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This morning, DC Mayor Vincent Gray, Deputy Mayor Paul Quander and Chief Kenneth Ellerbe held a press conference to announce 30 new ambulances will be on the streets by the end of the year, nine “single role” paramedics have been hired and 60 firefighters are joing the ranks of the department. In the video above WJLA-TV/ABC 7 reporter John Gonzalez reports that Chief Ellerbe’s portion of the press conference gave the impression this was a resignation speech but there is no indication that is the case.
I did note that Chief Ellerbe continues to set his own standard on press conference fashion, going against the advice of public relations professionals everywhere and once again wore sunglasses for a TV appearance.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray again defended his embattled fire chief Tuesday telling reporters at an event showing off the city’s new ambulances the department is being “managed well”.
In fact the mayor is so confidant with the progress being made he will resubmit his ambulance redeployment plan to the city council. A plan unanimously voted down just a few weeks ago.
Mayor Gray and Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told a gathering of recruits, reporters, city officials and command staff the fire department is no longer at a “tipping point” and has turned a corner in its plan to replace an aging fleet of vehicles and fill positions on a depleted staff of paramedics.
Gray and Ellerbe stood side by side outside a downtown firehouse and listed a number of accomplishments they feel will restore confidence in a fire department that has been badly bruised by a string of embarrassing incidents.
“Fire and EMS will receive 13 new ambulances from Horton Emergency Services by the end of the fiscal year or by September 30th”, said the mayor.
He also added 24 million dollars has been set aside to buy new trucks, engines and ambulances over the next three years.
The two also announced the hiring of nine new paramedics with Chief Ellerbe remarking on the difficulty in finding them.
“Paramedics are in high demand across the country”, said the chief, “and this is a job that requires a specific skill set, it’s not easy to come by, in fact the nine hires we have today came through a pool of one hundred and twenty five applicants, so it’s not easy to get through our process, it’s not easy to hire paramedics”.
As FOX 5 has reported for months, the department has been unable to keep up with the attrition and a number of ambulances and pumpers are routinely put in service without a required paramedic every single day.
Despite that, the mayor says he wants the council to consider his redeployment plan once again.
As the chief announced improved response times in the city he admitted his plan to train current firefighter/EMT’s as paramedics at Prince George’s Community College has fallen apart.
“That process did not work out”, said Ellerbe, “they offered us a contract that we could not agree to”.
As the news conference came to a close the chief told reporters he was hoping to patch up his relationship with the union.
“They were saying the equipment was old, we are bringing new equipment in, they said we didn’t have enough employees, we are hiring new employees, they already have the best equipment that money can buy”, Ellerbe said.
Union President Ed Smith, who attended the news conference, had this take on what he heard.
“First I want to say we are glad to see new hires and new units rolling in, it’s long overdue, does it rise to the occasion of news worthy? I don’t think so”, said Smith, “and the reason I say that is buying apparatus and hiring people should be part of everyday business”.
Tommy Wells, the chairman of the City Council’s Judiciary Committee says he’s glad the council finally got the mayors attention after raising crisis level concerns and he’s pleased to see a plan of action.
As for the mayor’s plan to resubmit the ambulance redeployment plan Wells says he’s hopeful it will not eliminate services during late night and early morning hours.
The Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department has “turned the corner,” Fire Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe declared to reporters Tuesday morning, as he and Mayor Vincent C. Gray sought to move past months of controversy that have cast doubts on the department’s readiness.
“We’re no longer at a tipping point,” Ellerbe said. “We’re now in a position to turn the corner.”
Gray also used the news conference to put to rest rumblings that he might abandon Ellerbe, who has been deeply criticized by the firefighters union and some D.C. Council members, saying the chief had no reason to fear for his job. ”I am really pleased with the progress he has made,” Gray said. “The department is being managed well.”
Local 36 President Ed Smith attended the more-than-hour-long news conference and afterward called it a “dog and pony show.” The new hires and new ambulances are “a good thing,” he said, but “this should have been what we’ve been doing the whole time.”
Nine new paramedics and 30 new ambulances will soon be on the streets in the District of Columbia, but the new hires and purchases won’t lead to any changes in a staffing and deployment strategy that critics have called inadequate for the nation’s capital.
Mayor Vincent Gray and Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe announced the hires and purchases at a news conference Tuesday. In addition to the paramedics, the department will bring on 60 new firefighters by year’s end from its recruit and cadet programs. Seventeen of the recruits are military veterans.
Ellerbe says the department has “turned the corner.”
The department has 35 paramedics working at any given time, 14 on ambulances. The new hires won’t change those numbers, but union leaders say ambulances will be downgraded less often.
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The department has struggled to provide timely emergency care. Dozens of paramedics have resigned in the past two years, and some ambulances have fallen into disrepair. The Associated Press reported that the department is trying to make do with less than half the paramedics employed by departments that respond to similar numbers of medical calls.
The nine new hires will be “single-role” paramedics, meaning they will ride on ambulances but not on fire engines, which are usually the first vehicles to respond to emergencies. Department officials have said many trained paramedics don’t want to fight fires.