D.C. ambulance redeployment plan voted down at committee meeting

The D.C. Council’s public safety committee voted Friday to reject a plan that would overhaul the way ambulances are deployed throughout the District.

Because of an increasing number of calls for medical emergencies, Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe last year proposed reassigning 14 “medic units,” which are ambulances staffed by paramedics who can deliver advanced life support, from night shifts to day shifts.

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Since then, the department has had several high-profile incidents that have raised concerns about response times and the quality of emergency care. Ellerbe has championed the plan as a way for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department to better handle heavy call volumes at peak hours, typically from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Basic life support ambulances would continue to run from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m., and some firetrucks operating during those hours would be staffed by paramedics.

Critics of the plan argued that reducing advanced life support, which includes the ability to give intravenous drugs and perform other life-saving procedures, could leave D.C. residents vulnerable in the middle of the night.

“The approval of this plan could have serious consequences for public safety,” said Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.

In a 29-page report, the public safety committee said the District’s confidence in the fire department “has been severely undermined” because of a pattern of incidents, including problems with ambulance availability and difficulty getting reliable information about the department’s fleet and staffing levels.

The committee voted 3 to 0 Friday against the plan, with Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) abstaining. The resolution is scheduled to go before the full council July 10.

During the meeting, Wells said he was not opposed to a plan that would bolster paramedic resources during peak hours. But he said the current plan is ill-informed because it failed to consider population growth, current fleet numbers or the number of vacancies within the department.

The report also recommends steps the department should take before preparing another redeployment plan. The committee wants an accurate fleet assessment, an agency audit, and aggressive recruitment and hiring of paramedics.

Fire department spokesman Tim Wilson said Friday that the department would not comment on the committee’s actions. He referred to a statement from Deputy Mayor Paul A. Quander Jr., who oversees public safety.

“Moving scarce resources to where data and scientific analysis suggest is in the best interest of our community is of paramount importance,” Quander said. “It is unfortunate that the Council Committee would hamstring the Fire Chief and the Public Safety Cluster in advancing its mission to best protect the public.”

According to city law, the council must approve any “major changes” in the way the fire department delivers emergency medical services. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said Friday that he supports Ellerbe.

 
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