D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe will disperse six additional ambulances, rather than keeping them in a centrally located station in Northwest. (Jared Soares/For The Washington Post)

Heading off a potential showdown with the D.C. Council and community residents, the District’s fire chief now says he can put an additional six ambulances on city streets without removing a coveted truck and engine from a station in Northwest Washington’s historic Shaw neighborhood.

Instead of putting all six additional ambulances at the centrally located station in Northwest, Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe said he will disperse them. Three might fit at the Shaw station on New Jersey Avenue, without having to decommission Engine 6 and Truck 4, but three others will have go elsewhere.

The about-face, described in a letter to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), comes after a contentious April 10 hearing, during which the decommissionings at the station came as a surprise, even as officials endorsed the additional ambulances. Mendelson, noting that it was mentioned in the last line of a lengthy document to the council’s public safety committee, described it as a “little bomb.”

“He is taking closing the firehouse off the table. I think that’s a relief to everybody,” Mendelson said Wednesday, adding that “the number of firehouses may warrant some study.”

Ellerbe had sought approval from the public safety committee because removing the truck and engine from Shaw meant a reduction in service that required the council’s approval.

In his letter to Mendelson, the fire chief said the new ambulances would be on the street by August. There are now 25 ambulances and 14 advanced life-support paramedic units on city streets at any given time.

Ellerbe had proposed the new ambulances, coupled with the station closure, after the council rejected an earlier plan to make more ambulances and advanced life-support units available at peak call times. Lawmakers balked because it meant eliminating advanced life-support care during the overnight hours, a proposal deemed too risky.

Edward C. Smith, president of the firefighters union, said ambulances are on the street much of the time so it doesn’t matter where they are based. He said three additional ambulances east of the Anacostia River would help reduce delays caused by driving back and forth across the congested bridges.

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