is the same – the engine gave a warning light. But it was different in some ways and we sent it to the dealer and got it back. It was repaired and it was running fine when we put it back in service.”
Donnelly says the drivers of the rigs and the people who manage them have to stay on top of the warning lights to make sure they don’t ever approach the shut down level.
“We don’t want to have any incidents like this, but we’ve shown we can manage it,” he said. “It’s tough. It takes a lot of coordination and effort and there are a number of people that work on it. The drivers have a role, the dispatchers have a role, the battalion chiefs and EMS supervisors have a role and everybody has been doing their job in managing this. I’m confident we can.”
The emergency response was complicated by the fact that the ambulance carrying the man to Howard University Hospital was forced to pull over en route because an emissions system problem caused it to shut down. The year-old ambulance went straight from a hospital to the scene of the shooting and had been continuously running for too long, D.C. fire department spokesman Tim Wilson said.
When a check-engine light came on signaling the ambulance was about to shut down, the driver had to pull off Interstate 295 and wait for about five minutes until another ambulance could respond and pick up the carjacking suspect.
Emergency workers continued to perform CPR on the man, and Mr. Wilson said the delay “wouldn’t have had any impact” on the man’s chances of survival.
A D.C. fire department spokesman said the ambulance carrying the wounded man to Howard University Hospital stopped near Route 295 and Pennsylvania Avenue when a warning light came on indicating that the engine was about to shut down. Tim Wilson, the spokesman, said that problem can occur in late-model vehicles driven continuously for extended periods.
Wilson said the patient was transferred to another ambulance five to seven minutes later and taken to the hospital, in Northwest Washington, about eight miles from the shooting scene. Lon Walls, the fire department’s chief spokesman, said the delay “did not affect care in any way.”
Fire officials say it wasn’t because of an attempt to let a suspected cop shooter die in their care, but because a new piece of equipment on their truck meant to reduce diesel emissions forced the ambulance to shut down.
The device which is mandated by the EPA to be on all newer model diesel vehicles is designed to burn of diesel toxins. It does it either automatically or manually. If neither of those happens during a common cycle known as a “re-generating cycle” warning lights will go off and eventually force the vehicle to lose power and shut off.
It a rare occurrence but DC Fire Deputy Chief John Donnelly says that’s appeared to have happened to Medic 19.
Donnelly said, “to my knowledge it’s never created a problem for us, but something different happened on this call.”
Critics of this EPA mandate say there should be exemptions for emergency vehicles so this won’t happen.
However, Deputy Chief Donnelly says their challenge is to work within the federal agencies restrictions.
Donnelly added, “we’re not in a position to fight the EPA regulations and we’re not even going to try.”
A second ambulance did show up to finish the patient transport 7 minutes after Medic 19 shut down. The man was pronounced dead at Howard University Hospital.
Chief Donnelly says as soon as they get the ambulance back into the shop they will access a data recorder that will explain exactly why the ambulance got to the shut down stage.
Teachable Moment of the Day: As anyone who has seen my presentations knows, I urge leaders who make controversial decisions they believe in to stand before the cameras and answer the tough questions. Running from it undermines your credibility and your decision. The sight of DC Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe making a run for the elevator after yesterday’s hearing on EMS staffing, along with his communications director giving the appearance of physically blocking the reporters and videographers, didn’t look very good.
It never looks good running from the press. Chief Ellerbe must have throught the same because he quickly changed his mind, moved Lon Walls out of the way and got off the elevator to answer the questions (check the videos above and below). It’s best to really think this strategy through ahead of time and make the right decision initially, instead of providing reporters with better video than a boring hearing. In fact, a better use of your communications director is to use their brain to anticipate and plan for these situations rather than their brawn as media blockers. Now for the news.
The chairman of the D.C. City Council’s Judiciary Committee says he has “grave concerns” over the staffing of the D.C. Fire Department. And Friday questioned its ability to provide quality emergency medical care in the city.
Tommy Wells made those statements during a hearing in which the fire chief testified about his plan to redeploy ambulances during peak hours of the day.
D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe today told the city council he has “more often than not” a surplus of ambulances in the middle of the night and he wants to move them to what’s being called a power shift where they will be available to respond to a high number of calls.
But the Firefighters Union is against the plan and the chief admitted it requires a change in shifts.
Ellerbe does not have the authority to redeploy his EMS resources without the approval of the D.C. city Council.
So Friday, he tried to convince the head of the judiciary committee it could be done and needs to be done.
The unions generally agree, because of a changing city and an increased population, there is a need for additional ambulances during peak times of the day but not at the cost of leaving the middle of the night uncovered.
Under the chief’s plan no advanced life support units would work from 1 am to 7 am and the firefighter paramedics would have to move to 12 hour shifts. A move that’s very unpopular.
The chief admitted he has far exceeded his overtime budget and told the council in order to have enough paramedics to handle a shift change the union would have to agree to the plan.
Thursday night we reported the fire department has lost 53 paramedics since the chief took office and none have been replaced.
One other note, we have asked repeatedly over the last several months for a sit down interview with Chief Ellerbe. He has declined every time. So Friday was our only chance to ask him questions in public.
But instead of stopping for reporters’ questions the chief headed right for the elevator.
His handlers tried to bar us from getting in the elevator but after repeatedly asking to speak with the chief
He did come out of the elevator to take some questions. It was an acrimonious encounter to say the least.
When asked if the reason he was not hiring paramedics is that he is hoping the three shifts finally goes through Ellerbe answered, “Well, we are hopeful the three shifts goes through and hope it goes through by the end of the summer…see what happens.”
The union says paramedics are being forced to work overtime nearly every day because the department does not have the staffing.
D.C.’s firefighters union and Chief Kenneth Ellerbe are at odds over a scheduling shift for ambulance crews in the District.
Ed Smith, president of the D.C. Firefighters Assoc. Local 36, says the changes could jeopardize lives.
Ellerbe’s plan would shift the number of paramedics. Fewer would work over night. More would work during the day.
Smith admits there is a peak time in demand during the day, but he doesn’t think the solution is to take away from the night shift.
“It’s gambling on people’s lives,” Smith says. “You’re going to take 14 units off the streets from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. It’s a bad, bad idea.”
If approved, the proposal would affect advance life support paramedics.
Smith called the plan antiquated, saying some of the most violent medical emergencies happen overnight.
“When you take 14 units off the street, out of that 39, you’re decreasing our transport capabilities, the ability to take somebody to the hospital by 36 percent.”
He says the solution is not redeployment of staff but rather to hire more staff, something Smith says is not happening.
“It’s tearing the department apart and the citizens and visitors are suffering,” Smith says.
Initially, it seemed Ellerbe didn’t want to answer questions from reporters. Then he changed his mind and addressed concerns from the union.
“We understand their concerns and we’re going to do everything we can to accommodate them, the best way we can,” Ellerbe says.
Ellerbe was questioned over the vacancies and lack of hiring in his department that some argue has created more tension with an already frayed union. But he says the department will start hiring.
“A lot of our attention has been turned into the District to help reduce the unemployment numbers here in Washington, D.C.,” Ellerbe says. “If we don’t have qualified paramedics here in the city, then we’ll go outside the city.”
The District of Columbia is losing paramedics at an alarming rate and they are not being replaced.
53 have resigned or retired since Kenneth Ellerbe became fire chief in 2011.
It is an exodus that has led to a critical staffing shortage with advanced life support units going unfilled every day.
The firefighters’ union has been sounding the alarm for months, telling D.C. councilmembers and anyone who will listen, the net loss of paramedics has created a “crisis” situation with first responders forced to work 36-hour shifts and advanced life support units left off the streets every single day.
Normal protocol has 14 medic units staffed during every shift. It is a number designed to make sure advanced life support is available within minutes of a 911 call in every ward in the city.
But as paramedics leave without being replaced, those 14 medic units have dwindled.
According to the firefighters union in 2011, two to three Advanced Life Support units were downgraded to Basic Life Support every day.
In 2012, the numbers went from four to five, and so far this year, it is averaging five to six downgrades every day.
“Pretty simply, the basic difference between a paramedic and an EMT is that the paramedic brings the ER to you in the first 20 minutes, so everything the ER can do in those first critical minutes, a paramedic can do for you in the field,” said Paramedic Joe Papariello in an interview Thursday.
Emergency medical technicians cannot administer drugs. It is a vital function in some trauma cases.
“There are a lot of drugs that we can give,” said Papariello, the Union’s EMS official. “Over 30 in our protocols … if you are having a heart attack or you have a broken bone, we can deliver those.”
But as paramedics leave, those services have diminished.
Take for example the month of April. According to the union in April 2011, more than 23 percent of the scheduled Advanced Life Support units were taken off the streets.
In April of last year, it was more than 34 percent, and so far this year, it has risen to more than 42 percent.
“And when we don’t have enough units on the street, units have to respond out of their areas that they are supposed to protect, and it puts a stress on the system and on the individual, and that’s why a lot of our medics are leaving,” said Papariello.
The staffing shortage has also lead to forced overtime. In 2012, according to the union, 185 times paramedics were held over for a 36-hour shift. So far this year, it’s happened 136 times.
Just this month on May 9, the fire department announced in a special order three more firefighter/paramedics had decided to resign.
“We are in a crisis mode,” said Union President Ed Smith. “I mean, in the 90′s when they were closing firehouses, you had firehouse roulette. You didn’t know where the wheel was going to stop. Right now today, we have medic unit roulette and I hope it doesn’t stop on the wrong person.”
On Friday morning, Chief Ellerbe will go before the D.C. Council’s Judiciary Committee where he is expected to testify about his ambulance deployment plan.
He declined our request for an on-camera interview.
In recent testimony, the chief told the council he plans to train current EMTs to become paramedics. But as the union points out, that could take up to two years.
D.C. Fire and EMS put five firefighters on desk duty after one of them posted a picture critical of D.C. police on Facebook and four others commented on it.
After a D.C. police officer wrote a traffic ticket for a firefighter, that firefighter took a picture of the officer walking toward his cruiser and posted it on his Facebook page with a comment to the effect of “This is why we should be careful and take our time getting to incident scenes,” sources told News4.
The post is said to be so inflammatory it was brought directly to the attention of both Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and Police Chief Cathy Lanier.
Top D.C. fire and police officials viewed those comments as a reference to the March incident in which a D.C. motorcycle officer waited 20 minutes after being struck by a hit-and-run driver before being transported to a hospital by an ambulance from Prince George’s County.
D.C. fire immediately transferred those five firefighters from the field to desk duty.
“Right now it’s in the investigation phase,” said Ed Smith, of the firefighter union. “Hopefully they’ll be back to duty soon, and then we’ll have to deal with any disciplinary proceedings if there are any depending on the outcome of the investigation.”
The temporary reassignment of that many firefighters affects staffing levels, Smith said.
“Having these members off the street on desk duty definitely adds to the overtime problem and other members getting relief from duty,” he said.
Through a spokesman, Ellerbe said the fire department can’t comment because it is a personnel matter.
The post was removed from the firefighter’s Facebook page.
Four firefighters commented on the original post, and were also assigned to desk duty, according to Ed Smith, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association.
“There isn’t a social media policy in place,” says Smith. “If members are going to be held accountable then it needs to be upfront and the rules need to be known about what’s in bounds and what’s out of bounds,” says Smith.
Smith says the issue isn’t only a public safety concern.
“Employees in all workplaces are struggling with social media policies,” says Smith.
The head of the firefighters’ union says establishing a policy reflects expectations, but also provides for free speech.
“You have to find that fine line between keeping the public trust and respecting members’ First Amendment rights,” says Smith.
Smith says he’s reached out to his counterpart in the police union, “just to let him know we respect our brothers and sisters in blue.”
D.C. Fire has not responded to a request for comment.
An active duty female D.C. firefighter is breaking her silence to speak up for young female cadets who allege sexual harassment at the DC Fire and EMS Training Academy.
Fearing retaliation, the firefighter requested anonymity. She’s being referred to as “Susan” in this story.
She says when she joined a recruit class a few years ago, it came with a warning from a female academy employee about some of the male instructors.
“She just said, ‘be careful, because a lot of them, they don’t know their boundaries,” she says.
Almost immediately, Susan says, the sexual harassment began. One instructor commented, “guess who wore the wrong bra today,” she says.
After a tough day of training, Susan says that same instructor got her alone. She says his hand moved from her shoulder slowly down to the top of her backside.
“And then as the hand like went lower to like you know here, I was just like, ‘Um, yeah please don’t ever touch me. Like, that’s hugely inappropriate,’” she says.
Fearing for her job, Susan kept quiet until she saw ABC7′s recent investigation centering on two young female cadets, fresh out of high school, who accused two instructors of sexual harassment. She says those cadets came to her for advice and told her what the instructors said.
“You know, they’re babies. And, so for them to speak to them like that and you know, just make any sort of sexual comments toward them is just disgusting,” she says.
The fire department has reassigned the two instructors to positions outside of the academy and launched an internal investigation.
But when ABC7 approached D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe in February, he insisted the alleged harassment was “not” sexual in nature.
“What we believe happened was more some inappropriate language and touching, not of a sexual nature, but the matter made the youngladies uncomfortable,” Ellerbe says.
But one male firefighter says he also felt compelled to speak out, saying he’s aware of cases in which superiors intimidated female firefighters into not filing complaints.
“And I know of two issues uh, first hand, um where issues of sexual harassment or harassment towards women have been basically brushed under the table,” said the male firefighter who declined to be identified.
A fire department spokesperson declined comment about the status of the latest alleged harassment investigation. He did say the department provided additional training for staff to address concerns regarding inappropriate conduct toward colleagues. And a female instructor has been placed at the academy to train cadets as well.
This evening there are two separate stories questioning the readiness of the DC Fire & EMS Department. In the story above, WTTG-TV/Fox 5 reporter Paul Wagner, who has broken most of the stories about the poor state of the fire department’s fleet, tells us that two reserve ladder trucks recently failed aerial ladder inspections. You may recall Wagner’s previous report that the department did not conduct ladder inspections last year. Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told Wagner in a statement then that the inspections weren’t done because of a lack of reserve trucks. Now that those inspections are happening, Wagner reports problems are being discovered, including the damaged cable seen below.
At WTOP radio this afternoon, the city’s former director of D.C.’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Pete LaPorte, was interviewed about Washington’s ability to respond to an attack like the one yesterday in Boston. LaPorte was asked about the impact of the fire department’s fleet problems on the City’s readiness. Here’s LaPorte’s response:
I think there is a lot of mutual aid but I think it’s a true concern. I believe that the city has a great deal of reserve money right now. and I truly believe it would be a wise investment to reinvest in our fire equipment and resources. You remember after 9/11 there wasn’t a dollar that … couldn’t be had for our response. We literally got all new fire trucks, all new ambulances, throughout the city. It seems like we’ve lost some of that level of response and we certainly need to upgrade it. And I think that would be something that Chief Ellerbe wants to be looking at quickly, is to make a request. To look for a capital investment in the equipment there.
There are new concerns the D.C. fire department is taking risks with its ladder trucks after two of them failed stress tests this month and were taken out of service.
One of the trucks had frayed steel cables used to raise the ladders into the air.
According to the firefighters’ union, that truck, a reserve that has been responding to emergency calls on Capitol Hill, failed a stress test Monday morning and was immediately taken out of service.
It is a discovery that raises questions about the safety of the entire fleet.
“Absolutely, and unfortunately, I don’t believe it’s the only truck running calls that probably wouldn’t pass an aerial ladder test,” said Union Second Vice President Dabney Hudson. “It’s going to continue to put the citizens and the firefighters who ride it in jeopardy.”
When FOX 5 first aired the union’s concerns on March 18, a spokesman for the fire department said the stress tests had not been done in 2012 because there were no reserves to take their place.
Then two days later, fire officials told the city council the tests had not been done since 2008.
“If the cables snapped, it would have caused a catastrophic ladder failure, the ladder would completely fail … it would have come crashing to the ground,” said Hudson.
The truck with the frayed cables was running calls on the hill because the truck normally assigned to the hill, Truck 7, has been out of service, parked at fleet maintenance on Half Street since early April.
The new reserve taking its place in the firehouse on 8th Street in Southeast D.C. has issues as well.
Photos obtained by FOX 5 show rust and corrosion on the base of the aerial ladder. It is a condition the union feels would likely lead to a failed stress test as well.
Last year, an aerial ladder in Alliquppa, Pa., collapsed while fighting a blaze at an auto repair shop and seriously injuring a firefighter.
As of March 20, the fire department reported to the city council’s judiciary committee it had 16 trucks and one reserve ladder.
In an email sent to FOX 5 Monday night, Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe confirmed one front line truck and two reserves have been given stress tests since early April, with only the front line truck passing.
The chief said the reserves will be repaired in about two weeks.
On Tuesday, the chief declined an interview request.
Alvin Bethea’s testimony in front of the DC City Council on Thursday was overshadowed by the almost three hours of questioning of Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander. Other than one mention in an article, I don’t believe Bethea made news, despite the rather outspoken nature of his testimony and an interesting link to an EMS response from 18-years-ago that shows progress made by the department.
At the beginning of his appearance before the Committee on the Judiciary and Public safety, Alvin Bethea had nice things to say about Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and the department’s response to two EMS calls he was personally familiar with. One of those calls involved the stabbing death of Bethea’s son a little more than a year ago.
What is probably worth noting in the praise about that response is that Bethea’s son, Deoni Jones, aka JaParker, is described in news articles as a transgender woman. In 1995, a long and ugly chapter in the department’s history was opened after allegations surfaced over poor care and derogatory remarks made when the DC Fire and EMS Department responded to a car crash that took the life of Tyra Hunter, a transsexual. Hunter’s mother successfully sued the City.
But Alvin Bethea then switched gears in his testimony. That’s where the clip above posted to YouTube begins. Bethea talks about attacks on Chief Ellerbe as being “the work of the devil”. He testifies that firefighters are bringing the city “grief” and “intentionally breaking and destroying ambulances and fire trucks and medical equipment”. Bethea likens the firefighters to “home grown terrorists”.
To see the entire hearing and all of what Alvin Bethea had to say, click here (Bethea’s testimony begins at 3:04).
A day after DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe apologized for giving the wrong information to the DC City Council about it’s reserve fleet, Paul Wagner first reported this that Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander have done it again. According to Wagner’s report this morning on WTTG-TV/Fox 5 (above), at the same time the pair told the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety that there were four fully stocked and ready to go reserve ambulances at the apparatus maintenance shop, Ambulance 16 found something completely different. Check out Paul’s evening report in the video above and the story below:
There is new information in the ongoing troubles inside the D.C. Fire and EMS department. FOX 5 has obtained a document and a picture that shows the department’s reserve fleet of ambulances is not what leaders claim it to be.
D.C.’s fire chief told the D.C. Council Thursday his department is in an “acceptable state of readiness for major events” while the deputy mayor for public safety said the department is prepared if ambulances break down.
The deputy mayor repeatedly told the council the department has four ambulances held in reserve and said they had been in place since just after March 5 when an injured D.C. police officer waited 20 minutes for an ambulance.
But according to an internal document obtained by FOX 5, not one fully-stocked reserve was ready Thursday when a crew needed one.
Approximately three hours before Paul Quander sat down to testify before the city council, the crew of Ambulance 16 went to the fleet maintenance shop in Southwest D.C. where they were told to get into reserve Ambulance 627.
According to the internal document, the crew told a supervisor, “This unit was not fully stocked and one compartment appeared to be used as a trash can … there was oxygen however it was low and needed to be replaced. The unit had less than a half a tank of fuel and the cot had a pile of equipment thrown on top of it.”
The document says the crew got in the rig, but “It seemed to be in worse shape (than) the one we had just switched out of.”
As the crew waited for another reserve, Quander was repeatedly claiming the department had four ambulances ready to go.
“A minimum of four ambulances are kept stocked and available at FEMS fleet maintenance for ambulances that go out of service for more than 30 minutes due to mechanical problems,” he said. “Those units are fully available, they’re stocked.”
Later in the hearing at the Wilson Building, Quander said it again.
“We have placed four ambulances that are there ready to go,” said Quander. “All we have to do is turn the key and bring some equipment, the bag and the laptop.”
But the crew of Ambulance 16 did not get a working reserve until 3:30 p.m.
The third they were told to get into that day.
During Thursday’s hearing, the chief told the council the department has 111 ambulances. 39 are in service, 46 are out of service and 19 are in reserve.
The department is currently conducting an audit of the fleet after FOX 5 revealed the numbers the department was claiming were false.
The chief admitted Thursday he had been managing the department for about a year with numbers that did not add up. It is an admission Councilmember Tommy Wells seized upon, calling it an “incredibly serious issue.”
“Management is absolutely accountable for the problems of this agency, and it goes back to making sure they have the equipment they need to do their jobs,” said council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety that held Thursday’s hearing.
During several sharp exchanges, department leadership rebuffed characterizations that the issues were widespread, with Mr. Quander laying out plans to address what he referred to as the “isolated” incidents, and the chief adding that he believes the “department’s fleet remains in an acceptable state of readiness for potential major events in the city.”
“Rarely is it about one person. It is about a system and the lack of quality control,” Mr. Mendelson said, later appearing incredulous that the chief had such inaccurate information about the condition of his fleet.
D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe acknowledged on Thursday that he led his agency for about a year using faulty data about the state of its fleet, and he apologized for repeated ambulance shortages that left the ill, injured and dying waiting for help.
“We were operating with an outdated list,” said Ellerbe, who told lawmakers that current statistics show that nearly half of the District’s 111 ambulances are out of service. “It was inaccurate for approximately a year.”
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson was incredulous.
“I just don’t understand how the chief of the fire and EMS department would not know how many vehicles are available,” Mendelson said as lawmakers continued to absorb a scathing report from the D.C. inspector general that said the department’s fleet was unprepared for a catastrophic emergency.
The chair of D.C. City Council’s public safety committee grilled the fire chief for 2 1/2 hours on Friday during a contentious hearing on whether slow response times and maintenance failures are endangering the lives of sick and injured residents.
Deputy Mayor for public safety Paul A Quander Jr., who sat beside Ellerbe, said the chief needs to move forward with plans to revamp schedules and deployment to keep up with a changing city.
He said the fire service is no longer a “fire department that sometimes handles medical calls, but instead it is a mobile medical hospital agency that occasionally handles fires.”
Nearly half of the ambulances serving the District of Columbia are out of service, an apologetic D.C. Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe testified Thursday before members of the D.C. Council.
Ellerbe, who has faced multiple calls for his resignation in the midst of numerous issues facing the city’s fire and EMS response capabilities, said that the equipment problems his department faces are due to them “holding on to things” for too long.
The chief told members of the D.C. Council that just 58 of the District’s 111 ambulances are currently in service.
For Ellerbe, Thursday’s hearing was an uncomfortable grilling. But for Durand Ford, Jr., it was like ripping the scab off a wound.
His father, Durand Ford, Sr., died from a heart attack on New Year’s Day while waiting for an ambulance. Ford’s death was one of three incidents under the microscope during Thursday’s testimony on slow response times.
At issue is whether the three problems in the last three months are because of a systemic breakdown or if, as Chief Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander contend, unfortunate outliers.
“The events of New Year’s Day are atypical, hopefully never happen again,” Quander says.
More than 100 firefighters called out sick on New Year’s Eve. But the subsequent two incidents involving an MPD motorcycle officer and a stroke patient being transported in the cab of a fire truck are being blamed on an aging fleet and a lack of paramedics.
“Sometimes it takes an incident to realize there are these issues,” Ellerbe says.
Ford, however, calls these problems just an opportunity to punt the blame.
The department came under even more intense scrutiny on March 5 after a Metropolitan Police Department officer had to wait nearly 20 minute for a mutual aide Prince George’s County ambulance to tend to him on after he was injured in a hit-and-run in Southeast.
A recently-released city report indicated that three D.C. ambulances were improperly out of service that night, forcing the need for a Maryland-based unit to respond. The officer finally made it to an area hospital nearly an hour after he was hit.
Seven city employees were disciplined for the inadequate response.
Ellerbe also said that the department had been operating under an incorrect inventory list for about a year.
In response, though, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson told Ellerbe that the issues were a “management problem” and that he needs to find a staff that can get their jobs done more effectively.
In a statement released Thursday, Ed Smith, the president of the D.C. Fire Union Local 36, said that the D.C. Fire & EMS Department is living on “borrowed time.”
“Nothing proves Chief Ellerbe’s negligence more than the state of the fleet of reserve ambulances and fire trucks that is supposed to be at the ready at all times,” Smith said. “The fleet is virtually non-existent and has been a key factor in recent well-publicized EMS failures.”
Ellerbe overwhelmingly received a vote of no confidence from the fire union on Monday. Immediately after the 300-37 vote, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander threw their support behind Ellerbe.
“Despite the ‘no confidence’ vote tallied by the local firefighters union, I am very optimistic about the department’s future and encouraged by the service we provide to District residents and visitors,” Ellerbe said in a statement after the vote.
His department also faced scrutiny over claims of sexual harassment in February. Numerous cadets told ABC7′s Jay Korff that two training academy instructors repeatedly harassed them.
Only 58 of the District’s 111 ambulances are currently in service, D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe testified before a city council committee Thursday.
Ellerbe added that the District only has 245 paramedics, well short of its target of 300. Even that number is less impressive than it appears since Ellerbe disclosed that not all paramedics do field work or receive calls.
The failure to provide an ambulance to a police officer injured in a hit-and-run and two other incidents — including the death of a man who died while waiting for an ambulance — have raised questions about whether the department has enough resources to handle the emergency call volume in the fast-growing city.
Those three incidents, all within 90 days of each other, prompted the hearing, said D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells.
Ellerbe apologized during Thursday’s testimony. “I’d like to offer my sincere apology to the families,” he said. “I’m deeply troubled … I accept responsibility.”
The chief also apologized for misinformation on the department’s inventory of vehicles, saying that the department had faulty inventory records for a year.
An internal investigation had blamed individual employees for the slow ambulance response — but the District’s inspector general has also found a lack of adequate reserve vehicles, both ambulances and fire trucks. At any given time, only 39 ambulances are active in the District.
Ellerbe told the Council committee Thursday that although “the audit is still ongoing,” he promised to overhaul the way their fleet is managed by bringing in a “fleet consultant.”
Due to current shortages, Advance Life Support ambulances are routinely downgraded due to a lack of paramedics on duty, Ellerbe said, adding “The problem is not fixed.” A final assessment of the inventory of D.C. Fire/EMS is still 30 days from completion.
Ellerbe’s testimony comes three days after the city firefighters’ union overwhelmingly approved a resolution expressing no confidence in his leadership. When asked following his testimony whether he could guarantee no more ambulance delays in the District. Ellerbe told News4′s Mark Segraves that he could not.
D.C. Deputy Mayor Paul Quander testified Thursday that Ellerbe has “worked tirelessly.” However, Wells did not seem convinced by the testimoney, telling reporters following the hearing that he was “not satisfied” with Ellerbe’s responses, “deeply concerned with the dwindling number of paramedics,” and convinced there is a “systemic” problem with D.C. Fire and EMS management.
There has been a good deal of build up to today’s DC City Council hearing on the state of EMS in the Nation’s Capital. It is scheduled to start at 11:30 AM EDT and you can watch it here. There are a lot of expectations that the hearing could bring some clarity to the issues after the dozens of stories over the past few weeks. My experience tells me maybe or maybe not.
Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety Chairman Tommy Wells has made it known he has been dissatisfied with the answers so far. Whether all of this finally makes sense will depend on how to-the-point the questions are from Wells and how willing Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and the administration of Mayor Vince Gray are to opening up on the issues of the last two years.
All you have to do is recall one of the most bizarre City Council hearings involving the DC Fire & EMS Department over the last 30 years to understand how unclear everything can still be after one of these public events. That was the one that had Chief Dennis Rubin on the hot seat over the Fenty administration’s give-away of a fire engine and ambulance to the town of Sosua in the Dominican Republic (see videos above). It took an IG report to finally get some real answers in that case (click here to read the report & see related articles). But the topic of today’s hearing is much more important than those shenanigans.
Suderman makes the case that other administration officials have been asked to leave based on a lot less than the record amassed by Chief Ellerbe. Suderman reviews that record in the column.
Last week, the latest department head to get the boot was Harold Pettigrew, who senior Gray administration officials say was fired for not moving fast enough to reform the Department of Small and Local Business Development.
But Gray’s tolerance for controversy or alleged ineptitude isn’t always so slight; he’ll stick with some department heads no matter how much heat they generate. Consider Fire Chief Ken Ellerbe, whose two-year tenure has been marked by steady controversies and who is likely to be the subject of intense questioning by the D.C. Council on Thursday.
Early on, Ellerbe pledged to be a “transformational” leader who would bring together a fractured fire department, improve relations with the firefighters union, and be a better community partner. But up until now, Ellerbe has made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Suderman’s article also looks at a transistion document sent to Chief Ellerbe by Chief Rubin.
Other pre-hearing stories include the video at the top of this post by Paul Wagner. He interviews Marcus Rosenbaum who is scheduled to testify today. Also scheduled to testify is Durand Ford Jr. who was interviewed by April Burbank of the Washington Examiner. Both men had relatives who were the patients in a pair of high profile EMS cases.
Apologies for the late post, I have been traveling. Here’s coverage of Monday’s vote of no confidence in the leadership of embattled DC Fire & EMS Department Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. The vote was 300 to 37. The last vote of no confidence by IAFF Local 36 was in 2001 against Chief Ronnie Few. Chief Few resigned in 2002 after news reports revealed discrepancies in the resumes of Few and other top officials he recruited for the department.
Union President Edward C. Smith said Ellerbe’s management “places our members and the public needlessly in harm’s way.”
Ellerbe declined to be interviewed, but he issued a statement saying he is “very optimistic about the department’s future and encouraged by the service we provide to District residents and visitors.” The chief, a native of the District who came here from Sarasota, Fla., in 2011, added, “I am deeply committed to resolving the issues before us.” He previously said the department has reached the “tipping point” in regard to slow response times.
Councilman Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), the public safety committee chairman, said he will demand on Thursday that Ellerbe explain how his staff submitted information for a Feb. 20 oversight hearing showing the department had an adequate reserve fleet when officials there had been given the inspector general’s report one day earlier.
“Did they purposely provide false information to the council, or were they operating under false information?” said Wells, who is considering running for mayor.
“Fire Chief Ellerbe now has a two-year record that has resulted in a failed approach to leadership that has needlessly endangered the public through excessive delays in response due to staffing and fleet mismanagement, and dangerous situations for the firefighters who are sworn to protect the citizens and visitors of our city,” union officials said in a statement issued Monday after the vote.
“It’s a sad day when we have to use that as a recourse to let the public know they’re in harm’s way,” union President Edward Smith said.
Paul A. Quander Jr., the city’s deputy mayor for public safety and justice, also issued a statement Monday afternoon saying the chief has his support in ongoing efforts to “modernize and move the agency forward.”
Hundreds of D.C. firefighters packed a Northeast D.C. union hall Monday morning where they voted “no confidence” in Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe.
It was a vote that went overwhelmingly against the chief.
Union leaders say Ellerbe is putting public safety at risk with a depleted staff of paramedics and a shabby fleet of vehicles while the chief’s defenders say it’s all about an unpopular shift change.
337 firefighters cast secret ballots Monday. Only 37 voted they still had confidence in Chief Ellerbe.
It is a vote that came 12 years after the last “no confidence” vote and three days after an inspector general’s report questioned whether the department could respond to a mass casualty incident.
Things got a bit testy outside the union hall on Bladensburg Road, NE, where firefighters casting ballots came face-to-face with Ellerbe supporters.
The 300 who voted “no confidence” in the chief discussed the issue in the union hall before folding their votes and slipping them into the ballot box as they left the building.
Ellerbe’s trouble with the union and its membership began soon after he proposed doing away with the platoon system where firefighters work 24 hours on and 72 hours off.
Instead the chief wants to go to 12-hour shifts to better handle a high volume of medical calls.
But the union says it’s more than that.
“If we don’t have the right staffing and the right tools and the right training, we can’t be the best department in the country,” said Union President Ed Smith.
The firefighters’ vote comes on the heels of embarrassing stories in which an injured D.C. police officer waited 20 minutes for an ambulance while a stroke victim was transported to the hospital in a fire engine.
The union says attrition has left well over a hundred jobs unfilled while the inspector general found the department’s fleet of vehicles and its repairs a dysfunctional mess.
But Chief Ellerbe’s supporters say the trouble comes from firefighters resistant to change.
“Chief Ellerbe sees for the future we need to be working shorter shifts, more intervals and that doesn’t comply with a lot of people who live far away from here,” said firefighter Garry Wiggins.
Retired firefighter Nathan Queen added, “I think the chief is a good manager. He was called here to manage and that’s what he is doing. Are there those that don’t want to change? Yes, and that’s why they are having this vote of no confidence against the chief because their biggest issue, Local 36’s biggest issue is the shift change.”
In a statement, Chief Ellerbe responded to the vote by saying:
“I am very optimistic about the department’s future and encouraged by the service we provide to District residents and visitors. I remain deeply committed to resolving the issues before us. I look forward to strengthening our capabilities and putting our resources to better use in order to uphold the confidence of those we serve every day.”
Union President Ed Smith says he plans to lay it all out on the table this Thursday when Councilmember Tommy Wells holds a special hearing on D.C. Fire and EMS and the condition of the fire department’s fleet of vehicles.
By the way, the no confidence vote will not force any action. Instead, it’s just a way for the firefighters to show their confidence, or in this case, their lack of confidence in their chief.
“Chief Ellerbe is ethically bankrupt; and his poor managerial practices places our members and the public needlessly in harm’s way,” according to a statement released by Ed Smith, president D.C. Fire Fighters Association Local 36. The statement goes on to say that Chief Ellerbe “has needlessly endangered the public through excessive delays in response due to staffing and fleet mismanagement, and dangerous situations for the fire fighters who are sworn to protect the citizens and visitors of our city.”
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has backed Ellerbe with support despite the scrutiny the department has faced over the last few months.
A report by the D.C. Inspector General’s Office earlier this month said the department’s ambulance fleet had dangerous gaps in coverage and a “dangerously high and unaddressed attrition rate of paramedics that threatens the lives of D.C. residents everyday who are in medical distress.”
District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray is standing behind fire chief Kenneth Ellerbe following a no-confidence vote by the city firefighters’ union.
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Paul Quander said in a statement Monday that he continues to support Ellerbe’s efforts to modernize the department. He’s calling on firefighters to work with the chief to accomplish that goal.
Councilman Tommy Wells told ABC7 this latest problem is undermining his confidence in the department’s ability to respond to any crisis that requires additional resources.
“We just had a shooting of 13 people. If that had been 13 casualties, 13 folks that were life threatening, I’m not confident that we would have had the ability to respond,” Wells said.
Members of the Progressive Black Firefighters Organization, who held signs supporting the chief after the vote, say the main reason the union’s against Ellerbe is his plan to change scheduling.
On Feb. 19, Ellerbe received an initial management alert report from the Office of the Inspector General saying that “many vehicles designated as reserve vehicles were out-of-service and could not be used if needed as frontline replacement vehicles in neighborhood fire stations, or for large-scale emergencies or mass casualty events.”
A day later, Ellerbe testified before the Council’s public safety committee and made no mention that the information about the reserve fleet he submitted may have been inaccurate.
On March 13, Fox 5′s Paul Wagner reported on allegations made by the fire fighters union that the department was improperly counting fire trucks that had been sold or been out of service for years as part of the department’s reserve fleet. Right after the story aired, Ellerbe put out a statement saying the union was right and thanking it for “bringing this inaccurate information to our attention.”
Council member Tommy Wells, whose committee received the bad information, told Suderman he is going to give Chief Ellerbe a chance to explain the timeline but said it “does not look good”. No response from the chief on this issue.
But the inspector general’s report, which highlights some of the same deficiencies in the reserve fleet, was delivered to the fire chief the day before the hearing. It was released to the public on Friday.
“It certainly undermines my confidence in the management of the fire department,” said Councilmember Tommy Wells, who chairs the council’s public safety committee and presided over the hearing. “If they used the information that they provided me that said the reserve trucks are available when they’re not even in the District of Columbia and we don’t even own them anymore, then that tells me there’s a massive breakdown of administrative competence.”
Ellerbe said in a statement that he was already implementing the report’s recommendations and that the department was in the process of purchasing new vehicles, including ladder trucks and ambulances.
A new report by the D.C. inspector general is painting a dim picture of the readiness of the D.C. fire department and questions whether it can answer the call in a mass casualty incident.
The report found major deficiencies in the reserve fleet of trucks, pumpers and transports, and describes a dysfunctional operation.
This report, which was given to Chief Kenneth Ellerbe on February 19, the day before he appeared in front the D.C. City Council, says the department had not come close to meeting its own emergency plans and many of the vehicles designated as reserves were listed as out of service.
The report slams the condition of the fleet and questions the quality of the repairs it receives.
The investigation into the fleet and its maintenance began in January of last year when an inspector took a look inside a warehouse on Gallatin Street in Northwest D.C.
Inside, according to the report, were supposed to be ten reserve engines, eight reserve ladder trucks and two reserve rescue squads.
Instead, the report says the investigator found two engines that would not start, a ladder truck that would not start, and one being worked on in the driveway.
As for the rescue squads — there were three – but one that wouldn’t start.
The report also says the department’s emergency plan calls for 12 battalion reserve engines. But over the course of the seven-month investigation, the most ever listed was five.
The ambulances were another matter. Of the 31 listed in reserve, at times there were none, at other times there were just two, and the most the investigator found were 14.
On Thursday when FOX 5 asked the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety about the ladder trucks in reserve and the readiness of the fleet, this is what he had to say.
“I received a report recently that we have a reserve fleet,” said Paul Quander. “And I don’t mind going out with you. And if we need to count one by one, we count one by one. I think that’s the best way to put this matter to issue. If it’s there, it’s there. If it’s not, it’s not. Let’s go and see. Let’s go and count.”
It’s unclear if Quander had seen this report at the time of our interview. The inspector general says it was emailed on March 21.
The report goes on to say, “The limited documentation available and the overwhelming sentiment expressed to the OIG team by employees at all levels indicate that such deficiencies are real and negatively impact the day to day availability of both frontline vehicles at many fire stations and the vehicles in reserve status designated to replace them.”
“There is no planning,” said Union President Ed Smith. “It’s all fly by the seat of your pants and the citizens are suffering and my members are put at risk every day when they get out there on the rigs.”
A week ago Wednesday, FOX 5 first reported the union’s claim the reserve numbers given to the D.C. City Council in February were false and that apparatus claimed as in the reserve fleet had actually been sold or placed out of service.
Later that night, Chief Ellerbe issued a press release thanking the union for bringing the issue to light.
“It is poor management at the top and it alludes to that in this report,” said Smith.
One of the more eye opening facts in the report points out that Truck 3, the tower truck that would be first due to the White House, was repaired 138 times from January of 2009 to May of 2012. It is a number the inspector general decided to highlight.
Chief Ellerbe answered the report with a press release saying the department was already moving ahead with the recommendations of the inspector general and would report back in 60 days.
Seven people, including a fire captain, two firefighters and four medics, have been singled out for discipline after an injured D.C. police officer waited more than 20 minutes for an ambulance.
A report released Thursday says the captain failed to properly monitor the situation on March 5th when the officer was hit by a car. The other six were in ambulances that were improperly out of service.
As FOX 5 first reported Tuesday night, the investigation singled out three ambulance crews for not monitoring their radios after going out of service the evening of March 5.
Medic 27 was east of the Anacostia River and the closest when Officer Sean Hickman was seriously injured in a hit-and-run.
But the first responder taking the bulk of the blame is the captain working that day as the emergency liaison officer.
According to the report prepared by the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, the fire captain was working inside the Office of Unified Communications and should have known an officer was down and dispatchers were looking for help.
But the captain, even though he has access to the same data, status information and data screens, was unaware the dispatchers asked for an ambulance to come from Prince George’s County.
“The ELO (Emergency Liaison officer) could have said to the units who had requested relief, ‘No, we are low on available units. You need to stay in service so we can make sure that we are covered,’” said Paul Quander, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety. “He didn’t do that. Nor did the ELO monitor the situation and return those units to service, which he has the ability to do.”
Quander says the emergency liaison officer is a gatekeeper who keeps his eyes open for problems and makes adjustments if needed.
“I think that it was a major failure that evening,” he said.
But Union President Ed Smith disagrees and says the problem lies within the system.
“The ELO is specifically monitoring two medical channels and routes units to the right hospital,” said Smith. “They are not directly involved with dispatch.”
Smith says to single out this captain is inappropriate when the problem appears to be more with computer system design.
“We need to look at system-wide problems and fix it,” said Smith. “And if it needs more resources, then we get more resources or we make adjustments to the software.”
As FOX 5 reported Tuesday night, Medic 27 and Medic 19 were allowed to temporarily go out of service, but told to monitor the radio.
The crew of Ambulance 15 says it was parked at a firehouse on New Jersey Avenue in Northwest D.C. and unaware they had mistakenly marked themselves out of service when dispatchers were looking for help.
However, the report says Ambulance 15 was actually parked in quarters at Engine 15 in Anacostia at the time of the call.
“I think it is up to every employee to follow the protocols and rules,” said Quander. “And that’s why we have it and so the rules are if you are going out of service, you go out of service on a condition, to monitor the radio in case we need you to respond.”
Quander says all seven face punishment that could possibly end in termination.
The report recommends five remedies, which include keeping four ambulances stocked and ready to go in case an ambulance breaks down.
It was just a couple of weeks ago Quander said at a news conference the fire department should have two ambulances in reserve ready to go.
The D.C. inspector general has beugn an investigation into the D.C. fire department’s staffing levels to see if it can support around the clock emergency response.
The probe was launched in late January after a hundred firefighters called in sick on New Year’s Eve.
The investigation, by FOX 5’s count, is at least the fourth conducted inside the fire department in the last year.
In a letter sent to Chief Kenneth Ellerbe, the inspector general made several requests to include the list of all ambulances and other apparatus that were taken out of service on December 31, 2012 due to the reported staffing shortage.
The letter also asks for the names of all employees responsible for staffing.
On New Year’s Eve, the EMS system was stretched to capacity with one man losing his life after waiting for an ambulance that finally came from Prince George’s County.
FOX 5 has also obtained a document showing the fire department is looking for 20 of its ambulances.
In an email, sent by Deputy Chief John Donnelly to as many as seven other officials in the department, asks for help in locating the rigs.
Donnelly is conducting an audit of the department’s entire fleet after FOX 5 reported last Wednesday the number of trucks and pumpers given to the city council were false, and that as many as six pumpers and two ladder trucks claimed as reserves in the city are no longer in the fleet and have actually been sold. Still, others were unaccounted for.
And there is more. The inspector general has already completed an investigation into the fire department’s fleet, which according to sources is now being reviewed by Chief Ellerbe.
That probe began after an investigator was shown all of the stored fire equipment parked in and behind a building on Gallatin Street in Northwest D.C.
At his bi-weekly news conference Wednesday, the mayor declined to directly address the issues.
“I think you know that I have asked the deputy mayor, who happens to be ill today, that’s why he is not here, I’ve asked him to conduct a review of a number of issues in FMES,” said D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. “The report will be out this week. It probably would have been out [Wednesday] if he hadn’t taken ill, but it will be out before the end of the week and I think I would rather wait until we get the report.”
On the staffing issue, FOX 5 has also obtained a letter marked confidential from former Chief Dennis Rubin to Chief Ellerbe as he was about to take over the department.
Rubin complains about staffing in the letter saying 603 people were hired during his administration, but they lost 336 people.
In the letter, Rubin wrote: “Unfortunately, my administration always needed to fill vacant seats on ambulances and fire trucks using overtime, and I found myself under incredible pressure to reduce overtime spending from all directions.”
In a statement, Chief Ellerbe said, “We welcome a review by the Office of the Inspector General of this unprecedented event where more than a hundred firefighters called in sick this past New Year’s Eve. We will cooperate fully with this investigation and look forward to its outcome.”
As for the ambulances the deputy chief was looking for? Just after 6 p.m. Wednesday, a spokesman for the mayor said all of the ambulances had been accounted for.
Two weeks ago, a D.C. motorcycle officer waited nearly 20 minutes for an ambulance after he was struck in a hit-and-run. Officials have since focused on why and how one of their own was left helpless.
The leaked report of Deputy Mayor Paul Quander’s investigation into what happened found there were three ambulances at fire stations in the vicinity of the accident.
ABC7 spoke with D.C. EMS Union officials who say the crews in question never heard a call.
“If they were available why weren’t they dispatched?” ambulance union president Kenneth Lyons asks. “I think that’s the question you have to ask … why weren’t these two units dispatched?”
Lyons tells ABC7 that the crews of two of the ambulances in question that he represents were monitoring the dispatch channel two weeks ago when the police officer was struck in a hit and run on his motorcycle and lay on the ground 20 minutes until an ambulance from Maryland came to get him. The two units were in a delay status, but could have been called.
“Units don’t self dispatch just because you hear a call, especially at a busy time of day,” Lyons says. “We’re not allowed to do that.”
Fire union president Ed Smith blamed a computer glitch for the fact the third ambulance crew he represents was not listed among available units.
“They realized there was a problem, went to jump in an ambulance and go on a run, and it wouldn’t start,” Smith says. “So now w’ere back to mechanical issues again.”
When reporters tried to ask the Mayor Vincent Gray about the report today, he said Quander was sick today and until Quander officially releases it, he’ll not comment.
The fire union blames Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe for poor equipment and staffing and are holding a no confidence vote Monday.
Asked about Ellerbe, Gray says, “I’m delighted to work with him.”
When the call was dispatched on March 5, D.C. said they had no available EMS units to send. An ambulance from Prince George’s County arrived 20 minutes later. Nearly an hour passed between the time the officer was struck and his arrival time at MedStar Washington Hospital.
“There are at least three units that I am focusing on that were listed as out of service inappropriately,” D.C. Deputy Mayor Paul Quander said during a press conference earlier this month.
Sources say that of the 39 ambulances scheduled as on duty that night, nine were listed as out of service. Of those nine, six were valid mechanical issues, but three were improperly taken out of service.
One crew didn’t log back into the system properly and were off the dispatcher’s radar. But the other two were considered to be in “delayed relief mode” and had been told to “monitor the radio” should an important call be dispatched.
Regardless of what led to the breakdown, D.C. residents say the lack of response is still concerning.
Reading the latest news accounts, it appears today’s regularly scheduled press conference should include some questioning of Mayor Vince Gray about the DC Fire & EMS Department. On Monday, with no comments coming from Chief Ellerbe or Deputy Mayor Paul Quander, a spokesman for Mayor Gray said the previous administration “neglected” the fire department leaving the city “unprepared”. It is expected, according to news accounts, that there will be a release of findings at today’s event of why no ambulance was available to take a seriously injured DC police officer to the hospital two weeks ago. Details of that investigation are already out.
FOX 5 has obtained the initial findings of an investigation into the March 5th ambulance response for an injured D.C. police officer.
Sean Hickman waited at least 20 minutes for an ambulance that eventually came from Prince George’s County. The Sixth District officer was on a scooter when police say he was intentionally run over by a man in car.
Sources familiar with the investigation say two ambulances should have been able to respond, but did not for reasons still unclear, and a third may have gone out of service by mistake.
The findings are expected to be made public Wednesday morning at the mayor’s bi-weekly news conference.
Sources familiar with the investigation say when the initial call for service went out at 6:36 p.m. that night, one ambulance was in quarters east of the river and near the scene of the accident, but did not respond even though the crew was told to monitor the radio.
Sources say Medic 27 went out of service for equipment trouble and parked at a fire house on Minnesota Avenue in Northeast D.C. when the call for the hit-and-run came in.
The crew went out of service at 6:27 p.m. after reporting problems with two batteries in a piece of equipment on the rig.
At 6:36 p.m., an engine with a paramedic was dispatched to the hit-and-run at 46th and A Streets in Southeast while communications searched for an ambulance.
Sources say a second crew, Medic 19, was at Howard University Hospital and asked for a delayed response back to quarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, and went out of service at 6:34 p.m. after being also told to monitor the radio.
The call for the hit-and-run came in two minutes later.
A third crew, Ambulance 15, went out of service for 53 minutes from 6:26 p.m. to 7:19 p.m.
According to the crews’ own account, it was a mistake. They entered the wrong information into the rig’s computer and put themselves out of service.
20 minutes after the initial call for help went out, Ambulance 15 was still parked at a fire station on New Jersey Avenue, NW.
“It was a computer error,” says Union President Ed Smith. “They lost them in the system. Once the employees realized there was a problem, they self-reported the problem and then they were dispatched on another run.”
Smith says the firefighters realized their mistake when they heard a call for service over the radio that should have been given to them.
“They heard a run coming out that they thought they would be responsible to take and that’s when they realized there was a problem and self-reported to dispatch,” said Smith.
Sources familiar with the report say 39 ambulances were on duty that night, with nine out of service at the time of the call for the injured officer.
The investigation has discovered six of those transports were legitimately out of service with mechanical problems.
On March 5th a D.C. Police Officer—a victim of a hit-and-run—laid in the street for nearly 20 minutes with a broken leg before he was finally taken to the hospital by an ambulance from Prince George’s County.
In a report set to be released later Tuesday, sources familiar with the investigation tell ABC7 they found that 39 ambulances scheduled on duty that night, nine of those were listed as “out of service.”
Of those nine ambulances, six had valid mechanical issues, but three were improperly taken out of service.
One crew did not log back into the system properly and were off the dispatcher’s radar. But, the other two were considered in “delayed relief mode,” and had been told to “monitor the radio,” and should an important call come, they were told to respond.
ABC7 spoke with D.C. EMS union officials, who say, the two crews in question never heard a call for a dispatch.
Regardless of what led to the confusion, district residents told ABC7 that something needs to change.
“The previous administration left the city unprepared. … It takes time to turn around a department that was neglected for so long,” said Ribeiro, who noted the agency has ordered or received 45 ambulances since Gray became mayor.
Here’s a little more from Blinder’s article:
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Monday that the DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department suffered an “embarrassment” by being forced to acknowledge it misled city lawmakers last month about the state of its fleet. “It’s always a concern of mine that the council receive accurate information,” Mendelson said. “It’s an embarrassment to the department that the information they provided turned out to be incorrect.”
Anyone who has heard my presentations knows my philosophy on ambush interviews of public officials by reporters. Because often they provide more theatrics than substance I tried to only use them when an official continuously refused to answer questions on important public issues. Apparently my friend Paul Wagner feels the same way. He has been trying since last week to get some answers from Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe and Deputy Mayor Paul Quander about the state of the fleet of fire trucks protecting our Nation’s Capital. When neither man would respond to Paul Wagner’s requests for interviews he went in search of Paul Quander and found him.
The D.C. Fire Department admitted on Friday its ladder trucks had not been put through stress tests last year because there were no reserve trucks to take their place. An admission that came after FOX 5 aired a story with a claim by the firefighters union the annual testing hadn’t been done since 2009, risking the safety of firefighters as well as citizens.
The accepted protocol within most, if not all fire departments is that ladder trucks be stress tested annually because of the danger of collapse. It’s an industry standard.
On Friday the D.C. Fire Department admitted it had not tested the trucks last year and left the question of testing in 2011 and 2010 unanswered.
On Monday FOX 5 went to see the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety in hopes of getting some answers.
Paul Quander has so far ignored every single request for comment since the middle of last week.
At first we were told Quander was unavailable when he suddenly left the office and we tried to get some answers. The video reveals our exchange.
“Hey Mr. Quander can I talk to you about a couple of issues?
“(Quander) not right now I am going down to…(Wagner) “There are some serious issues about safety right now and you are the head of public safety in the city”.
“(Quander) as I said I can’t talk to you right now, I have a meeting I need to go to and you didn’t schedule anything”.
“(Wagner) But you ignore me sir, I email, I call, I’m looking for answers and you are not giving us answers, the fire department admitted Friday night Mr. Quander it didn’t have any reserve trucks last year and they are not testing these ladder trucks isn’t that a public safety issue? Isn’t that a public safety issue sir? You are the head of public safety, firefighters are possibly in danger who are climbing theseladders that haven’t beentested, how come you are ignoring me?
In the same press release from Friday the fire department said it had tested one truck on Monday March 11th.
“Well Paul it’s pretty disgusting because we had a firefighter fatality in 1999 on Cherry Road”, said Union President Ed Smith, “One of the recommendations in that report was to keep the reserve fleet ready and there was a truck out of service that night and there was a delay on the second truck responding, we had the same delay when four firefighters were hurt on 48th Place, so apparently we don’t ever learn our lesson and the city is putting everybody’s safety at risk”.
The after action report on the Cherry Road fire lists current Chief Kenneth Ellerbe as taking part in the report which recommends “the department maintain an adequate reserve fleet”.
Last year in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania an aerial ladder collapsed while fighting a blaze at an auto repair shop, seriously injuring one firefighter.
Later this week, perhaps by Wednesday, the city will announce the outcome of an investigation into why there were no ambulances to take an injured D.C. Police officer to the hospital in a hit and run crash March 5th.
One other note, City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said today he still has confidence in Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe but he needs to put the EMS transport problems and fleet maintenance issues behind him.
Mendelson says it’s unacceptable for a stroke victim to be taken to the hospital in a fire engine and if it’s best practice to stress test ladder trucks? Get it done.
Even with, or possibly because, of all the bad press and self inflicted wounds of the last few weeks, the Editorial Board of The Washington Post gave its own vote of confidence to Chief Kenneth Ellerbe. In an editorial posted online last night and in today’s print edition, the Post supports Chief Ellerbe’s idea of EMS redeployment and the proposed move away from 24-hour shifts for firefighters. The editorial gives the indication those are the solutions to what ails the DC Fire & EMS Department. The editorial does not cover any of the recent issues about the disrepair of the department’s fleet of ambulances and fire trucks and the questions surrounding Chief Ellerbe’s handling of that issue.
Here are the opening and closing paragraphs of the editorial:
Demand for ambulance service drops off at 1 a.m. and doesn’t pick up again until about 7 a.m. D.C. fire and emergency medical officials argue it makes sense to move some crews and equipment that are sitting idle to times when they are needed. The fact that such a common-sense change has yet to happen is testament to the dysfunctional politics that have brought the department to what Kenneth B. Ellerbe, chief of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, called a “tipping point.”
Mr. Ellerbe makes a strong case for breaking with tradition in how the department schedules and deploys its staff. The mission of the department has changed as the result of advances in building safety and fire prevention; more than 80 percent of calls are for medical emergencies, not fires. There is no understating the importance of firefighters or the considerable risks they take, and they have raised issues that bear scrutiny. But decisions about the direction of the department should be made by those in charge, based on what best serves public needs.
A little after noon today DC Fire & EMS Department Communications Director Lon Walls sent out a notification to the news media of a 2:00 press conference to discuss recent major EMS issues saying, “Kenneth B. Ellerbe, and other public officials will hold a press briefing in front of the Department’s headquarters.” But it turned out that Chief Ellerbe was not among the scheduled speakers. He spoke only when reporters made an issue of the fact that Chief Ellerbe was just standing in the background and hadn’t said anything.
As you will see below, WUSA-TV reporter Kristin Fisher used the word ”bizarre” to describe the press conference. Having watched the whole thing live on News Channel 8, I would say Kristin’s description is probably accurate. It wasn’t just Chief Ellerbe’s diminished role at the briefing. There was the ”system worked” comment from Dr. David Miramontes, an assistant chief and the department’s medical director that you knew as you heard it would be one of the headlines of the day. And then there was the image of both the chief and the doctor wearing sunglasses in front of the TV cameras. There were so many basic rules of PR/Media Relations 101 violated by today’s event and the entire week that if someone in DC attending EMS Today was paying attention they would have enough material to teach a whole class on just this for next year’s convention.
On the plus side, Deputy Mayor Paul Quander and Deputy Fire Chief Demetrios Vlassopoulos both did a nice and clear job of defending the decision of the crew of Engine 33 to scoop up a stroke victim last night and make a run for the hospital rather than wait for an ambulance that wasn’t going to make it to the scene anytime soon. Quander was also very clear in his promise that “everyone will be held accountable” from the front lines to management in the investigation of why so many ambulances were unavailable Tuesday evening when a police officer was struck on his motorcycle.
It took three days, but the District’s fire chief finally addressed why an injured police officer had to wait almost twenty minutes for an ambulance Tuesday night. That officer is still in the hospital in serious condition after being hit by a car while stopped on his motorcycle.
The remarks came during a bizarre press conference Friday afternoon. It was held at the fire departments headquarters, so you would expect the fire chief to do most of the talking. But that wasn’t the case. Chief Kenneth Ellerbe didn’t say a word until the end of the press conference when a WUSA9 reporter asked him to address his department’s response time Tuesday night.
“I tell you our department responded as best it could,” said Chief Ellerbe.
One of his Assistant Fire Chiefs went so far as to say, “Tuesday, the system worked.”
Edward Smith, the president of city’s firefighters union, disagrees.
“There was a delay of 8 minutes calling for mutual aid from Prince George’s County. Communications should have known right off the bat that there were no units available and that mutual aid was necessary,” said Smith.
To make matters worse, a stroke patient in Southeast had to be rushed to the hospital Thursday night on a fire truck. The closest ambulance was seven miles away.
“The reason an ambulance was selected seven miles away was not because we had numerous units out of service or broken. They were just running a lot of calls yesterday during rush hour because that’s when the demand peaked,” said Gerald Coles, Acting Assistant Fire Chief for Operations for DC Fire and EMS.
In an effort to ease the demand, the fire department announced Friday an EMS Redeployment Plan, which would keep two ambulances on standby at all times.
“The plan was implemented starting yesterday,” said Chief Ellerbe.
The Chief says they’ve been working on the plan for months, and that the timing is just a coincidence. But Smith says this is the first he’s ever heard about it and that the timing is highly questionable.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but two ambulances is not enough,” said Smith.
The District’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, Paul Quander, has launched an investigation into Tuesday’s nights lengthy response time.
“If there is responsibility at management, at supervision, or at the lowest level, everyone will be held accountable,” said Quander.
Quander says there’s also reason to believe that the person who hit the officer did so deliberately. Three people have already been arrested and charged in the hit and run, but more charges could be coming. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier declined to talk about the case, except to say that her officer has a long recovery ahead.
District officials are defending a decision to transport a 79-year-old stroke victim to the hospital on a fire truck.
The Deputy Mayor for Public Safety says there were so many calls for service Thursday night, there were no ambulances available east of the Anacostia River.
It is a fact that does not sit well with the man’s family.
D.C. fire officials say there were plenty of ambulances to meet demand in the city until about 4:30 p.m. Thursday when 911 was overwhelmed with calls for help.
Every ambulance was in service and assigned when Ida Sheppard called to say her husband was having a stroke. A paramedic was on the scene within three minutes, but the closest ambulance was over seven miles away.
Just after 5 p.m., Sheppard called 911 to say her husband, Morrison, was in distress and needed help right away.
A few minutes later, Engine 33, which happens to be just down the street from where the Sheppards live on Atlantic Street, was in front of the house and a paramedic inside.
“They said he needs to be taken to the hospital right away,” said Ida Sheppard in an interview Friday. “We are going to take him to GW because they have a stroke unit.”
Sheppard says she was fine with that and watched as the firefighters loaded her husband into the engine.
“They had to carry him out in their arms … He couldn’t walk,” she said.
Sheppard praised the care the crew on Engine 33 gave her husband, but she finds it upsetting an ambulance was unavailable.
“I would like the mayor to know there was no ambulance,” said Sheppard. “I planned on calling him … It shouldn’t happen here in Ward 8 where we are paying income taxes and real estate taxes.”
At a Friday afternoon news conference, city officials had nothing but praise for the firefighters on Engine 33.
“We had no units out of service (for) mechanical (reasons) yesterday,” said Deputy Fire Chief Demetrios Vlassopoulos. “No transport units, ambulances or medic units. They were all serving the citizens. They were all meeting the 911 demand. This incident yesterday was a good decision by the firefighter paramedic on the scene.”
At the same news conference, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety says he was still trying to determine why there were no ambulances available earlier this week to assist a D.C. police officer seriously injured in a hit-and-run.
Tommy Wells, the head of the D.C. city council’s Judiciary Committee, says he has told the deputy mayor and the fire chief he wants answers.
“I want to know exactly what is going on,” said Wells. “Do we have a staffing shortage? Do we have a problem with not enough ambulances? So I will give the administration two weeks to do a full search, report, investigation so we can get to the bottom of it.”
Wells says he will then hold an oversight hearing in hopes of getting the issue resolved.
The deputy mayor also said Friday the fire department has put into place a plan that will hold two ambulances in reserve every shift so if one breaks down, the crew will go to the backup.
Ida Sheppard says her husband is in stable condition and resting.
Last nigth at 11:00 PM, WRC-TV/NBC 4 in Washington did another story about EMS problems in the Nation’s Capital. This one is about an engine company transporting a stroke victim to the hospital because no EMS transport units were available for a while yesterday evening. As we relayed to you yesterday, Chief Kenneth Ellerbe has been quiet about the latest incident involving his department. That apparently will change at 2:00 this afternoon according to a notification sent out from the department’s communications director a short time ago:
Kenneth B. Ellerbe, and other public officials will hold a press briefing in front of the Department’s headquarters, 1923 Vermont Avenue, NW, to address concerns that have evolved regarding EMS response times.
District firefighters were forced to take a man suffering from a stroke to a hospital in a fire truck Thursday evening because the closest ambulance was seven miles away.
The incident comes just two days after an injured police officer waited almost 20 minutes for an ambulance.
Now, a top city leader is calling for immediate action, reported News4′s Shomari Stone.
The latest case involved a man in his 80s at a home in the 600 block of Atlantic Avenue SE. His wife called 911, saying the man was suffering from a stroke, said deputy fire chief Demetrios Vlassopoulos.
A fire engine staffed with paramedics responded to the scene within four minutes, and an ambulance was dispatched at the same time, Vlassopoulos told News4.
The closest ambulance, however, was coming from seven miles away — too far away to respond quickly in rush hour, Vlassopoulos said. A paramedic on the scene assessed the patient and decided he needed to go to a hospital immediately, so emergency personnel transported him in the fire truck.
This is the third time that an ambulance has been too far away to respond to a medical emergency in Southeast Washington this year.
District Councilman Tommy Wells told Stone that he would call a hearing into why it’s taking so long for some ambulances to respond in the Southeast part of the city. “We do not expect that there are any delays” in ambulance service, he said.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the delayed ambulance response for an injured D.C. police officer is focusing on 10 ambulance units that were out of service at the time of the call. The man in charge of the investigation told News4 he’s trying to find out why the units were unavailable and why they were all out of service so close to the end of their shifts.
The initial calls for a pedestrian down came about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night — just 30 minutes before the shift change.
“I want to make sure that in fact no one took themselves out of service without the proper authorization and especially when it came time to ending their shift early,” Deputy Mayor Paul Quander said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Thirty-nine ambulance units were on duty at the time of the accident, Quander said, and some of the 10 that were out of service had legitimate reasons for not being able to respond to the call.
“One of the things I need to find out from this internal review is what happened to 10 of the units that were not available at that critical time,” Quander said. “Some of them may have been on runs to hospitals. Some of them may have been being cleaned. There are others I need to focus on to see whether or not they took themselves out of service without authorization.”
The officer, identified as Sean Hickman, was eventually transported by a Prince George’s County ambulance with life-threatening injuries. He suffered multiple fractures to his left leg and has had two surgeries so far.
His recovery will be long, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
“He’s pretty badly injured,” she said. “He underwent 7-8 hours of surgery the first night and he has additional surgeries today.”
D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, who has oversight of the fire department, called the delay “unacceptable” and launched his own inquiry.