One of the summer's most grotesque local stories--about attempts by the D.C. fire department rescue teams to block the crack Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad from servicing emergency calls in Northwest Washington--isn't over yet. The D.C. department is still trying to ban the Bethesda squad's ambulances from coming into the District unless requested by the city department--even though B-CC has been doing so for nearly 45 years.
As reported in July, this turf war being waged by the District fire department has produced some hair-raising incidents. In one case, B-CC was giving oxygen to a 90-year-old woman who had inhaled smoke from a burning pan at her home, four blocks inside the District. According to the woman, a D.C. ambulance arrived and its crew ordered B-CC to stop treating her, and refused to let the squad take her to Sibley Hospital as she had requested.
D.C. officials contend that B-CC's services have become increasingly unnecessary in the District as the department has grown in size. The leaders of the firefighters' union add that the presence of B-CC has created a "morale problem" among the city teams. But in the meantime, as B-CC officers note, if anything could reduce somebody's chances of survival it is the city's policy of keeping a rescue squad with a mobile intensive care unit from responding.
It is true, as B-CC's detractors make a snide point of repeating, that the Bethesda-Chevy Chase squad serves an affluent area of the District that has been generous with contributions to the squad. It is also true that this is a logical, close-by area that has been served well and often much faster by B-CC than by D.C. The squad only responds to calls in the District when it is telephoned by residents or by witnesses to an accident.
Residents of the affected area should be relieved to know that B-CC is continuing to defy the city's policy. Until Mayor Barry recognizes the scandalously dangerous situation his fire department is encouraging, B-CC officials say they are as entitled as any private ambulance to respond. This dispute shouldn't have to go to court, but if that's what it takes, let's get on with it. It's an emergency.