Dorothy P. Rice, keeper of the nation's health statistics, broke a hip in downtown Washington yesterday and chalked up a new health statistic - a 21-minute wait for a D.C. Fire Department ambulance, by Fire Department log.

Rice, the noted director of the federal government's National Center for Health Statistics, called the wait "at least a half hour, which surprised me very much."

John Norris, editor of the American Journal of Law and Medicine, who was with Rice while she waited, said, "In a city like Washington, the response time should be between six and 18 minutes."

James Flynn, fire department communications director, conceded that "the time was more than average - we usually do better."

"All of our ambulances were busy," he said, and the only one available had just been on four calls "and had to get gas."

"There was no indication that the problem was critical like a heart attack, so we told them to go ahead," Flynn said.

But more ambulances are needed, he said since "we've been running about 82,000 calls a year with 11 ambulances." He said, "We are getting some, and starting next month we'll run 12 ambulance during the day, and 15 from four to midnight, our busiest time."

Rice reported from a bed at George Washington University Hospital that she was "feeling shaken" and "having some pain" but "I guess I'll be all right."

"I just did something very stupid," she said of her accident.

She left her car in a parking garage across from the Mayflower Hotel, site of a health conference where she was to speak. Then she found she was missing the text of her speech, and went back to her car and tripped onto the hard concrete floor.

And the speech wasn't in the car after all, she said, but where she had mistakenly left it at the conference registration desk.