D.C. Emergency Services Fails Another Test

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, July 1, 2006

On this holiday weekend, let's take a trip.

First a visit to La-La Land, otherwise known as the press briefing room, where D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has been known to take wing into flights of fancy when expounding upon the virtues of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services.

His imagination was in full flower last week when, in a statement to the media, he stoutly defended Fire Chief Adrian Thompson and discussed the inspector general's report on the Fire and Emergency Medical Services response to -- as his news release quaintly put it -- a "January 2006 call." (Don't mention the dead guy's name.)

Said the mayor, in what may have been the most extravagantly fanciful statement of the week: "We've made changes to improve response time of transport units."

Now let's take leave of La-La Land and pay a call on the real world.

Four days after the mayor's hail to the chief and blown kisses to the FEMS, a tip came my way in the early hours of Tuesday morning about another emergency response, uh . . . situation.

Electing to avoid the usual bureaucratic runaround, I went straight to Chief Thompson after the doors opened on Tuesday morning concerning the tip that Ambulance 20, stationed at Engine 31 and staffed by two firefighters, had failed to respond to a call at 1:30 a.m. Sunday to 4201 Butterworth Pl. NW -- and that the crew was found asleep in Fort Reno Park. (The Associated Press, WUSA-TV and WJLA-TV reported the same news on Wednesday; The Post followed on Thursday.)

Thompson apparently was trying to get up to speed himself. His immediate response: "Looking into it now."

The tip was accurate.

Fire department sources confirm that the two firefighters assigned to Ambulance 20 did not respond to the dispatcher's call. Another unit was sent to Butterworth Place instead. Using the department's automatic vehicle locater, officials found Ambulance 20 in an alley near Fort Reno Park, with the two firefighters occupying front seats adjusted to a reclining position, sleeping like babies. They didn't even hear the door open.

As for 4201 Butterworth Pl.? That's the location of Friendship Terrace Retirement Community. The emergency call? A senior citizen was having trouble breathing. Six minutes went by before another ambulance was dispatched to take her to the hospital.

Improved response time of transport units? Have someone double-check those talking points, Mr. Mayor.

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