As a result, fire engines and ambulances are traveling farther and handling more calls, he said — resulting in 15-minute delays for ambulances in some neighborhoods. “Response times have grown longer,” he said at a D.C. Council hearing last month.
At that meeting, Ellerbe presented a list of statistics to show that his deployment plan should be implemented. Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who chairs the public safety committee, said that Ellerbe doesn’t need the council’s approval on vehicle deployment, adding “I’m not sure we should legislate a deployment scheme.”
Less clear was whether city leaders would see fit to hire more paramedics or firefighters.
Fire officials emphasized this week that when a fire engine beats an ambulance to the scene of a medical emergency, patients often receive the same level of care they would get if the ambulance had arrived first. That’s because two dozen of the city’s 33 fire engines are staffed with firefighters who are also trained as paramedics, capable of delivering the same advanced life support as the city’s 14 medic units.
Engines typically show up at a routine medical call long ahead of one of the 26 basic-life-support ambulances or 14 advanced-life-support medic units. With fewer fires than medical emergencies across the city, engines are typically more readily available.
One goal everyone supports is to have enough firefighter-trained paramedics to staff all the fire engines. The firefighter union says there aren’t enough paramedics to staff medic units on most nights, let alone engines.
In the cases of the injured police officer and the man suffering the stroke, paramedics aboard fire engines responded and rendered care.
Fire officials said that a combination of heavy calls, traffic accidents and clogged streets made it nearly impossible for an ambulance to get to the stroke victim quickly. Deputy Fire Chief Demetrios Vlassopoulos said that it would have taken about 22 minutes and that firefighters decided to use the fire engine for transport.
“That was an outstanding decision,” the deputy chief said.
Smith, the union chief, also supported the decision, but he said it proves only that more hires are needed. The man could not be stabilized as he would have been inside an ambulance, he said.
Paul A. Quander Jr., deputy mayor for public safety, said his investigation into the delays involving the police officer is continuing.
He said that of the 39 ambulances and medic units on the street Tuesday evening, 10 were out of service. Some crews might have had mechanical problems, he said, but at least two and possibly three might have been off duty for non-legitimate reasons.
Carefully watching the latest dispute unfold is Patrick M. Regan, the attorney for Rosenbaum’s family. The current signs of dysfunction, Regan said Friday, “sound eerily similar” to the Rosenbaum case.
“At the time the task force concluded its work, I think we were all satisfied that the fire department was moving in the right direction and with all appropriate speed,” Regan said. “Everyone recognized there was a huge problem. . . . From the reports I’m seeing now in the media, it sounds like there’s been a significant regression. If it’s problems with the city council, or a lack of funding or with the union, the problems need to be addressed immediately.”