Don't Split Department, Task Force Tells Fenty
Friday, September 21, 2007
The family of slain New York Times reporter David E. Rosenbaum said yesterday that the decision to set aside a $20 million lawsuit has set in motion reforms of the District's emergency medical system but cautioned that hard work still lies ahead.
After six months, a task force formed out of a settlement between the city and the Rosenbaum family delivered recommendations to the mayor yesterday that seek to improve emergency medical care by bolstering EMS leadership, training and evaluation. Several of the proposed changes, including elevating the medical director to an assistant chief, have already been implemented by Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin, who became chairman of the task force a few days after taking the reins of the department.
Toby Halliday, the son-in-law of David E. Rosenbaum and a task force member, praised the panel's work but also emphasized the need to monitor and measure progress.
"I believe lives will be saved as the result of our work," Halliday said.
In its final meeting yesterday, a day after a frantic push to come to consensus, the task force delivered six major recommendations to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who also was a panel member.
The first and perhaps most controversial recommendation calls for emergency medical services and firefighting to remain as one agency and to be better integrated through cross-training. One of the biggest questions the task force faced was whether D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services should be split in two.
The department has long been divided by differences between firefighters and EMTs, who are paid less and receive fewer benefits. The task force called for new leadership positions, including the creation of a new assistant chief for EMS, to signify the importance of emergency medicine.
At least three of four calls the department responds to are medical in nature. But in the District, firetrucks and their crews are often the first to respond to a medical emergency because the equipment is more available than ambulances, which are often transporting patients to hospital emergency rooms.
The panel also recommended comprehensive training and annual performance evaluations of firefighters and emergency medical workers, increased oversight of medical certifications by the city's Department of Health and a public-education campaign to limit the use of 911 to true emergencies.
Task force members praised the Rosenbaum family for turning a tragedy into a civic benefit.
"It's odd, but until that tragedy, the deficiencies in our system were known but not confronted. And the deficiencies were serious," said D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), whose district includes the neighborhood where Rosenbaum lived.
Rosenbaum was assaulted in his upper Northwest neighborhood Jan. 6, 2006, after going for an evening stroll. Emergency responders initially assessed Rosenbaum as drunk, although a later investigation revealed that he had been hit in the head with a pipe. He died two days later.