The District's Committee on Emergency Medical Services voted yesterday that it had "no confidence" in Fire Chief Theodore R. Coleman's ability to manage the city's crisis-ridden ambulance service.
Coleman has faced recurring questions about his management of the ambulance service, which has been riddled with complaints about poor response time and sloppy dispatching since early last year. The concerns were heightened when a Northeast man died Jan. 17 after an ambulance was lost for nearly 40 minutes while trying to find his house.
The committee, which advises Mayor Marion Barry on the quality of emergency medical care in the District, voted 5-to-4 against Coleman, with Dr. Reed V. Tuckson, the District's public health commissioner, voting to support the fire chief. The committee is composed of high-ranking medical officials in the city, including the emergency medical directors at Howard and George Washington University hospitals and the Washington Hospital Center.
Capt. Theodore Holmes, spokesman for the Fire Department, said shortly after the meeting that Coleman had been informed of the committee's vote, but said the fire chief had no plans to resign. "He's just as determined today as he was yesterday to make the changes necessary to improve the ambulance service," Holmes said.
Neither Mayor Barry, who is in San Diego to attend the Super Bowl, nor a spokesman for him was available last night for comment on the vote.
Ambulance director John M. Cavenagh, along with Coleman's two other deputy chiefs, were present at the meeting. Cavenagh, the ninth ambulance director since Coleman became fire chief in 1982, declined to comment on the committee's vote.
Committee members admitted that yesterday's vote was prompted by recent ambulance controversy and by dramatic testimony from Washington lawyer Gerald Green, who asked to speak at the meeting. Green told committee members that he was infected with the AIDS virus, and was tired of fearing for his life if forced to call an ambulance.
Green demanded Coleman's resignation, shouting to the committee, "How many people have to die?" before improvements were made in the city ambulance service. "The time has come for action," Green said, threatening to organize protests at the District Building. "You people have to stop listening to comfortable reports and do something."
After Green's remarks, Bob Meehan, the committee's consumer advocate representative, introduced a motion asking for a vote of "no confidence" in Coleman, who makes $70,000 a year. Meehan charged that "facts support the conclusion" that the ambulance service has been badly managed by Coleman.
An amendment calling for Coleman's resignation was attached to Meehan's motion, but was easily defeated. Dr. Howard Champion, director of the Washington Hospital Center's trauma unit Medstar, suggested to the committee that only sending a vote of no confidence to Coleman was a "particularly wimpish response to an institutionalized litany of incompetence."
Tuckson, chairman of the emergency medical services committee, voted against the Meehan's motion. After the meeting, Tuckson said he was surprised by the committee's vote and believed the city government has the "talent and expertise" to repair the ambulance service.
Tuckson also said he could not yet reveal details of his recently completed investigation into the death of Mozone Kelly, 38, after an ambulance took nearly 40 minutes to reach his home. He said a report on the case will be made public.