Paul Devane laid a wreath and portrait in front of the District Building yesterday in memory of his wife, who he said died Friday after waiting 25 minutes at their Northeast home for an ambulance that got lost.
"I want the people who walk by to know that the District of Columbia was responsible for an unnecessary death," said Devane, whose wife's funeral was yesterday. "I will dedicate every second of my life to make sure that no one else dies needlessly from lateness of ambulances, misdirection of ambulance service or improper treatment."
Elsie Devane, 49, of 611 Edgewood Ter. apparently died of a congenital heart defect early Friday. Devane, who was paralyzed from the waist down from a car accident two years ago and had a kidney disease, was having trouble breathing and collapsed about 6:12 a.m., according to her husband.
Firefighters arrived on the scene about eight to 11 minutes after Devane called the 911 emergency service, he said, and they started performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation. But the fire truck did not have the equipment that the woman needed, and the ambulance driver apparently got lost. City officials disputed Paul Devane's account.
"They were gradually starting to lose her," Devane recalled. "A fireman got on the phone and said, 'I need the vehicle now. I need the piece of equipment now. Do you understand me? I need it now. Where is the vehicle?'
"Then he paused and said, 'What? Send it as soon as you can. It's not on the right street. Don't you understand what I'm telling you? Send it fast,' " Devane said.
The firefighter said the ambulance had gone to the 600 block of Edgewood Street instead of Edgewood Terrace, noted Devane, who said the streets are not far apart. "The fireman then went into the living room, raised the venetian blind and said, 'I don't see any ambulance yet. Where are they?' " Devane said. "He was really frustrated and nervous."
Devane stood in the kitchen listening to the firefighter on the phone and the other firefighters trying to save his wife of 11 years, who he said had once been a well-known gospel singer locally.
"I was very, very upset," he said. "She was losing her life. The firemen were working on her so hard, but they needed the equipment in the ambulance. There was equipment there that could pull her back."
Devane said that he called 911 about 6:12 a.m., the fire truck arrived between 6:20 and 6:23, and the ambulance arrived about 6:48, or about 25 minutes after the fire truck came. He said his wife was admitted to the Washington Hospital Center MedStar unit about 6:58. She died shortly after 7 a.m.
"My apartment building is not a place that is hard to find," said Devane, a mechanic for the Washington Center for Aging Services. "It is a building designed for the handicapped and elderly. Ambulances usually come up here on the average of two to three times a week."
"The tragedy of the ambulance service should no longer just be talked about," Devane said. "It is time for the administration of this city to stop ignoring these deaths. I'm not trying to antagonize the District of Columbia. I'm trying to help out."
Devane, 40, said he wants to work to raise funds to bring a private ambulance service with advanced equipment to the city.
A spokeswoman for City Administrator Carol B. Thompson, who is overseeing the city's ambulance service, gave a different account of the incident.
The spokeswoman, Madelyn Andrews, said the 911 call from Devane came in at 6:18 a.m. The dispatcher responded two minutes later, and Engine 12 arrived at the home at 6:23, she said. The ambulance arrived at 6:28, 10 minutes after the initial call, Andrews said.
"We regret the Devane family's loss and deeply respect the family's judgment to pursue any course of action it deems appropriate," Thompson said through her spokeswoman.
"We are convinced, however, that we provided necessary services within a responsible time frame," she said. "Our continuing efforts to improve the city's ambulance service will ultimately result in an efficient system that all D.C. residents will applaud."
The incident occurred the day Mayor Marion Barry stripped Fire Chief Theodore R. Coleman of supervisory authority over the ambulance service and announced that Thompson would be given control of the service.
Since 1986, nine persons have died after ambulances were slow to reach them, though no official link has been made between the deaths and the delays.
On Jan. 17, a Northeast man died at D.C. General Hospital after an ambulance took 40 minutes to reach his home. Fire officials said the next day that the ambulance had been lost.